Good Night Sweet Prince

A Remembrance Of Teddy Pendergast

The Sweetest Soul Singer Ever!

There is no telling how many people walking the earth today owe their existence to Teddy Pendergast, including my own twins Makeda and Samori. Annette John-Hall, a black female columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer, reveals in a January 24 column “Plenty of women will tell you their children were conceived to Teddy’s boudoir ballads – ‘Close The Door…Love TKO.’” Then Miss John-Hall goes on to tell give us a glimpse of the effect Teddy’s singing had on the ladies who enthusiastically listened to him: “But truthfully, Teddy could have sung the phone book and sold millions of records, that’s the kind raw, full-throttle sex appeal he had…such was the intimate power of his music.”  t

This does much to explain the magic moments I enjoyed with the ladies listening to Teddy’s records.  For my money Teddy was the greatest singer of love songs that the gods ever blew the breath of life in.  Just as Zora Neale Hurston, that great student and interpreter of Afro-American culture, once observed that a black preacher “must be a poet in order to survive in a Negro pulpit;” a black singer of love songs must sound like a poet who’s really in love to woo and win a black audience.  And Black women of a certain vintage, wise dusky earth mothers that they are, have very demanding standards; a dude’s got to know how to beg with style alas.  Although great black singers of love songs are legion, nobody ever did it better than Teddy.

As a fellow Philadelphia I had many opportunities to view Teddy from his earliest performances; long before he captured the attention of the world with his thrilling baritone voice – an extension of the style introduced by the lead singer of the Dells, in the same way that Michael Jordon was an extension of the art of Julius “Dr. J” Irving on the b-ball court.  From jump street Teddy’s raspy rough edge sound radiated a sensuality that was more than mere animal desire. Although the chemical reactions and electric sparks that his crooning ignites between males and females often fills the listener full of fluid and make them wanna do it, creating an urge to merge not unlike the heat sizzling between the beast in the fields – Teddy’s sound is the epitome of true romance.  It is grown folks music; reaching deep down to a level of emotional gratification that can be only achieved in true romance between mature adults….or an intense religious experience.

I can still remember the day I took a lady of mine to see Teddy at the world famous Apollo theater when he was the lead singer with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.  It was right after they had a big hit, and the theater was packed.  This was during that halcyon age in Afro-American culture before the removal of music programs that provided the opportunity for black youths to participate in the joyous art of choral singing, back before the hard edge truth telling of hip hop replaced the transcendent sermons of the church for increasing numbers of alienated youths, who had lost both faith and hope in the nihilistic milieu of the post industrial city, alienating them from the source of all great African America music: the black church.  But Teddy was very much a child of the church, and it’s deep spiritual power informed  the way Teddy sang his  songs.

The memories that stands out most  from that Apollo concert was first of all the magical effect his performance had on the women in the audience.  My date was a very reserved you southern lady who had impeccable manners and  two Doctorate degrees.  But as Teddy began to croon his tune in that special way in which he seemed to be singing to every woman in the room personally, Doctor Doctor completely lost her cool right along with her unlettered sistas from round the way!

I was astonished at Teddy’s gift for achieving a sense of intimacy in a crowded room, it was the closest thing to real magic I have ever seen in a performance – and I have been around the world and spoke to everybody twice, spending a thousand and one nights in the theaters and music halls.   I knew two things at that moment: Teddy was to big to remain merely the featured singer with Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes for long.

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See Teddy Live!

 

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 4, 2010

The Amazing Carlos del Pino Plays Paganini

The Maestro Contemplates the Score

 A Classically Cuban Concert for the Ages

It is no exaggeration to say that every time the virtuoso Bassist Carlos del Pino and his quartet performs in concert it is a history making event, as was the recent concert held at the elegant Christ and St. Stephens Church on the Upper West side, sponsored by the Cuban Cultural Center of New York, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council of the Arts.

The eclectic programs performed by the quartet are made possible by the extraordinary musicians in the band, whose virtuosity span three major musical genres encompassing the most complex in the western tradition – European Classical, Classic Jazz and the Afro-Cuban Son Montuno.  On this occasion the quartet played a program of mostly Cuban composers, hence the title “Classically Cuban.”

However, the unequalled performance by Carlos del Pino of Niccolo Paganini’s compositions stole the show. Carlos provides us a glimpse of the twin ambitions that fuel his artistry. First, like all greats in any field, he is constantly trying to get better.  “Through time,” says Carlos, “man has always taken on goals and challenges to improve himself.  Music has been no exception.” And secondly, he seeks to expand the range of the double bass violin.  He tells us: “Due to its large size, the doubled bass has posed a challenge for musicians who wish to interpret works composed for other instruments.”

