Saturday 20th April 2020 Gosforth Civic Theatre
This was quite an occasion, indeed a unique one, not to mention a historic one!
A Great Day in Harlem we've seen the photo, read about the background to it in books and magazines (anyone got a copy of the 1959 Esquire magazine the photo first appeared in?), there have been tv programmes and recordings and now a live tribute to Art Kane and the guys and girls (all 3 of them) that he herded together on that amazing morning on 126th St., NYC.
The concept was well thought out. The photo projected onto a screen behind the band with the images changing according to the iconic figure being acknowledged. Each band member would say a few words about the artists i.e. Dizzy, Basie, Mary Lou, Rollins, Blakey, Hawkins, Lester, Jo Jones, Monk etc. before paying their own tribute on a number associated with their chosen legend.
The evening opened and closed with a recording of Basie's Avenue C that had the SSBB seamlessly taking over. First the rhythm section then les tout ensemble with ne'er a join in sight.
Alice Grace was a bizarre choice to represent Jimmy Rushing - Mr 5 x 5 she ain't! - however, her exquisite vocal rendition of Evenin' put such thoughts to one side as did her version of Billy Strayhorn's Daydream. Although Ellington wasn't in the photo a little poetic license enabled the band to play Take the A Train and possibly some of the musicians in the photo did just that to get there on time (10:00am).
There were so many great solos, each one a fitting tribute to the originator, that singling out one as being above the rest is unfair but, at the risk of upsetting the other 17, I reckon that Dave Kerridge aced it on Body and Soul. It bore little resemblance to Coleman Hawkins' original version but, if Hawk had been alive today, nor would his!
Close behind (in racing parlance, a short head) was Jamie Toms on Lester Leaps In and Goodbye Porkpie Hat (soulful singing from Ms. Grace on this one), Michael Lamb on A Night in Tunisia, Pete Tanton on Moanin', the rhythm section throughout, the sax chorus on Doxy and, of course, the band as a whole - the swingingest big band north of Lands End.
A Great Day in Harlem and an even Greater Night in Gosforth!
PS: Special mention of the backstage team who coordinated the visual images.