Saturday, September 19, 2009

Grooving On 7 Decades Of Jazz Greats: After Midnight Guys In A 9 O'Clock Town

If you're not an aficionado of jazz, you'll probably want to skip this post. But if you are, then you'll appreciate the marathon that the DF&C and I ran recently while worshiping at the altar of some of the jazz greats of the last seven decades.

It began with the final day of the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts, a marvelous jazz festival celebrating its 32nd year. A village in the easternmost reaches of the Pennsylvania Poconos would not seem to be the kind of place that would bring together legends like Bob Dorough, Giacomo Gates, Bill Goodwin, Dave Liebman and Phil Woods, and it is the late great Al Cohn gets the credit for that.

Cohn, remembered for his lyrically flowing saxophone solos and arrangements for Woody Herman, Zoot Sims and Stan Getz, was the first of the aforementioned musicians to move to the Water Gap and environs in the 1970s. This had less to do with their fondness for black bears and harsh winters than cheap home prices and the relatively close proximity of the New York City clubs that are their bread and butter, a mere 90 minutes away on Interstate 80.

"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.

Our long day concluded with a jam session led by Goodwin at the Deer Head Inn, a jazz club that overlooks the natural amphitheater where the jazz festival is held.

Sitting in with Goodwin, whom I have heard on countless albums and radio
broadcasts featuring Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Jim Hall, George Shearing, Joe Williams, Tony Bennett, the Manhattan Transfer . . . I could go on and on, were Dorough and a host of talented local up and comers who caught the jazz bug because of the legends living in their midst. To the last man, these legends are not merely showmen but teachers who donate their time to a wonderful array of schools, music camps and other programs.

Being in the presence of greatness in a 20,000 seat arena is one thing, but sitting 10 feet from greatness in an intimate club well into the wee hours is something else again.

I single out Dorough for a couple, three reasons: I kind of
know him and he is the nicest guy in the business, my kids cut their teeth listening to his zanily educational compositions on ABC's Schoolhouse Rock, and he is hands down the master of vocalese, the singing of lyrics written for melodies that were originally instrument compositions, often entirely in syllables. (Think Cab Calloway and Al Jarreau.)

Is it any wonder that we woke up the next morning with songs in our heads?

PHOTOS (From top): Bob Dorough, Giacomo Gates, Bill Goodwin,
Dave Liebman, Phil Woods, Al Cohn.

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