Saturday, July 1, 2017

VSO, Jazz and Branford Marsalis

Jazz is America’s truest contribution to world music.  Whenever I hear really fine jazz I’m taken back to my youth, in the early 70’s, swing dancing with the beautiful Baiba in the London England jazz clubs. In Winnipeg we’d fall in love with scat singing Cleo Laine at her concerts in the park.   At the Winnipeg Jazz Festival I remember seeing and hearing the unforgettable Dizzy Gillepsie.   In Vancouver I became a regular at the Hot Jazz club dancing all night every weekend  I could get off call.
The Vancouver Jazz Festival is truly one of Vancouver’s most endearing perennial music events.  Vancouver’s jazz community is rich and sophisticated. Jazz Vespers at St. Andrews Wesley United Church is ever a joy.
Last year I ate shrimp jambalaya in sweltering  New Orleans literally in love with Jazz at the Satchmo Summer Jazz Festival.   This last Christmas I was blessed to be with lovely Laura at Lincoln Centre attending the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Marsalis’ Jungle.  Never before had jazz been more frankly spiritual.
Hearing that Branford Marsalis was playing this year with our finest Vancouver Symphony Orchestra,  part of this years TD Vancouver Jazz Festival,  I think I must have been one of the very first to buy tickets.  Barry Waterlow, my best source of lore on classical music, told me, “Branford Marsalis is very likely the greatest saxophonist in the world today. His whole family are gifted musicians.”
We attended An Evening with Branford Marsalis and the VSO  in the exquisite architectural theatre , the Orpheum, built in 1927 and designated today a National Heritage Site.  We sat with Barry and his visiting linguist friend, Andrew.  Laura told me at intermission with adoring Catholic eyes, “Did you know Barry actually played the organ at the Abbey?”.
The VSO spectacularly conducted by Gordon Gerrard were at their finest with Knopp and the brass section definitely enjoying the music. Marsalis really was exquisite with alto sax. Such purity of tone.
"As a rescue scuba diver,” I told Laura,  "I can honestly say that man’s lungs are utterly impressive."
The first half of the night with VSO, there were  pieces by  Bernstein (from Candide) , Milhaud, Gershwin, (from American in Paris) and  Williams.   “John Williams was the composer for the Star Wars films ” Barry shared, making me really perk up for that particular piece.
The standing applause at the end of the first half was explosive.
In the second half Branford Marsalis performed a duo with pianist Joey Calderazzo. Joey Calderazzo, a great in the jazz piano world, was an extraordinary surprise and joy.  As a gifted soloist he was also the most sensitive accompanist  demonstrating the finest balance between pride and humility.  It was also just so apparent that Marsalis and Calderazzo enjoy playing together. Grown men having as much fun as boys in a sandbox.  Marsalis added the soprano and tenor saxophones and played each with splendid transcendence.  Repeatedly I was simply transported ,experiencing being ‘carried away’ by his music as his skill and grace touched that other realm. From the softest pianissimo to loudest forte Marsalis on saxophone was  terrific.
I was  so thankful that the Vancouver audience shared the joy of this moving experience.  their resounding standing ovation brought these two wonderful men back on stage for a truly splendid encore. At the end I felt like a fat man who has had a magnificent musical feast, only to have somehow topped it off with a decadent triple layer chocolate ice cream cake.  What a performance!
Saying a fond good night to Barry and Andrew in the Orpheum foyer, lovely Laura and I, feeling all special and cozy,  drove home with the top down on the sportscar, crossing Cambie Bridge beneath a crescent moon on a warm Vancouver night.

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