The Yardbird Suite, A Beacon For Jazz
When longtime Yardbird Suite
board member Adrian Albert dropped off the schedule for the first couple of months of the 2011/2012 season I found myself going back over the line-up a couple of times.
With each additional glance I realized I was going to be spending more time at the jazz club in an eight-week period than I did all of last season.
This is a very impressive bit of booking by the volunteer committees of the Suite and for my money this schedule covers an amazing amount of musical ground.
Itís diversity on all fronts, as Yardbird Suite members and patrons will be taking in performances from musicians from all points south, east and west on this continent, and one trio which will play the inviting and esthetically pleasing room is Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher, based in Amsterdam.
While Iím not going to comb through the schedule gig by gig, itís not even the end of September and jazz buffs in Edmonton have already been treated to performances from adventurous Canadian pianist John Stetch and two evenings where some of Albertaís finest players tackled two chapters from the voluminous and brilliant book of Miles Davis.
The Mile Davis concerts were one instance of the programming committee of the Suite continuing to commission players to dig into the works of prominent jazz instrumentalists and composers.
Another such event will find a sextet recreating and interpreting the sounds of Eddie Harris, the tenor saxophonist and composer who created a body of work that embraced everything from bop to soul jazz to fusion. If Harris wasnít pushing boundaries on his own or fusing styles he was successfully collaborating with masters like Les McCann.
Five musicians who participated in the Miles sets will be stirring the pot for the Harris sessions that hit the Yardbird Suite stage October 14 and 15. Dave Babcock - tenor saxophone, Bob Tildesley Ė trumpet, Chris Andrew Ė keyboards, Rubim de Toledo Ė bass and Jamie Cooper Ė drums will be joined by guitarist Jim Head.
Like a lot of us Iím sure, I never had the opportunity to catch Harris, who died at the age of 62 in the mid-nineties. Harris however, was more often than not signed to record labels with reliable distribution and many of his fine Atlantic discs made the playlists at parties in the seventies, and I also recall that his approach to playing a ballad could bring an evening to an end on a most soothing note.
This coming Thursday and Friday Senator Tommy Banks makes a rare but most welcomed appearance with bassist Mike Lent and drummer Sandro Dominelli as the trio work with Toronto-born and New York-based saxophonist Grant Stewart.
Stewart has earned and owns an impressive resume. He has studied with such masters as Donald Byrd, Barry Harris and Joe Lovano. His performance credits include shows and tours with Curtis Fuller, John Hendricks, Clark Terry, Etta Jones, Bill Charlap, Bob Mover, Brad Mehldau, Russell Malone, Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Jimmy Cobb, Harry Connick, Mickey Roker, Cecil Payne, Dick Hyman and Herb Geller; and he was a member of the last Al Grey Sextet.
I expect that during the two-set evenings, this quartet will serve up material that is both accessible and challenging.
In talking with Adrian Albert during the intermission at the Saturday performance of the Miles Davis tribute show, I was reminded that the Yardbird board has seen fit to lower the cover charge on Thursday nights when an artist is playing a Thursday/Friday engagement. Tuesday nights at the Suite are the real deal as the Sessions Nights are still only $5 for members and guests alike.
The first part of the 11/12 schedule finishes off with what should be one of the live performance highlights of the year, in any musical genre.
Drummer Jimmy Cobb, who anchored the So What! Miles Tribute Band that delivered a most memorable performance at the McLab two years ago during the Edmonton Jazz Fest, returns to town with We Four which celebrates the music of John Coltrane.
Pianist Mulgrew Miller, saxophonist Javon Jackson and bassist Nat Reeves make this an all-star ensemble and if they play with the kind of fire they have exhibited in other settings, look out. We Four play two shows on Sunday October 30 and at $16 a show the Suite should see a number of patrons buying tickets for both sets.
Iím still buzzed from the Miles sets that locked onto The Birth of the Cool and Sketches of Spain material last Saturday night. We should be grateful that part of the collective vision of the Yardbird Suite board is to produce shows that combine the genius of some of the jazz masters with performances by some of the best instrumentalists and arrangers to have ever called Alberta home.
Itís not a stretch to say that many of us may never again have the opportunity to hear, in a live context, the compositions that are Sketches of Spain. I didnít even realize it, until being informed of this fact at the show, that Gil Evans misplaced his arrangements and charts after the sessions were completed at Columbia's 30th Street Studio in New York City in the spring of 1960.
A big thumbs up to everyone at the Yardbird, those who take to the stage and those who work so hard behind the scene. Jazz fans in Edmonton are fortunate to have a venue such as this, and if you donít believe it, ask jazz aficionados in Toronto where joints like Top O' The Senator are nothing but fond memories.
Speaking of the Yardbird, the Edmonton Blues Society will be using the venue for Memphis Bound Blue Challenge in November.
Through this challenge the society will determine which Edmonton-based blues act will be sent to Memphis in early 2012 to participate in the big daddy of blues competitions, the International Blues Challenge.
Here is a list of the artists who have entered the contest:Solo/Duo Category
Breezy Brian Gregg
Dan Sinasac Duo Band Category
Big Hank & A Fist Full of Blues
Jimmy & The Sleepers
The dates for the competition are as follows:
ē Qualifying rounds on Wednesday November 2, 2011. The top 2 scoring acts will advance to the November 13, 2011 finals.
ē Qualifying rounds on Thursday November 3, 2011. The top 2 scoring acts will advance to the November 13, 2011 finals.
ē Final rounds on Sunday, November 13, 2011.
CKUAís blues programmers Holger Petersen and Cam Hayden have given the EBS board guidance over the past few months in setting up this challenge and one would expect that CKUAís Grant Stovel will be laying down the beats when Jimmy & The Sleepers take to the Yardbird Stage on November 3.
For complete info on the competition head to edmontonbluessociety.net