Monday, October 10, 2016

RJ Spangler Trio with Larry Smith

The RJ Spangler Trio featuring Larry Smith performed the first of four concerts in a 2nd Sunday jazz series yesterday at our Salem-South Lyon District Library. The sessions are sponsored by the Jazz Foundation of America, and the Metro Detroit Book & Author Society 2016 James Dance Performance Grant. You'll have a chance to see them perform again in Dec., Feb., and April.

L to R: Oliver Nevels, guitar; Larry Smith, alto sax; Greg Cook on bass; RJ Spangler, drums. Listeners were treated to standards from the jazz book, beginning with Body and Soul, 1930 music by Johnny Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton.

The audience asked for Take Five composed by Paul Desmond, debuted with the Dave Brubeck Quartet on their 1959 album, Time Out. Take Five had a piano lead for Brubeck - we heard a George Benson arrangement featuring Oliver Nevels on guitar.

Take the A Train, composed by Duke Ellington. RJ shared the backstory on this classic: Billy Strayhorn had been sending compositions, arrangements to Ellington. The Duke finally told him he probably needed to join the Ellington organization. How to get there? The rest is superb jazz music history.

We heard Larry Smith's long rich music background, told by RJ, and - just so we didn't think it was myth - confirmed by Downbeat magazine. Larry went to high school with Henry Mancini! In Pittsburgh, he played with a George Benson R&B group. Benson noticed Smith wasn't playing the R&B grooves. What do you call what you're playing? Smith took him to a place with a jukebox, put a dime in the slot and Benson asked "who we listening to?" Smith responded, "Bird." "What's a bird?" And once more, the rest is jazz music history. 

After the concert I asked Larry Smith what maker built his horn. Bundy Selmer. He told us how saxophones used to be made of a combination of silver, brass and gold; offering a rich tonal resonance he doesn't hear in the new brass horns. My Dad's tenor saxophone is a Herb Couf instrument, and it still breathes music in the hands of Tony Lustig in NYC. Larry also talked about always having that special reed on hand, along with backup.

The concert closed with Watch What Happens, composed by Michel leGrand; a song that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Known for his movie scores (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Thomas Crown Affair) leGrand wrote just as eloquently in jazz. Still composing, still musically strong, his 85 Concerts for My 85th Birthday World Tour is getting underway. Concert dates will be released by the end of this month 2016.

I'm missing one of the tunes because I got lost in hearing my Dad play his tenor in my mind, the background music to my whole life. When I was little, I went with him to rehearsals, usually in somebody's basement. I knew the words to Deep Purple, Little White Lie, and Darn That Dream before I was six. My father is second from the left, saxes. At the piano is Joe Fredal, our family's future dentist.

One of the days I was remembering yesterday afternoon. Dad on that gorgeous Herb Couf tenor, me on my Great Aunt Suoma's little organ. He's using a jazz mouthpiece! I didn't remember he even owned one of those. For my medicine bag when I was fighting cancer, I asked loved ones to contribute a powerful talisman to kick that mess. My father gave me a saxophone reed. One more beautiful example of the healing power of music, and the importance of always having that special reed on hand. And a backup.


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