BY DOUGLASS DELOACH
What is both hot and cool, rich and cheap, stimulating and relaxing, educational and entertaining, and occurs in Atlanta every year just when the city needs it the most, at summer’s end? The Atlanta Free jazz Festival, of course!
The fourth incarnation of the popular community celebration will start swinging on Monday, Aug. 31 (actually, on Wednesday, the 26th, if you count the Atlanta Public Library’s jazz film series), with the first of the noonday Central City Park concerts; and will continue to hop, bop, scat, squeal and sizzle all through the week culminating in a three day-Labor Day weekend marathon of locally and internationally renowned jazz artists. In addition to the live concerts, two nights of jazz films will be presented by David Chertok, who is returning to Atlanta and the High Museum’s Walter Hill Auditorium with his extensive collection of rare, soulful celluloid. The two programs, each night featuring an entirely different selection of footage, include clips of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Lester Young, Charlie Parker and many other classic jazz performers. Showtime is at 8 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 2 and 3. Also, A. B. Spellman, noted jazz critic and author (Four Lives in the Bebop Business), will give a lecture at the Forrest Avenue Consortium at 7 p.m., on Friday, Sept. 4.
The variety and scope of this year’s jazz Fest will provide ample opportunities for all jazz enthusiasts to indulge in their individual preferences among the music’s idioms. Whether it be snappin’ to the scattin’ of Betty Carter or breaking sound barriers with the World Saxophone Quartet; gettin’ off on an old Count Basie film clip or gettin’ down with the Neighborhood Arts Ensemble, Atlantans once again will be reminded of the universal appeal, the community-binding energy and the crucial contemporary importance of this indigenous music called jazz. Born in the South and rooted in slavery and the urbanization of America, jazz is an aural art that, by its very existence, in its myriad manifestations, raises the consciousness of all who listen to it jazz, more than any other Western music, is a dynamic outgrowth of social intercourse that speaks for the dignity and the political as well as aesthetic struggles of oppressed people world-wide.
Primary sponsorship for this year’s jazz Festival is again provided by the City of Atlanta’s Department of Cultural Affairs. This year’s Festival coordinator, Lamar Renfro, has succeeded in assembling a talent-laden schedule that rivals, if not surpasses, previous Festival Week programs. “We’ve got essentially the same type of lineup as years past, only more of it,” says Renfro. “There are two nights, instead of one, of Dave Chertok and his films, and then there’s the Friday night lecture with A. B. Spellman. Also we have more local acts than we’ve had before and, man, our headliners are really going to knock folks out!” And you can bet Renfro is not just whistlin’ you-know-what. Let’s take a brief look at the KO punches to which he has referred:
WORLD SAXOPHONE QUARTET (Sat, Sept 5, 7 p.m., Piedmont Park Inaugural Stage).
If you can only spare one night to attend the Festival, Saturday is the one to pick, and WSQ is the reason for the recommendation. With each successive concert the fame of the Quartet spreads with the impact of a volcanic ash cloud; burning, searing, leaving its indelible mark on those who saw and heard the spectacle; nature screaming with all its beautiful, humbling might Their two hard-to-find albums, Point of No Return on Moers Music, and Steppin’ With The World Saxophone Quartet on Black Saint Records, have elicited universal, unabashed critical acclaim. The word is, right up front, “You gotta see ‘em to believe ‘em!”
WSQ consists of, naturally and exclusively, four saxophonists: David Murray on tenor, Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill on altos and Hamiet Bluiett on baritone. Members of this eclectic group have also been known to pick up soprano saxes, flutes, bass clarinets - whatever will carry the wind, whatever befits the needs of a particular performance.
The music they create is as varied as the history of jazz. A ragtime roll gives way to bebop contrapuntally; or perhaps a swooping swing section reminiscent of an Ellington- orchestra will metamorphose into a free-screaming wail akin to Sun Ra’s Myth Science Arkestra explorations. All of this musical cornucopia pours out of the minds and lungs of the WSQ, blown with the gentle/fierce winds of ageless rhythms and timeless melodies, with the haunting spectre of Albert Ayler as a primary guiding spirit. They will take you from deepest Africa to Broadway, from Kansas City to New Orleans, and from outer space to inner Harlem. Furthermore, it is said they are as exciting to see as they are to hear. A recent New York concert was performed in exquisite attire, white ties and tails, the musicians marching, strutting, walking and running all over the stage, much to the audience’s surprise and delight
MAX ROACH (Sat, Sept 5, 8:30 p.m., Piedmont Park Inaugural Stage).
Percussionist extraordinaire, music professor, record producer, bandleader and driving force within the jazz community for over 30 years; Max Roach has paid dues, reaped rewards and continued to provide, by his life’s example, a working model for the creative, intellectual depth associated with the art of jazz. From his hard bop (the word itself seems to onomatopoetically define Roach’s drumming style) sessions in the ‘40s and ‘50s, to his militant stance during the civil rights movement in the ‘60s (exemplified by the recently reissued recording of his Freedom Now Suite on Columbia), continuing through more recent recordings (check out Chattahoochee Red, just released on Columbia, and then tell me if the title is just a coincidence) with the quartet he will bring to Atlanta, Max Roach is an irreproachable leader.