Since he is on a mission to prove the contra-bass is capable of performing compositions conceived for the lead violin, Carlos chooses some of the most difficult literature to perform. For instance, the 24th Caprice is considered by violinists to be one of the most difficult pieces to perform ever written for solo violin. The performer must successfully negotiate such obstacles as Parallel octaves and rapid shifting covering several intervals. Plus, extremely fast scales and arpeggios including minor scales in thirds and tenths, left hand Pizzicato, high positions, and quick string crossings.  These compositions, written and performed by Paganini, are so difficult that his contemporaries believed his mother – like Dr. Faust – made a deal with the devil bartering her son’s soul in exchange for Paganini’s musical gifts.  Yet, Carlos never missed a note!

As if he intends to really stick it to the naysayers, Carlos performs these compositions pizzicato rather than bowing.  He explained the challenge he has undertaken in the present concert as “the interpretation of three Caprices by Paganini written specifically for the violin, played in pizzicato something never before accomplished with the double bass, which entails a double challenge – the technical and the musical…My interpretation will remain for future generations.”

For the musically tutored observer it was breathtaking to watch, the performance was flawless, Carlos performed this historic feat with the apparent effortlessness of the true virtuoso that can make the exceedingly difficult look easy. To observe how difficult this work is to play for a violinist with a bow, see the video at the end of this essay.  It will give the reader some idea of the magnitude of Carlos’ extraordinary achievement.

The marvelous versatility of his quartet enables Carlos to explore his ideas with a multi-lingual musical approach. Whereas the great majority of musicians spend a lifetime trying to master one musical idiom, Carlos and his collaborators roam across genres at will, smashing musical barriers and ignoring the conventional wisdom regarding the limits musical performance.

This is no picayune feat because the demands that Classical European music and classical Jazz makes upon the instrumentalists are very different due to the philosophy, organization and performance technique required by the two musical idioms.  For instance, European Classical music evolved in a rigidly hierarchical society where the written text reigns supreme. Hence every note is dictated by the composer’s score, and if they are members of an orchestra the instrumentalist is also subjected to the tyranny of the Conductor, who interprets the score with his baton.

Classical Jazz is a creation of Afro-Americans in the 20th century; it is the product of what Professor Bernard Bell calls “a residually oral culture where written text competes with the spoken word,” in his seminal study “The Afro-American Novel and its Tradition.” Jazz also embodies the continuous Afro-American quest for freedom, and as the quintessentially American Art Jazz is democratic, values individually liberty and promotes innovation.  It also swings to the poly-rhythms of a machine age society.

Hence, in Jazz the written score serves to set the theme and parameters of the musical conversation not dictate what the instrumentalist plays. And whereas performance styles in European music is dictated by rigid convention, the Jazz musician has been free to create new instrumental techniques to better express their musical innovations.  This is apparent in the way the double bass is played in the two idioms.

In European music it is the bottom voice of the violin section and played with a bow, in Jazz it becomes a member of the rhythm section and is played pizzicato – a technique which Afro-American musicians raised to a high art. In Jazz bowing is ornamental, and in European concert music the pizzicato is an ornament.  Hence in European Music virtuosity on the bass is achieved by bowing; the great innovation of Carlos del Pino is his performance of European masterworks pizzicato.

Chimi Nakai: Vituoso Pianist

The musicianship of the quartet, like the music they make, is beyond Category.  Pianist Chimi Nakai plays with the same technical brilliance and emotional power regardless of the idiom. And she is equally superb as soloist or accompanist to Carlos. Although a native of Osaka Japan Chemi holds a Masters Degree in Jazz performance from The Aaron Copeland School of Music at Queen’s College in New York, and has won distinction as a recording artist with her own band.

David Eure teaches Jazz violin at the New England Conservatory of Music, and is a master of the instrument whose passionate and innovative playing appears to push it to the limits of its capability.  Renowned for its voice like qualities, the violin is capable of expressing a wide rage of emotions through its tonal colors and lyrical phrasings.  David makes the most of them as his violin sings, cries and soars over the rhythm section.  He is an artist of rare gifts a virtuoso of the highest rank, as you can witness in the videos below.

