David "Fat-Head" Newman - Feb 14, 2006

We went to a concert last night up at the University of Utah... I heard about it and thought it would be a good one to see. The University's jazz ensembles were playing as part of a week long mini jazz festival here, in conjunction with Black History Month. (the guy with the microphone called it "Black Awareness Month" - nice one, dude)

Anyway, the concert got off to a slow start, but got going after the Faculty Jazz Trio took the stage. I didn't get the names of all the players, but it was cookin... It was readily obvious that these three guys are the department heads in their own individual instruments. Every one, piano, drums, and bass have mastered their instruments, and made each selection interesting, as opposed to simply keeping time. The bass player was playing open fourths and fifths, strumming, using harmonics, and walked all over the place with the ease that comes from years of intimate familiarization with the instrument.

The drummer was equally adept. With a snare, two toms, a small jazz kicker, three cymbals and a hi-hat, he made every bar unique and interesting. He played with lighter sticks, and with brushes. He was complimentary, calling and answering at all the right times. He marked the 4 and 8 bar turnarounds with clock-like accuracy. A very sensitive player.

The piano player was able to drop the perfect fills into each spot with surety and clarity, he had visual contact with both the bass player and the drummer, which made the entire combo solid as a rock.

The trio was joined after a tune or two by David "Fat-Head" Newman. He's an older dude now, wore a nice beret and was very personable in his comments about each tune to the audience. He played VERY well, although not the ton of notes one might associate with a bebop player. He played the flute - almost better than the saxophone. He played very well, with solos that were so melodic they seemed to simply be a part of the song's melody anyway. Which is the whole point of improvised jazz music. Little did I know, he was really just warming up for his set with the Jazz Ensemble I which was to follow the intermission.

The Jazz Ensemble I took the stage and the announcer made some comments regarding the Jazz Festival etc, and also announced that the University of Utah is beginning a Masters in Jazz Studies Program starting next year. Pretty cool, really. Then he introduced the new director of the Jazz Ensemble, Greg Floor, who was a former grad student who had been away for 5 years on the east coast, finishing his Masters in Jazz Studies, as well as a Masters in Divinity Studies at the same time. He had previously played lead alto in the Jazz Ensemble as well as other ensembles while he was away.

Incidentally, he plays clubs, etc, around here when he is in town, but I had never taken the opportunity to go hear him. I probably will the next time I am able.

This ensemble ROCKED the house. The rhythm section was so tight, the rest of the band couldn't HELP but follow them. The bass player, Alex Rowe, and the drummer, Bobby James, have spent some hours playing off each other, and they had a good musical conversation going. Not to be out done, Courtney Smith, on piano, was involved in this ongoing conversation, and had plenty to say for himself in his own right, laying down musical solos and calling out to both the drums and bass often.

They then introduced Mr. Newman again, and as he was coming out they announced that it was his birthday in a few days and everyone sang Happy Birthday to him. Then it was on to the real music. Every song after the first two featured Newman and he delivered his goods in a solid and professional set. His solos were delightfully melodic, and the timbre from both the saxophones and the flute were wonderfully rich and smooth. A nice aged scotch came to mind. He played with energy and it was a great set from one of the "old school" jazz men. These guys seem to be national treasures. He mentioned at one point that people who support jazz concerts and artists are supporting the one truly American contribution to the world music catalog. And he's right.

A lovely evening and a nice touch to the Valentine's Day schedule. Not to mention easy on the wallet. :)

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