His current group consists of Cecil Bridgewater, a trumpeter who blows with the force of the late Clifford Brown (with whom Roach made some classic recordings), tempered with the subtlety and humor of Lester Bowie’s growls, spits and whooshes; Odean Pope, a tenor saxophonist infused with the fierceness and delicacy of Shepp and Trane, whose tone conjures up a refined and polished Byard Lancaster; and bassist Calvin Hill who possesses the strongest fingers this side of Cecil McBee (this means his pinkie looks like your forearm). Roach claims his band represents the “best” in the contemporary jazz milieu because of the “artists’ awareness of the great history and profound techniques necessary to truly master this new music”
BETTY CARTER (Sun., Sept 6, 7 p.m., Piedmont Park Inaugural Stage).
First, the Lord said, “Let there be Ella.” And He saw that this was very hip. But, a few years later, in the late-’40s, a young singer named Betty Carter began performing with Lionel Hampton’s band and she, too, had a divine touch in her voice, a voice that sounded like an instrument of the gods of bop. By 1955 she was cutting records of her own (a recent reissue from Columbia, Betty Carter- Social Call, includes selections from these early sessions), and continued her development as a jazz vocalist while remaining somewhat in the shadow of Queen Ella and later, Sarah Vaughan. Several years ago, her legend, talent and unrelenting artistic commitment finally resulted in a well-deserved burst of recognition and respect, not to mention recording and performing gigs.
Currently riding very high on the success of a two-record chronicle of a series of concerts performed in San Francisco in 1979 (The Audience With Betty Carter, produced by her own company, Bet-Car), this supremely gifted vocalist undoubtedly will garner our city’s highest accolades once she gets through her set on Labor Day Eve. Miss Carter can swoon with Lady Day, she can scat and bebop with no apologies to Ella, her timing and voicing are incomparable, and her musical range and emotional depth are seemingly limitless.
TOSHIKO AKIYOSHI (Mon., Sept 7, 7 p.m. Piedmont Park Inaugural Stage).
An international award winner for the past several years, Toshiko Akiyoshi is an extremely rare artist: a female big band leader. She is also unquestionably one of contemporary jazz’s most gifted composers and arrangers. Akiyoshi just received top honors in both categories in the prestigious downbeat Critics/Readers Poll. Although she is most often noted for her work with her big band, her Atlanta debut will be with a quartet featuring the exceptional flute and reed playing talents of her husband, Lew Tabackin. No sweat - Miss Akiyoshi is as impressive in this small format as when she’s swinging a heavier club.
Her piano work is deft and delightful and her compositions undulate and seethe with the juggernaut force of Mingus’ multi-tempoed works (Akiyoshi played with Mingus in 1962 and is quick to acknowledge her debt to the master jazz composer). Even though she has studied, worked and lived in the United States since leaving Japan in the late ’50s, the 52 year old artist represents a poignant, underlying theme in jazz music in general and our Festival in particular: that is, jazz is a peoples’ music, all peoples. It is world music - east, west, north and south, men and women. Akiyoshi’s presence at this year’s Free Jazz Festival signifies the truly international aspect of the music, and in turn, the city, by virtue of its involvement in this cross-cultural event.
The headliners are only a part of the Atlanta Free jazz Festival. Both at the noonday concerts at the Central City Park Amphitheater and as part of the Labor Day weekend festivities, an extensive supply of local talent in the Jazz field has been secured. It would be nice to go into some detail concerning all of the fine local artists who will participate in this year's Jazz Week but, for the sake of space, a simple listing of the groups, times and dates must suffice:
Central City Park Amphitheater
Each day at noon, a different group will be featured: The Family Jazz Quintet, 8131; Magic Dream, 911; Steve Dwiggins Trio, 9/2; Spectrum, 9/3; and Crescent, 9/4.
Piedmont Park Inaugural Stage
Saturday, Sept. 5: Bob Shaw Quartet, 1 p.m.; Pat Foster, 2:30 p.m.; Clark College Jazz Orchestra, 4 p.m.; and Ojeda Penn, 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 6: Vili Lakatos, 1 p.m.; James Hudson, 2:30 p.m.; Carol Veto, 4 p.m.; and Life Force, 5:30 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 7: Chubby Stevens, 1 p.m.; Billy McPherson, 2:30p.m.; Rod Smith, 4 p.m.; and Neighborhood Arts Ensemble, 5:30 p.m.
And don't target the Atlanta Public Library series of jazz films (all films at 2 p.m. downtown):
Wednesday, Aug. 26 - MINGUS, an incredible cinema-vérité portrait of the late Charles Mingus, the film features a set with Dannie Richmond, Charles McPherson and Walter Bishop.
Thursday, Aug. 27 - BUT THEN SHE'S BETTY CARTER, a look at the singer at home, in the recording studio and in concert.
Friday, Aug. 28 - JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S AFTERNOON, just to get you in the mood, this color film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival features Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Thelonius Monk, Chuck Berry and many others.