David Eure: Violin Virtuosso

Percussionist Thomas Estrada, a native of Santiago de Cuba, who like Carlos was trained at the distinguished Instituto Superior de Arte is a marvel who routinely does things with traditional Cuban percussion instruments that I would not have believed possible if I had not witnessed it.  I have been playing these instruments for 50 years, saw all the greats – Francisco “Mongo” Santamaria, Carlos “Potato” Valdez, Armando Paraza, Ta Ta  Guiness, Francisco Aquabella, et al – but Estrada remains unique.  When I closed my eyes, it sounded like three people playing.

Thomas Estrda: Master Percussionist

Edgar Sanfeliz Botta was the featured vocalist with the fabulous four.  He is the kind of electrifying singer on whom Latin musicians confer the honorific “El Gran Sonoro,” and like the rest of the band it was clear that he can sing in a variety of styles.  He has performed with a number of groups in Cuba, and holds an honors degree in vocal performance from Florida International University.  In January 2012 he had the honor of singing for Pope Benedict XVI.

By any measure this was an all-star cast, fully up to the challenge of pathbreaking performance.  They belong to that rare class of gifted versatile musicians such as Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, and Carlos’ Afro-Cuban countrymen Chucho Valdez, Arturo Sandoval and Piquito d’Rivera who speak various musical languages without accent.   It was an affair to remember.

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Text and Photographs by:

Playthell G, Benjamin

Harlem, New York

1/28/1018

Jazz Around The World!

The First Family of Jazz: Ellis Marsalis and his Boys

A Classic Afro-American Art Wins Hearts Everywhere!

As the learned and insightful music critic Henry Pleasants tells us in his seminal book on modern music “Serious Music and All That Jazz,” the Afro-American musicians who created jazz were the only musicians to introduce a new musical terminology since the Italians did it back during the Renaissance.  The point Mr. Pleasants was making is that Jazzmen created an art music using instruments of European origin, as well as their system of melody and harmony, yet invented something really different from anything Europeans had ever heard…or imagined.

Pleasants was uniquely positioned to see this because of his extensive training in the classical music of Europe, and he was writing about the modern music scene in Europe for the New York Times.  And he has much to say about the way Jazz influenced modern European composers.  However, apart from whatever influence Jazz may have had on European composers, the way in which jazz captured the imagination of musicians and won the allegiance of music lovers around the world, is the real story.

Whether we are talking about writers, businessmen, diplomats, Presidents, artists or kings, Jazz has found passionate fans. It is safe to say Jazz musicians do wondrous things that fascinate both fools and kings. The British critic Stanley Dance devoted his career to writing about Jazz. Ahmet Ertegun – who founded Atlantic Records and first recorded Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin – was the son of a Turkish Ambassador to the US, who was such an avid Jazz fan he once expelled a white Southern US Senator from his diplomatic residence because he insulted a black jazz musician who was his guest!

Ahmet expressed his life long love affair with this music by contributing the “Hall Of Fame Room,” a multi-million interactive display of the great virtuosos of the tradition.  It is located in Jazz at Lincoln Center at 60th and Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan, and the viewer can just push the panel with portraits of their favorite artist and a video of them in performance will appear, accompanied by a biographical essay.

I interviewed Ahmet at the grand opening of the 150 million dollar edifice to Jazz, and it can be read in a forth coming book “Jazz At Lincoln Center: Magic moments In The House Of Swing,” with photographs by Frank Stewart and text by this writer.  In a nutshell he said: “Jazz is the greatest music in the world.  It is America’s contribution to the great artistic heritage of mankind.  And it has influence more musicians than any other music.”

Then there is the legendary jazz crazy king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej – “”Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power” – and his Queen Sirikit.  At a time when Jazz virtuosos were ignored by the princes and powers who fashion cultural policy in the US, and the thought of playing in the White house was unimaginable, Jazz musicians were hanging out in the Palace jamming with King Bhumibol, who was a devoted  jazz clarinetist.

The King is very proud of the fact that he played with clarinetist Benny Goodman and Saxophone master Wayne Shorter. Although the King is believed to have descended from the gods, he is democratic in political style and philosophy. Some observers attribute these democratic instincts to his deep involvement with the art of Jazz.

In Eastern Europe Jazz music became a metaphor for freedom and democracy, especially in Czechoslovakia where a whole school of philosophy based on the democratic principle of jazz developed as a counter-statement to communist totalitarian rule.  They were known as “The Velvet Philosophers,” and they were part of an organization know as “The Jazz Section.

In 1995, I participated in a seminar with one of those philosophers at a conference sponsored by the European Association of American Studies, chaired by Dr. Justine Talley, and heard him tell how they used the values and ethics of jazz to teach lessons about the advantages of democracy and the virtues of individual liberty. The authorities felt so threatened by it they arrested and imprisoned the philosophers in the Jazz Section.

