The late Joe Boughton, commander-in-chief of Jazz at Chautauqua and other jazz parties, had very definite ideas about what should go on in a jazz performance and what was verboten, taboo, unforgivable. So it would have caused him some astonishment to be told that he and Norman Granz (whose Jazz at the Philharmonic — with its long themeless blues, drum solos, and explorations of I GOT RHYTHM changes — represented everything he deplored) agreed on anything. But they both understood something crucial about the performance of jazz ballads before a live audience.
Both men knew, through experience, that having all the musicians on the stand play BODY AND SOUL, for instance, each one taking two choruses, could lead to a certain sameness, not only for the audience but for the players. Granz got there first with the solution: a ballad medley, where each of the horn players told the rhythm section what their chosen song was, the key (the tempo remained fixed throughout) and played a chorus in leisurely fashion. You can hear this on Granz’s recordings, live and in the studio.
Joe Boughton didn’t release any of his ballad medleys, but the one that closed off the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua — the most recent party, and not the last — was particularly moving. Here are three videos that capture most of it (with some editing for a variety of reasons, none of them musical).
We begin with an extraordinary rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, and an unusual combination of songs: Rossano tenderly delineates I GOT IT BAD (AND THAT AIN’T GOOD) then turns it over to Marty, who sings and plays the Louis Armstrong – Horace Gerlach IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:
Randy Reinhart climbs the stage to deliver an absolutely velvety APRIL IN PARIS, a performance that seems untoppable until Dan Barrett convincingly explains how THAT OLD FEELING is still in his heart. (The crowd properly gives it a small ovation, and Dan looks does a comic double-take of surprise, “Me?” Yes, you!)
The very gentlemanly and polite Bob Havens asks PLEASE — doing Bing very proud. Continuing in this most gallant fashion, clarinetist Bob Reitmeier very quietly asks us in for TEA FOR TWO. Harry Allen sweetly tells us I WISH YOU LOVE, with Dan Block coming up immediately after!
The Man of Feeling, Dan Block, assures us (the stakes are getting higher with each delicious cameo) that EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS. Scott Robinson isn’t a combative, competitive player, but his version of SLEEPY TIME GAL — on the bass sax, which he carries — would be a masterpiece anywhere. Scott Robinson heroically lifts the bass sax for SLEEPY TIME GAL. Bobby Gordon tenderly whispers his love for the music in SUGAR; Andy Stein devotes himself to LAURA; Jon Burr emotes lyrically with PRELUDE TO A KISS — which is received with the proper hush (how nice to hear a bass solo receive such quiet attention):
Extraordinarily lovely, with not a hackneyed or overdramatized note in the bunch. I’d like to make these clips required viewing for jazz musicians and singers of all vintages — to say nothing of those of us who can’t live without beauty. And not incidentally — the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua will be held from September 15-18. If you have already purchased your 2011 calendar . . . .