This was a jam session, not a traditional concert, designed to show off the soloing skills of Aaron Diehl and his sidemen.
He was joined at first by Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and trumpeter Terell Stafford before inviting other Savannah Music Festival performers to the stage. It was a little strange to see a jam session presented as a traditional concert. Usually, jam sessions are found in jazz clubs with dimly lit stages, populated by musicians who've just finished playing gigs elsewhere.
Even if the venue felt off, it was a delight to see these jazz masters in a relatively informal setting.
Diehl can coax pure passion out of the piano. His playing balanced blistering technique with the soulfulness of a blues man. He made the piano sing, implying pitch bends and slides even though the instrument can't produce them. The word that sprung to mind was "organic," melodies that were grown more than created.
Gordon is maybe the only trombonist who I've ever been excited to hear play "Cherokee," a song that's one of the most notorious burners in jazz. He followed that up with a sweet, sensitive ballad, using a plunger to almost speak through his horn. Stafford shredded over every song with the mentality of a big band soloist.
The evening concluded with a steady stream of guest musicians. One of them would call out a jazz standard, and the band would play. It was an atmosphere of friendly competition and one-upsmanship, the musicians as excited to hear each other as to actually play.
More than at a traditional concert, the jam session asks its performers to take risks, and that atmosphere is rewarding for the musicians and audience alike.