It is not surprising that people who crave freedom and democracy would be attracted to Jazz. After all, as the quintessential American art, Jazz embodies the most cherished ideals of American civilization. Jazz is democratic, values individual freedom, promotes invention, and grooves to the complex rhythms of a modern urban society. As a genre of western art music Jazz distinguishes itself by overthrowing the tyranny of the composer and the iron discipline of the conductor’s baton.

The emphasis on freedom and democracy in Jazz is both a reflection of the American creed, and the persistent struggle for freedom waged by African Americans against white oppression.  This struggle is the major theme of African American history.  And since, as the Afro-American cultural theorist and brilliant Jazz Critic Albert Murray notes: An Art style is the refinement and elaboration of a lifestyle; it is in the nature of things that the highest creative achievement of Afro-American culture is an art that celebrates freedom and practices democracy.

Thus the jazz man is always looking to free himself from the restraints of convention and explore new territories. But, as it turns out, this search for freedom is a universal value; which is why Jazz appeals to serious musicians and music lovers across class, color, nationality and geography. Along with freedom and improvisation jazz also conveys a unique blues sensibility that speaks to something so profoundly human that it touches the hearts of people everywhere.

This explains the appeal of Jazz to South African musicians under apartheid as well as French musicians in the aftermath of World War I, a period when one write recalls that had they been left to listen to European Classical music they would all have committed suicide.  It was the heroic optimism in the spirit of Jazz that spoke to disillusioned European intellectuals and artists, who were deeply depressed after witnessing their civilization degenerate into barbarism and mass murder.

Another reason for the universal appeal of Jazz early on in the twentieth century is that it is a synthesis of several musical idioms and offers the opportunity for musicians to add their flavor to the performance of the music.  Hence if you listen to Jazz harpist Edmar Casteneda on the album “Cuarto de Colores” you will hear a Columbian approach to Jazz composition and performance.

The harp he plays is of Columbian origin and is very different from the European harp that one hears in symphony orchestras. When I first head him perform at Dizzy’s, a beautiful night club in Jazz at Lincoln Center especially engineered for the acoustic requirements of Jazz, I kept looking for the bass player.

Eventually I discovered that he was playing the bass with his left hand, along with chords and on solos.  The sound was amplified so that it sounded like an acoustic bass fiddle, and the complexity of the rhythms he was playing sounded as if he were playing the bass line with both hands.  The rhythms ran the gamut from swing to Samba, and his wife sang in voices that came deep from her Afro-Indio culture.  They were no doubt playing Jazz, but it had a decidedly Columbian flavor.

Japanese Virtuoso Chimi Nakai

The nation that is producing the most impressive crop of young Jazz virtuosi outside of the United States is Japan.  It seems that every time I look up I see another gifted young Japanese jazz artist.  And they are distinguished by the fact that so many of these virtuoso instrumentalists are women, especially key board players.  One of the most impressive of these is Chimi Nakai, a consummate master of the acoustic piano.   Ms. Nakai is one of the new jazz virtuosi who are multi-lingual in musical terms.  She is equally at home in Jazz, European classical and Afro-Cuban music.

Cuban Virtuoso Carlos Del Pino

I have seen her perform on several occasions with the great Afro-Cuban conta-bassist Carlos Del Pino.  Carlos is a top shelf jazz bassist – Afro-American virtuosos Ray Brown and Paul Chambers were his inspiration and tutors via recordings – but he is equally brilliant playing the classical European repertoire for the double bass violin, and he is master of his native Afro-Cuban Son Montuno and other forms.

Wynton Marsalis: Trumpet Virtuoso

Artistic Director Of The World Famous JALC Orchestra

However the model for the multi-lingual virtuoso instrumentalist Jazz star is Wynton Marsalis, arguably the greatest trumpet player in the world.  That is certainly the impression I’ve gotten from interviewing other great trumpet trumpet players, classical and jazz artists – professors who teach advanced courses on the instrument, and vintage Jazz masters on all instruments.

Because Wynton has won nine Grammys – four for European classical music and five for Jazz – plus a much coveted Pulitzer Prize for composition, musicians and music lovers all over the world are interested in his work. Hence great performances by Wynton are all over internet on You Tube, where musicians and fans can see him perform on video at will!

