By James DeFrances
Bel Air, CA. Piano legends from years gone by came to mind during John Proulx’s show Tuesday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz etc. If you’d have blinked you may have thought Art Tatum or Thelonious Monk were caressing the mighty grand piano on that stage.
Proulx’s emotive playing style is a quality that few other pianists possess today. It’s as if each lick he played had a deeper meaning attached. Such grace was on display and supported superbly by Pat Senatore on stand up bass and Matt Gordy at the drum kit.
At times Proulx even lent his soft and mellow tenor vocals to certain tunes, but more often than not the songs were sans lyrics. And I’m talking straight ahead jazz here, applied to songs such as Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” and Van Heusen and Mercer’s “I Thought About You.” If Quincy Jones were reviewing this show he’d probably have said that Proulx was “in the pocket, man.”
Perhaps the crowd favorite of the evening, one shared by myself as well, was “The Frim-Fram Sauce,” a cover of the Nat “King” Cole Trio’s famous jazz standard. Proulx had fun with Frim-Fram and really swung it enthusiastically while playfully tossing around the comedic lyrics, much to the crowd’s delight. Another notable part of the show occurred during “My Funny Valentine,” when each band member had a chance to play an elongated solo.
Bassist Senatore got creative during his segment and played what may well have been the best solo I’ve seen him play to date on a unique looking, all black wooden bass, which even appeared to have a suede material on the front! The longest tune of the night was undoubtedly “Alone Together” with Proulx’s expert arrangement exploring many different concepts within the song seamlessly, and it may well have ended too soon.
Proulx’s elegant playing style, confident demeanor and well picked set list of rare jazz gems made this night something to write home about. This being my first time seeing John Proulx live I can certainly say I will be jumping at the chance to see him again, as I’m sure everyone in the audience would do as well!
Photos by James DeFrances.
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