The Swing Central Jazz Finale has become a highlight of the Savannah Music Festival. This year was no exception. The young bloods and the old bloods came to play.
I rolled into the Lucas Theatre about 10 minutes late for this show. It was packed, so I slipped into the last row to not interrupt. My first thought was, "Good, the kids are still playing; I didn't miss anything." That quick opinion was reevaluated early on.
Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie were two of my favorite composers during my jazz discovery years in college. I marked down this concert pretty fast since the theme was "Monk and Dizzy at 100," but had taken little time to regard the Swing Central Jazz Competition between the high school bands.
A funny thing happens at a lot of shows I attend, and for some reason I can never keep this thought at the forefront. Often when I head to a show excited for the headliners and indifferent to the openers, I get surprised by the latter. Perhaps as a musician opening a show, you have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. You have something to prove, and you do that by stealing the show from the headliners, whether intentionally or not. Point being: don't sleep on the openers.
Not only did these high school kids out-perform my rigid expectations, but they also wholly won my heart, especially the soloists - which is a key part of this competition.
Miles Davis said, "Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude ... is 80 percent."
The soloists out of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble are cocky and have earned the right to be. These Florida kids have more talent in their little fingers than most jokers making millions. Reasonably, the Douglas Anderson School won this year's Faircloth Award playing an original piece by Jason Marsalis, adding to the school's already-legendary stack of trophies and awards. Give them all the awards, I say.
Thanks to the Faircloth family, in its 11th year as a sponsor of the Swing Central Jazz Competition, there will be at least 10 more years of the annual program, per an announcement from Bob Faircloth. Play on, kids.
I wrote in my notes at intermission, "The future of jazz music in this country is in good hands." And then, Savannah Music Festival executive director Rob Gibson and the great Marcus Roberts both echoed the same sentiment on stage with similar language. I cursed them for stealing my review line.
Truthfully, the future of jazz is just fine, because people still care about jazz. The sold-out crowd at the Lucas, the 40 teenagers, the 20 professional musicians, the couple sitting next to me at the show who listen to jazz on satellite radio every day and millions of other people prove this music isn't going anywhere.
While openers might steal a show, headliners typically headline for a reason. The professionals came to swing and if I had to guess, felt like they had something to prove after the kiddos knocked it out of the park.
The gaudy list of accolades that accompany the 20 musicians who paid honor to Monk and Dizzy should be a hint to the exceptional level this concert reached. Solos from Marsalis, Alphonzo Horne, Terell Stafford, Joe Goldberg and Ron Westray took the night for me.
During one of the many great takes on Monk's best tunes, Westray had a little fun with his solo. Following a saxophone solo from Stephen Riley, Westray mimicked Riley's tenor saxophone with his trombone, and then broke off into a dizzying array of notes and swells that drew loud applause. Following Westray, Horne gave the trombonist a dose of his own medicine, mimicking the trombone with his trumpet in the opening notes of his solo. The entire saga drew laughs from the rest of the ensemble and most of the audience. Of course, Horne one-upped Westray with his own riveting solo, getting the final word.
The Monk and Dizzy at 100 was a showcase of master jazz practitioners, probably set on proving their muster to the kids who nearly brought the house down, but more importantly, paying homage two of the greatest jazz composers to ever swing a beat.