As a result of this vast exposure, sharp intellect, knowledge of Jazz tradition – he was born and raised in New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz – easy eloquence, and genuine warmth and southern charm, he is the most effective ambassador Jazz has ever known.  And the Marsalis family is the First Family of Jazz.  Their contribution to keeping the Jazz tradition alive is so important that on January 11, 2011 the National Endowment for the Arts bestowed the prestigious “Jazz Masters Award on the entire family.

Aside from his four sons, Ellis Marsalis, the patriach of the clan, has trained other world famous Jazz musicians like the pianist / singer Harry Connick Jr. and the great trumpeter and prolific composer of movie scores, Terrance Blanchard.   These New Orleans bred Jazz musicians are constantly travelling the world and exposing audiences to the classical tradition of American Jazz, the gift of African Americans to world culture. And as the representative anecdote for American civilization, “America as she is swung” in the words of Albert Murray, Jazz is also the great American contribution to the classic arts.

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 By: Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

1/16/211

Photos of: Ellis and his boys, and portraiat of Wynton, by Frank Stewart.

Photos of Chemi and Carlos by: Playthell G. Benjamin.

 

 

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Swings Berkeley

Maestro Marsalis conducts the Boys in the Band

 An Evening of Gilded Memories and Divine Music

Standing in front of Zellerbach Hall waiting for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to hit, my mind was filled with random thoughts; all provoked by my being in that particular place on that particular occasion.  The University of California at Berkley has a unique niche in my memory bank.  I first became aware of this campus in the 1960’s when it had a dual identity both as a center for radical ideas and activism, and the University with the most Nobel Laurates on its faculty. Plus it was located in a part of America that looked as if it had emerged from a fairy tale to my East Coast eyes.  The aura of “radical chic” was enhanced by the fact that Berkeley was located just across the Bay from San Francisco, then the home of the Hippy Counter-Culture which I had observed first hand upon my maiden voyage to the City, where I found myself living at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury.

I had been raised in the racially segregated black community in St. Augustine Florida, where I was socialized on the values of the “Talented Tenth;” the enlightened striving class who set high standards for the Afro-American community and guided us away from “the worst in our own and other races” as Dr. DuBois had called upon them to do in 1903.   And I made my maiden voyage to San Francisco directly from the comparatively staid and culturally conservative environment of Philadelphia; hence I was fairly shocked at the way white folks were carrying on in “the Haight.”  The few black folks I encountered were Jimi Hendrix acolytes, and at that time I thought Hendrix had lost his cotton pickin mind.

I was a disciplined member of the leadership of the Revolutionary Action Movement – which gave birth to the Black Panther Party of Oakland, a matter I have written about extensively elsewhere – and as a doctrinaire Maoist I viewed the entire counter-cultural movement as a mass exercise in bourgeois self-indulgence that only well off white folks could afford to fool with.  I was a soldier in the black struggle, a committed warrior intellectual who had been trained in the use of arms by the US military.

My first visit to the University of California Berkley was occasioned by an invitation to present a speech on the importance of Black Studies in the struggle to eradicate white racist ideology and behavior from American life.  Given the nature of the times – with massive urban riots in which it seemed that the torching of American cities had become common fare and the country was on the verge of race war – this subject matter was considered an urgent matter and Universities were trying to define a useful role they could play in resolving the racial crisis. Normally presenting this argument was easy work; I had already presented it with great success at universities and school boards across the country, including the Claremont Colleges and four of the campuses of the University of California.

But to my mind Berkeley was different.  I was all too aware that this was the incubator of the “Free Speech Movement,” an Ivory tower where great minds communed about perplexing problems in the social and physical world.  When I walked through the imposing gates on Telegraph Ave and set foot on the campus I felt an intimidation that I had never felt before.  Nobody really knew me there but I got a big audience because I was on the program with Afro-American writer Alex Haley, whose collaboration on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” had made him the most famous author in America, and read around the world.

At the time Haley was a Writer-in-Residence at the university and was working on a new book that he called “Before the Anger,” but was later published as “Roots,” an epic saga about African slavery in America that became one of the bestselling books in the history of publishing and was made into a riveting blockbuster television saga that made ratings history.As a devotee of Brother Malcolm, whom I knew well, and a big fan of the book, I was delighted to meet Mr. Haley, whom I thought had done America a spiritual benefaction by writing the “Autobiography.”

He was a warm and unpretentious southern brother that reminded me of church deacons that I had known in Florida.  I expressed my gratitude for his labors which he accepted with grace. As I waited to go on after his remarks, I pondered how to approach this audience, who routinely heard great minds hold forth in this space.  It was as if I suddenly had a revelation; I heard an inner voice say “What would John the Prophet Do?”

