Monday, July 11, 2011

All Jazzed Up

Each year in mid-late July, I remember that there's a Halifax Jazz Festival and go online to check it out only to find out that it's already over.  This year I got the Festival on my calendar early and made plans to go for an aftenoon of free--yes, free--concerts at the Festival Tent venue.   What a great afternoon it turned out to be!

There were four acts, each performing for about an hour.  The Chebucto Big Band kicked things off.  They are a 20 piece community based band and were lots of fun.   Their numbers covered a lot of ground, from Duke Ellington to Glenn Miller to Latin jazz.   People were up and dancing, including a bunch of folks that I later learned were from the Dalhousie Swing Society.   Some women were dancing together, reminding me of when I took ballroom dancing at Mount Holyoke to fulfill one of my phys ed requirements.  (That is sad on so many levels I can't even begin to contemplate it!)  In any event, it was a promising start to the day. 

Next up was Doris Mason's Ella-Vation backed by the Nova Scotia Nine.   I was a bit wary going into this part of the program--Ella was so fabulous and when you say you are doing an Ella tribute, you've set the bar pretty darn high.  I am happy to report that Mason and her band were swinging big time.   One of the highlights was their rendition of "How High the Moon" that included Mason doing some scat singing which one of the brass players would then replicate.  The Dalhousie Swing Society (and other audience members) lifted the performance to an even higher level with their dancing--it was hard to decide whether to watch them or the musicians!  I definitely had not had enough Ella-Vation when their time was up and would go see them again in a heartbeat.


Mike Cowie and the Waterbabies had a hard act to follow, but they were up to the task. Cowie is a trumpet player and vocalist and started off with a great version of Ellington's "Do Nothing Until You Hear from Me." His use of the mute in this number was fantastic--his trumpet was making all sorts of sexy and sultry sounds that you don't typically associate with that instrument. The band alternated from jazz standards to their own arrangements of Sting and Beatles songs--a risky proposition but Cowie has the voice to pull it off. This group performs regularly at Niche Lounge Supper Club in Halifax and I'd love to go there with my trumpet playing stepson next time he's up to visit to get his take on their act.

Last up was The Sanctified Brothers, a gospel and R&B band. You might not think that you'd enjoy this type of music, but having been to the gospel tent at JazzFest in New Orleans, I knew this had the potential to be lots of fun. The audience was on its feet dancing and singing for most of their performance. One thing about gospel is that there's a lot of repetition in the lyrics, so it's easy to sing along. I got into it with a song where the lyrics were "Call Him Up" as did most of the crowd (although the guy in the yarmulke sitting in front of us did leave during this number!) The dance floor filled up during this session, with people clapping and dancing like an old time revival. The spirit moved one woman to do moves much like the swim--causing one of my friends to recall the hilariously painful Elaine dancing episode on "Seinfeld"--but I have to give her credit for getting up there and going with it! These guys provide the music at one of the local churches, and I am almost tempted to go to one of their services!

Needless to say, it was a great afternoon.  The Halifax Jazz Festival is in its 25th year and runs until July 16th.   In addition to the daily free concerts in the Festival Tent, the Festival has nine other official venues (most of which charge admission fees) and several partnered stages and workshop spaces.  I haven't heard of most of the acts, but Preservation Jazz Hall was performing last night and the line up also includes Kenny Barron, Freddy Cole (Nat's brother) and Christian McBride.  Of course, I'd never heard of the groups that we heard yesterday afternoon, either, so I'd say going to see any of these performers is a low risk proposition. If there weren't so many other fun things to do here, I'd be spending my week in the Festival Tent.  As always, too much to do, too little time! 

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