Yo! Bob Wilber's in Town!
Northampton’s Jazz Workshop got a lift last night from saxophonist Bob Wilber and his wife Pug Horton, the English-born singer, who are in the area this week visiting family and friends. Bob also came by WFCR’s studios yesterday for an interview, and he’ll be in New York next week to celebrate his 84th birthday.
Last night’s show opened with the week's featured soloist, tenor and soprano saxophonist Scott Mullet, sitting in with the Jazz Workshop Trio of Paul Arslanian, George Kaye, and Jon Fisher. Arslanian calls Mullet “the big noise from Keene,” and the New Hampshire native delivered hard-swinging performances of “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Airegin,” “Soul Eyes,” “Isfahan,” and “Red Top” in his hour-long set. The workshop has been in its cozy new home at the Clarion Hotel for a month now, and the bandstand’s been moved to the center of the room, a nice adjustment that adds even more intimacy to the experience.
Mullet's guest appearance was followed by a jam session that brought Michael Zsoldos, a fine tenor player from Woodstock, VT, and pianist Miro Sprague to the stage. Zsoldos, who teaches at the University of Vermont, released an outstanding CD in 2010 entitled Off the Cuff that features Sprague, Martin Wind and Matt Wilson. Last night a hearty round of applause erupted when Arslanian announced that Miro has been admitted to the highly competitive Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute in Los Angeles—the only pianist to be selected for the new class of Master’s candidates. The Southern California scene will surely benefit from Miro’s presence over the next two years-- catch him before he leaves for the West Coast this summer.
(Miro Sprague and Michael Zsoldos, photo credit: George Thomas)
Bob Wilber surprised the
Following “Lullaby,” Pug and Paul joined Bob for a delightful take on “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” with Horton adding a resigned inflection on “You’re only king for a day.” Bob called Zsoldos and Sprague back for “In a Mellotone,” the Duke Ellington classic based on “Rose Room.” Wilber played 16 bars of Art Hickman’s melody, then with tongue-in-cheek, suggested that if the players didn’t know “Mellotone,” they could fall back on “Rose Room.” Wilber enhanced the magical beauty of these spontaneous creations by harmonizing and setting up unison riffs with Zsoldos and trumpeter Don Anderson, who joined in on “Mellotone.”
"Bob has such deep history in his playing-- it's ridiculous," Zsoldos says. "I could just feel it when he'd sing a riff to me. Usually I'm the one throwing riffs around to other horn players. It was so fun to have him take the reins like that. And what a sound!"
Michael’s testimony echoes my own sense of amazement at how the universal language of jazz allows players of different generations who hardly know each other’s names to create music of an emotionally satisfying nature in the moment. Last night’s was a stellar example, but it’s not uncommon. Indeed, there’ll be more next Tuesday when the great tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart arrives from New York as the workshop’s guest soloist. Plan to arrive early.
Meanwhile, give a listen to my conversation with Bob Wilber. And tune in on Thursday, March 15, when we'll light a few candles for Bob's 84th in Jazz à la Mode.