Photo courtesy of VPAC vilarpac.org
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January 15, 2009 — Blue Note Records is a name synonymous with jazz. And jazz, considered one of the only indigenous American music forms, is a celebrated part of the history and culture of this country.
It only makes sense, then, that in honor of the 70th birthday of the venerated recording label, some of the finest jazz musicians in the world today have come together to create the Blue Note 7 Band, and have embarked on a special commemorative tour. They make a stop at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek January 16, at 7:30p.m.
The names of the musicians that make up the Blue Note 7 Band inspire squeals of delight from jazz fans, but are recognizable even to the layperson. Pianist Bill Charlap serves as musical director for the group, which includes guitarist Peter Bernstein, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, drummer Lewis Nash, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Peter Washington and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson.
Danny Melnick, a concert producer who put the tour together, said the roster of musicians was chosen both for their understanding of the history of jazz, as well as their investment in the genre’s future.
“These guys are pretty much all in their 40s, and they’re really all contemporaries of one another” said Melnick. “They’re a bunch of guys that know each other really well from years on the New York jazz scene.”
And this group of musicians, in particular, feels a distinct emotional connection to this tour, and to the rich culture and history of jazz they are saluting with it. The band plays songs by such legends as Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter and many more.
“A lot of the legends they are paying tribute to are guys of the 60s who they’ve been touched by, inspired by,” said Melnick. “It’s a very cool thing to see the band take it so personally, saying ‘we played with these guys, knew these guys. We know how they liked the tunes to be played, their philosophy, their attitude about being on the road.’ It’s a magical thing, and it’s really the heart and soul of jazz – it’s all passed down from generation to generation. That’s what’s happening here.”
Gathering some of the best musicians out there today was only the first step in building this tour, according to Melnick. His philosophy is that you can have great musicians, but poorly chosen music, and you have nothing.
He and Charlap carefully pieced together the collection of songs for their forthcoming release Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records, and from that, broadened the list to put together the pool from which they’d select their concert rep each night.
The end result is anything but predictable. Timeless classics made the list, but so did some “hidden gems” that will surprise – and delight – even the most avid jazz enthusiast.
“We wanted to pick some amazing classic songs that a lot of people would know and love,” said Melnick. “But we also wanted to branch out, and include some other songs by these incredible composers that aren’t so... obvious. I saw the show in Seattle, and there were a few tunes that even I’m not so familiar with... but you’d hear a few shouts from the crowd, from someone who didn’t expect to hear that tune but was psyched.”
Another way the Blue Note 7 has kept a fresh spin on the classics is by creating their own unique arrangements – tailoring time-honored standards to fit their septet format, and thereby breathing new life into the classics.
“Most of the musicians in the band wrote new arrangements for the songs they are playing on the tour,” explained Melnick. “It’s killer stuff – there’s really upbeat rocking stuff, some ballads, some funky stuff. They’ve taken the vibe, that feeling that blue Note was about in the 60s, and repackaged it for this tour. They wanted to be true to the artists who recorded and wrote those tunes, but also be sure that as a band, they were playing the tunes as a band, not just a blowing session. It’s a totally groovy set of music.”
So what do you get when you take 7 superb musicians, a library of re-mastered classic jazz tunes, and release them on the road?
You’ll have to go to judge for yourself... but according to Melnick, it’s true brilliance.
“Everyone will really dig this show, because the structure of the concert and the music that they’re playing is not avante garde, it’s not ‘out there,’” he said. “It’s approachable - lots of melodies, solos, and big band sound. This isn’t to dumb down what they’re doing – jazz enthusiasts will be stunned, but it’s not over anyone’s head. It’s just a really great band offering people a chance to hear groovy songs by an amazing group of composers – what have you got to lose?”
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