Day 8 – Savannah Music Festival

Experiencing great jazz and Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House

Jason Marsalis (Photo by Frank Stewart for Savannah Music Festival)

Jason Marsalis (Photo by Frank Stewart for Savannah Music Festival)

While Thelonious Monk is widely regarded as the great genius of bebop piano, Bud Powell arguably exerted a more pervasive influence on the evolution of jazz piano playing than his mentor’s extremely individualistic approach. Powell is often credited with adapting or transferring Charlie Parker’s revolutionary saxophone experiments to the piano, particularly in the way Powell juxtaposed unusual, sometimes dissonant, chordal phrasing in his left hand with rapid-fire melodic inventions in the right one. The truth is, Powell was developing his style around the same time as Parker. They played together, and sometimes saw each other as rivals. It’s no stretch to say that to one degree or another they brought out the best in each other.

These thoughts crossed my mind Wednesday afternoon as we waited for Tardo Hammer to take the stage at the Charles H. Morris Center. Soon enough, the 57-year-old Queens, New York, native sat down at the piano and announced the first selection in his tribute to Bud Powell, one jazz’s most revered and tragic figures.

Playing signature compositions like “Dance of the Infidels” and “Un Poco Loco,” Hammer expertly conveyed the essence of Powell’s complex yet swinging sound, while bringing elements of his own style into the mix. Australian sensation Nicki Parrott (double bass) and Leroy Williams (drums) proved to be excellent stand-ins for (take your pick) Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes or Curly Russell and Max Roach with whom the pianist made a series of legendary trio recordings for Blue Note in 1949 and 1951. Thanks to Hammer & Co., a group of lucky SMF goers spent their lunch hour imagining being at Minton’s when Bud Powell was in full possession of his wits and making music that altered the course of jazz.

Later in the evening, we caught a wonderful double-bill at the Morris Center featuring the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet opening for the Warren Vaché Quintet. A regular at SMF events, this year Marsalis brought his vibraphone along with pianist Austin Johnson, bassist Will Goble, and drummer Dave Potter. They swung the joint madly with a combination of original compositions, which drew inspiration from sources as diverse as Miles Davis, Debussy and the film Madagascar 3 (“Love Always Comes As a Surprise”).

(Left) Saxophonist Houston Person and trumpeter Warren Vaché pay tribute to Benny Carter.

(Left) Saxophonist Houston Person and trumpeter Warren Vaché pay tribute to Benny Carter. )Photo by Frank Stewart for Savannah Music Festival)

Vaché’s quintet, featuring Tardo Hammer on piano, Nicki Parrott (bass), Leroy Williams (drums), and legendary 80-something-year-old tenor saxophonist Houston Pearson, presented a program dedicated to the music of the late great alto saxophonist and composer Benny Carter. Vaché’s brightly hued trumpet musings and Pearson’s golden era tone were among the show’s highlights, along with Parrott’s sparkling Australian accented renditions of Carter’s torchy “When Lights Are Low” and the bossa nova tune “Only Trust Your Heart.”

In between jazz fandangos, Lisa and I, accompanied by a couple of friends from Atlanta, spent a surprisingly pleasant hour-and-half standing in the lunch line at Mrs. Wilkes, the restaurant famous for its banquet style service and authentic homestyle southern cuisine. Until today, I couldn’t imagine any cuisine worth a 90-minute wait. Now, I know of at least one restaurant that fits the bill, and I can’t wait to visit again, that is, after I finish digesting the fried chicken, barbecued pork, meatloaf, green beans, collard greens, squash, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, dirty rice with sausage, biscuits and gravy I consumed, which will be around the time the 2016 edition of the SMF rolls around. (Entry One from March 25 – DD)

Each day of the 17-day Savannah Music Festival, music journalist Doug DeLoach shares reviews, recommendations and musings on his adventures in Savannah. Read all of his daily dispatches here.

Performances Today, Thursday, March 26:
12:30 p.m. – Warren Vaché Plays Benny Carter – Charles H. Morris Center
4 – 7 p.m. – Swing Central Jazz: Jazz on the River – Rousakis Plaza, East River Street at Drayton Street
6:00 p.m. – Chamber Music IV – Early Masters – Trinity United Methodist Church
8:00 p.m. – Kodo One Earth Tour: Mystery – Lucas Theatre for the Arts
6:30 & 9:00 p.m. – Sean Jones Quartet/Warren Wolf & Wolfpack – Charles H. Morris Center

About the Savannah Music Festival
The historic district of downtown Savannah plays host to more than 100 performances during the annual Savannah Music Festival (SMF), which celebrates exceptional artistry in jazz, classical and a variety of American and international musical traditions. Now through April 4, more than 100 programs will be staged in SMF’s most international festival to date. A full schedule and tickets are available at savannahmusicfestival.org. Tickets can also be purchased by phone at 912-525-5050 or at 216 E. Broughton Street in Savannah. For information on lodging, attractions, places to eat and tours, check out VisitSavannah.org.

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