By Don Heckman
Medford, Oregon. Jazz in its purest form illuminated the stage in the performance by pianist Bill Mays and trumpeter Marvin Stamm at the Artistic Piano Gallery Sunday night. No drum set, no swinging big band horns, no funky fusion guitars. Only two gifted jazz veterans, applying their remarkable improvisational skills to an interactive display of what Stamm accurately described as a jazz “conversation.” And that was plenty.
The best jazz, of course – is always a “conversation” between players, as they shape the music, on the run, in a compelling journey of spontaneous musical invention. Which is exactly what Mays and Stamm offered to their receptive audience in another memorable presentation by the Siskiyou Music Project.
The duo of piano and trumpet (or, more often, flugelhorn) announced its creative effeciveness from the first note of the first tune – a soaring, rapid-paced excursion through a Lennie Tristano variation on “All the Things You Are.” It was a perfect display of both the technical adroitness of the Mays/Stamm duo and their individual artistry as improvisers. Both those qualities continued on throughout a musically far-ranging program.
Among the many highights: “Skylark,” “The Widow in the Window,”an appealing, melodic tune by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler; Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” Thad Jones’ “Three In One,” Lars Jensen’s “Marionette,” Phil Woods’ “Goodbye Mr. Evans” and more. All of the pieces were honored in a way that recalled the original versions within the shifting jazz conversations between Mays and Stamm.
There were intriguing solo excursions as well:
Mays featured his impressive song writing skills by playing and singing his revision of the pop standard “Have You Met Miss Jones” which, in Mays version, was transformed into “Have You Met Hank Jones,” a tribute to jazz pianist Hank Jones.
Mays was also showcased in a hard-driving, rhythmically irresistible stride piano classic, “Carolina Shout.”
Stamm displayed his lyrical way with a ballad in a pair of warm-toned, emotionally gripping interpretations of “You Stepped Out of A Dream” and Willard Robison’s ’30s classic, “Old Folks.”
Altogether, it was a musical experience that could have happily engaged the responsive audience for many more songs. Suffice to say that Mays and Stamm presented a “jazz conversation” that included everyone.