Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When Greatness Rubs Shoulders With Greatness, The Result Is Superb Jazz

If you're not an aficionado of jazz, you'll probably want to skip this post. But if you are, read on and groove to the sounds and sensations of Zoot Fest 2011.

Zoot Fest is an annual do in honor of two of the all-time great sax players -- John Haley "Zoot"
Sims and Alvin Gilbert "Al" Cohn (photo, left).

Long story short, Cohn was among the first of the
world-class jazz musicians to move to Delaware Water Gap in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Attracted by low home prices and the relatively easy commute to Manhattan jazz clubs and recording studios, Bob Dorough, Giacomo Gates, Dave, Liebman and Phil Woods, among others, followed, giving the one-stoplight town the honor of probably having more jazz greats per capita than anywhere else in the world.

"I'm an after midnight guy in a 9 o'clock town," Cohn remarked in a teasing putdown of the Water Gap, but he and the cats who migrated after him liked the tranquil scene there so much that they always came back to it from their world tours. Cohn bequeathed his magnificent collection of jazz records, sheet music and ephemera to East Stroudsburg University, which in turn begat the Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection.

In addition to honoring Sims and Cohn, Zoot Fest raises much needed money to keep the collection open to the public, and the 2011 edition was a joy.

his year's fest featured a remembrance of the jazz loft scene in New York City in the late 1950s and early 60s, including that of Time magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith at 821 Sixth Avenue. Sims and Cohn were frequent visitors to this infamous location in the Village, but the biggest hits were a musical chairs jam session featuring tenor sax greats Phil Woods and Lew Tabackin, young alto sax up and comers Jay Rattman and Adam Niewood, trombonist Rick Chamberlain, vocalese and keyboard maestro Bob Dorough, pianist Court Stewart, drummers Bill Goodwin, Marco Marcinko and Ronnie Free, and bassist Bill Crow. The day concluded with a big band blowout by all of the above artists and more.

As so often is the case when greatness rubs shoulders with greatness, these musicians outdid themselves, and Tabackin's soaring solos were beyond marvelous.

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