Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Jazz Summit III - The Power of Amateur Musicianship

I got to hear an afternoon of Jazz last Sunday that was way about what I had expected. I got an invitation to come to the Netivot Shalom synagogue to hear the Albany Jazz Big Band, with whom my ex-wife, an excellent singer, performs. What I got was the exciting and very rhythmic Netivot Shalom Jazz/Klez Band, let by Rabbi Stuart Kelman on clarinet, the quite impressive 25-piece Albany Jazz Band, and then, when I thought the show was already very fine for a mere $5 donation, out came the 17-piece Jazzschool Adult Big Band.

As far as I know, none of these talented musicians is a professional, but you'd never know it by the show. The Jazzschool, an institution of scholarship and musical training, had their reputation further polished by the set these folks delivered. Great solos, a nicely blended and powerful ensemble sound, and some animated and spot on conducting by saxophonist Dave LeFebvre. As a bassist, I was especially taken with Jon Randall's switch-hitting, moving smoothly from upright to five-string electric bass.

The Albany Jazz Big Band reminded me of my own Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra. Folks assemble to improve their skills and have a great time. I spoke with Wendy, who had taken up the saxophone in her 50's after seeing her son do the same. She performed a fine solo near the end of the set that showed that her work and dedication were paying off.

The singers with the band put their well-rehearsed pipes to work over the big sound and if you half closed your eyes, you might think you were in a club 50 years ago, hearing the original real deal. Conductor Bob Levenson was fun to watch, his long hair flying, his baton constantly in motion. My ex's two songs, of course, were sensational.

The synagogue's groups I knew less well, but they made a perfect warm-up. They truly mixed the Jewish klezmer sound with the big band Jazz feel for a very satisfying show. An affiliated choral group also appeared and sang some old Yiddish songs--which seemed appropriate in the sanctuary of the synagogue.

A note on that fine building. Located along a major thoroughfare in college city Berkeley, California, the modern and recent Netivot Shalom synagogue has lots of glass and feels wide open. This says something about how synagogues are perceived and respected today in America. Recognition of this happy situation stands in sad contrast to the shootings that occurred right in front of the Jewish school in Toulouse, France at almost the same time.

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