I hadn’t been to the Ear Inn for some time, and was suffering Ear-deprivation, so I was intent on being there last night for a session with the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Chuck Wilson on alto sax, Joe Cohn on guitar, and Pat O’Leary on bass. The good news is that they were all happy and in fine form, joined almost immediately by trombonist Harvey Tibbs. (I knew it was a good omen when Victor’s iPod found its way to Billie Holiday’s 1942 “Wherever You Are,” a recording I thought I’d only hear in my apartment.)
A jaunty SUNDAY began the proceedings, then a properly huggable version of JUST SQUEEZE ME, followed by a truly quick STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY which cried out for dancing in the narrow aisles, a “groovy” COME RAIN OR COME SHINE (an O’Leary suggestion that worked mightily), a twelve-minute jammed BLUES, and a romping SOME OF THESE DAYS. Chuck soared and preached, his style encompassing the sweetness of Hilton Jefferson and the lemony tang of post-Parker mainstream wisdom; Harvey once again showed how his compact, sleek style fits anywhere; Joe was a lucent soloist and a dedicated rhythm man; Pat was eloquent and inventive. Little touches shone: trades between Jon-Erik and Harvey on the blues, Pat’s double-stop punctuations behind Chuck in that same performance.
But I’ve left the most memorable detail for last. You know that Jon-Erik is a great passionate player who doesn’t coast. Not everyone knows how witty he is. Few know that he is also capable of hilarious social commentary as well . . . . through his horn.
The Ear is filled (blessedly) but not always with people who are in touch with the music. Last night there was a good-hearted gentleman standing at the bar, enthusiastically clapping along with the band, although a bit behind the beat. But he was trying.
Next to him, for most of the first set, was a pretty young woman of substantial build, her hair blonde, her short dress white in honor of the summer heat. She was very much amused by her own conversation and that of her ladyfriends, and her amusement came out in a walloping five-beat laugh that could have been heard in the last row of a Broadway theatre: “HA HA HA HA HA!” (pause) “HA HA HA HA HA!” and so on. I don’t deny anyone pleasure, but she was as loud as the band. Beginning JUST SQUEEZE ME, Jon-Erik equipped himself with his plunger mute — an adventurer going into the dark forest. When it came time for his solo, the blonde was in full voice — but Jon-Erik played her laughter back at her, “WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH!” Perhaps half a dozen people in the Ear (in addition to the band) got it, but his mockery was brilliant. A dangerous satirist lurks among us, disguised as a jazz trumpeter. Watch out!