George’s birthdate is March 15, 1919. So his celebration last night was slightly late — but neither he nor anyone in the audience that filled Birdland to capacity last night seemed to mind. It made sense to celebrate George amidst the music he loves — Louis, Duke, and Fats, played live and joyously.
We heard heartfelt tributes to George from Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Bob Newhart, Michel Legrand, Quincy Jones, and Joe Muranyi — a stellar assortment for sure.
And Birdland was filled with the famous — Tony Bennett, Dan Morgenstern, Daryl Sherman, Vince Giordano, Michael Cogswell, Mercedes Ellington, Lloyd Moss, Phoebe Jacobs, Robert O’Meally, Ricky Riccardi, the Beloved, and myself.
All of us were there to honor George, who has recorded and supported everyone: Louis and Duke, Brubeck and Rushing, Eddie Condon, Garner and Mathis, Rollins, Miles Davis, John Cage, and Ravi Shankar — in a wonderful career beginning with the first jazz album (CHICAGO JAZZ, for Decca, in 1939), helped reissue unknown jazz classics, made recordings of the first jazz festival.
The Louis Armstrong Centennial Band played a marvelously uplifted version of its regular Wednesday gig — with Paquito D’Rivera sitting in with his clarinet when the spirit moved him — that’s David Ostwald, tuba; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals; Anat Cohen, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano and vocals; Kevin Dorn, drums. I was recording the whole thing (audio and video) and offer some video clips.
However, I have not chosen to post the version of ST. LOUIS BLUES during which my tabletop tripod collapsed and sent the camera, still running, into the Beloved’s salad. It’s cinema verite as scripted by Lucy and Ethel.
Here’s a tribute by Wycliffe to Louis, to Hoagy Carmichael, and to George — ROCKIN’ CHAIR:
And a gently trotting version of the 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic, THOU SWELL, remembering George’s reissuing the best of Bix Beiderbecke:
Duke Ellington said that he was born at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, and George’s stewardship of the famous Columbia recording of that concert was the occasion for the band to recall Duke, pre-Newport, with a wonderfully deep-hued MOOD INDIGO (also for Mercedes Ellington, honoring us all by her presence):
George never recorded Fats Waller, but he did help Louis record the peerless SATCH PLAYS FATS, so the band launched into a perfectly jubilant I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, complete with the verse (“I’m walking on air . . . .”) and an extraordinarily evocative vocal by Mark Shane, who known more about the many voices of Fats than anyone:
Finally, here’s George himself to say a few words.
Happy birthday, Sir! Thanks for everything! Keep on keeping on!