It was not the biblical prophet that I had in mind but the modern day sound sorcerer John Coltrane, whose music we revolutionaries were convinced was the sound track of the black Revolution.  And when he showed up at a speech of mine in North Philly at a rally organized by radical activist/Jazz Pianist John Churchville, a leader in the Northern Student Movement and we spent the rest of the evening rapping, I was convinced that we were right….Trane told me so.  “I say it all with my horn young brother,” he replied when I invited him to speak to a Black history class I was teaching in the basement of Mt. Zion Church, pastored by the Reverend Doctor Leon Sullivan, “The Lion of Zion!”

After pondering the question for a moment, I decided that if Trane was in my place he would come out and wail, knowing there was no profounder musical truth than that which he was preaching….so that’s what I did.   The audience bought what I was selling – being a skilled orator trained by my aunt Rosa, an exacting tutor, made the task a lot lighter – and they rewarded me with a standing ovation! All of these memories swirled around in my head as I waited for the concert to start in Zellerbach Hall.

Although I am a former history professor who left the profession for other endeavors, I have never lost my love for the study of history and how it can illuminate our understanding of present realities.  It is especially gratifying when you can reflect on events that you participated in that have now become important historical milestones and the people now famous whom you knew back when.

I found special satisfaction in how Black Studies have become a standard part of university curriculums across this nation. This was not always true; I know because I was a co-founder of the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies Department in the world at UMass Amherst in 1969, just a couple of years after I spoke on this campus, and we were the first to incorporate Jazz Studies taught by seminal artists into the curriculum when we awarded full professorships to instrumentalists/Composers/bandleaders Max Roach and Archie Shepp.

I also have a deep pride in what the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has made of itself since I was present at its inception and produced the most extensive media report on the opening of Jazz at Lincoln Center, presented on WBAI FM in New York. I have also worked on a book project with the world famous photographer Frank Stewart, who is the official photographer for the JALC Orchestra.  Titled “Magic Moments in the House of Swing,” it documents some of the great performances in this Mecca of Jazz in words and pictures.  Some of my essays were written as program notes for important concerts at Rose Hall, and they were illustrated with Frank’s photos.  As I write the manuscript is finished but unpublished.

The slice of history that I was most conscious of that evening was the claims that had been made by Dr. Ortiz Walton – bassist extraordinaire, insightful music critic and Ph.D. in sociology – who had been a doctoral student when Duke Ellington and his Orchestra performed on campus.   At the concert Walton – who would later write the great book “Music: Black, White and Blue” – was appalled by the absence of black students. In order to provide an explanation for what was obvious evidence of a cultural disconnect Walton designed a questionnaire and administered it to the Black students at Berkeley, and what at first looked like a cultural disconnect proved to be a cultural disaster!

The dominant answer of the black students was that they played past the concert because Duke Ellington’s band “didn’t play Black Music.”  Walton was astonished!  Duke Ellington, the greatest composer in the Afro-American musical tradition, had become a stranger to his progeny; a prophet without honor in his own land.  This experience led Walton to write two important books about music and the Afro-American tradition.  A musically ambidextrous virtuoso on the double bass violin, Walton was a principal bassist with the Cairo Symphony and also played with John Coltrane.  Like Wynton, he is a master of both musical Idioms.

Hence one of the things I paid close attention to was the number of black students, or young black people from whatever walk of life, who attended the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert.  Although half a century has passed since Duke’s band was here, and the world has turned upside down, black student disinterest in serious Afro-American art music has evidently remained pretty much the same. Here the old adage “the more things change the more they stay the same” applies.  The scant black presence dribbles off to near nothing when it comes to young people, who were outnumbered by their elders despite, and among those that I talked to only one young couple were not musicians; the rest were all aspiring musicians.

However the diversity of the crowd and the young musicians who sought Wynton’s advice is eloquent testimony to the widespread influence of the Afro-American art of Jazz; which in its love of personal freedom and promotion of invention makes it the quintessentially American art.   And that art has never been on finer display than it was at Zellenbach auditorium on that enchanted evening.  The band, an aggregation of virtuosi on all instruments, was in fine form.  The ensemble play was perfectly balanced, with each musician contributing his unique voice to a musical tapestry composed of many intriguing colors.  The program moved effortlessly as the music went from the classic big band repertoire to the most modern Jazz styles; the entire tradition of complex Afro-American art music was traversed and each was true to the performance style of the period.