The Beloved and I braved the ominous weather last Wednesday night to see David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland. Onstage with David were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Jim Fryer, trombone, euphonium, and vocal; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.
Early in the evening, David asked Jim to take a solo feature. Trombonists in such settings often think of their hero, Jack Teagarden, and rely on BASIN STREET BLUES or STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, but although Jim admires Big T, he has other things in mind. And the song he chose was THE GYPSY, famous in some circles as one of the few pop songs that both Louis Armstong and Charlie Parker immortalized.
In a very few minutes, Jim showed off — casually and modestly — every facet of his considerable talents: his smooth and elegant playing of the possibly-ungraceful euphonium, then his sleek and suave approach to the trombone.
In between his two instrumental selves, he sang both verse and chorus in the most convincing yet understated way. Clearly he understands that each song is its own story, its own drama, and he invites the audience into the world of that song, without “dramatizing” it or copying anyone. There’s something of the great crooners in his approach, but nothing’s “nostalgic” or mannered.
It was a quietly masterful performance, but those of us who have observed Jim at close range expect no less. In fact, when we see he’s at a gig, or notice him coming through the door to sit in, we get comfortable and eagerly expectant: something good is going to happen! As it does here:
And watching this video performance again, it struck me that Jim (like so many of his colleagues) is someone who, in another decade, would have been a star of popular television, with a large, enthralled audience. Those of my readers who recall THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW . . . can’t you see Jim on it? Alas that such a thing is no longer possible: we will have to content ourselves with seeing Jim in person, not a bad consolation at all.