Over the past five years, Jon-Erik Kellso is the musician I’ve had the most frequent opportunities to observe and appreciate.  And I keep coming back for more: he doesn’t run out of things to say; he doesn’t fall back on prepared solos; he takes risks; he balances technique and emotion, individuality and tradition superbly.  When he gets into what he calls “his happy place,” he has no equals!

So I offer this version of a rarely-played Twenties pop tune, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? (a memorable question for sure) that he played at Jazz at Chautauqua this last September.  His colleagues for this session were James Dapogny, Vince Giordano, and Arnie Kinsella in the rhythm section, with Dan Block, Bob Havens, and Bob Reitmeier in the front line.

In anyone else’s hands, a set-closer at this tempo (and with seventy or so years of performance convention behind it) would be simple and not always subtle: a rocketing tempo, a long drum solo, and horn solos without much support from the band.  You’ve all seen such performances: Fast becomes Faster and the soloists are left on their own while the front line waits its turn off to the side.  Not so here.  Jon-Erik learned a great deal about leading an ensemble from the Master, Ruby Braff, who knew how to keep monotony at bay.  Without pushing anyone around, Jon knows how to lead an ensemble.  So, in this performance, he wisely extends the opening ensemble chorus into a second one (honoring New Orleans traditions all the way up to the present — why let the emotional temperature drop?).  And while the wonderful rhythm section is cooking away, Jon motions to the horns who aren’t soloing to play “footballs,” whole-note harmonies, musical and emotional choirs giving strength to the band.  His own solo (which plays with a phrase from Bob Reitmeier’s outing) gets a well-deserved thumbs-up.

And everyone floats on the momentum: Dapogny takes risks that come off; Vince Giordano and Arnie Kinsella exchange comments, witty and thunderous, becoming the twentieth-century version of Milt Hinton and Jo Jones — which leads to the closing ensemble.  Thinking orchestrally, Jon-Erik guides the horns into a soft passage (you have to play softly to shout it out at the end) and we romp home.  Even the still photographer in the plaid shirt, who sweetly yet obliviously blocked my view, couldn’t stifle my joy.  Or ours, I trust.

Swing, you cats!  

7 responses to “FROM THE ARCHIVES: JON-ERIK LEADS THE BAND (Sept. 2009)

  1. Pingback: JON-ERIK LEADS THE BAND (Sept. 2009)

  2. Bill Gallagher

    Terrific number but, damn, Kellso rocks!

  3. You said it! And it’s more than taking his solo — he makes sure that the BAND rocks! Thanks, Bill!

  4. Thanks, Michael, I couldn’t agree more – thanks both for posting the video and also for putting into words so much of what makes Kellso such a special musician; his music really works and satisfies on every level.

  5. Great article! Dear Michael me and Monica are coming in begin of july tll end of august to NY so i hope to meet you and learn a lot from you and let you taste the dishes that my lovely wife can cook ;)! You will (are) my mentor! A big hug David

    Davide Brillante Via Idice 111/A Ozzano dell’Emilia 40064 Bologna Tel.+39/3288699455 Fisso: +39/0516515206

  6. A huge hug back to both of you — even if Monica never cooks a thing — but I will be in California. Damn. Damn. Love, Michael

  7. Thanks, Michael, for re-posting. Kellso is a rare and inspiring talent, and you expressed it well.

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