July 19, 2012

By Joy Childs,

Watts Times Contributing Writer


Like manna from jazz heaven, tributes to two icons — Miles Davis on June 27 and Ray Charles on July 11 — came down on the Hollywood Bowl’s summer jazz series. They were two of the best tribute celebrations in recent memory at LA’s premier venue.

“A Celebration of Miles Davis”

If you haven’t been to the Bowl, or a post office lately, you might not know that the United States Post Service and the Bowl have unveiled the Miles Davis (1926−1991) commemorative stamp. The jazz icon’s stamp is a forever stamp (meaning it’s a perpetually valid first-class postage stamp), which  bears a likeness of Davis’ signature swaybacked stance blowing the hell out of a trumpet. 

The ceremony was attended by family members Cheryl Davis (daughter) and Erin Davis (son) as well as Herbie Hancock, who then had to rush over to the Bowl to moderate the concert honoring Davis.

What a brilliant celebration it turned out to be.

After telling the crowd about the commemorative stamp ceremony, to wild applause, Hancock revealed that his first gig with Davis was on the very stage from which he was speaking … i.e., at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964. That statement was enough to make the real jazz lovers in the audience smile in the imagination of what the stage might have looked like back then, set up, as it was, for one of the greatest jazz bands of all time: Hancock, Davis, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. OMG!

The show transported you back to the Miles Davis of the ‘60s and forward. First up — and fittingly so — was Jimmy Cobb’s So What Band. The drummer, at 83 years young and attired in his ever-present suspenders and cap, has the distinction of being the sole surviving member of Davis’ “Kind of Blue” masterpiece album, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Cobb and his band mates, including Javon Jackson (who, on tenor sax, was a ringer for John Coltrane); Buster Williams (bass); Larry Willis (piano) — and both Vincent Herring and Jeremy Pelt on trumpet — did an absolutely sterling job of recreating “King of Blue” in its entirety, songs so well known it wasn’t even necessary to call out their titles.

Moving on to the ‘70s and’80s was the Miles Electric Band. Their set opened with  Badal Roy on the tabla, which is a pair of small different-sized hand drums used especially in music of India. He was soon joined by trumpet extraordinaire/young lion Nicholas Payton, who tore it up on Davis’ 1971 recording of “Jack Johnson” before venturing in to “In a Silent Way,” regarded as one of Davis’ earliest experimentations with electric piano and guitar and rock improvisation.  Their grooves were augmented by black-and-white film footage and stills of Davis with fellow heavyweights Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.

The last third of the concert was devoted to the Miles Electric Band, headed by porkpie hat-wearing Marcus Miller, whose musical choices included “Splatch,” “Portia,” “Jekyll and Hyde,” “Goree,” and “Tutu,” Davis’ title album from 1986, dedicated to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the first Black Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. Little known is the fact that originally Davis was to have worked with Prince but ended up working with bassist/clarinetist Marcus Miller.  And given the result of “Tutu” and its progeny — “Tutu Revisited” (2011) — funketeers are no doubt thankful it was ultimately Miller’s off-the-chain funky licks that landed him that original recording date — and the Hollywood Bowl tribute as well.

“Ray Charles: Genius + Soul = Jazz”

How do you pay tribute to RC? It’s got to be an all-star event, joining world-class bands like the Count Basie Orchestra and an All-Star Band, of course, with special guest vocalists in a spectacular homage to one of the most distinctive voice of all times.

It may have been an odd choice for Tavis Smiley to have been the moderator, but it was all good. In fact, having Bebe Winans infuse his brand of gospel on Charles’ 1954 gospel-inspired “I Got a Woman” was a really good choice, and Winans was definitely up to the task on what had been Charles first R&B hit. And if you’re Winans, you can’t help but bring a soul injection, a gospel tinge to a song like “Drown In My Own Tears.”

A bit of a musical lesson was provided by Dave Koz, who told the audience, “A lot of people don’t know that Ray Charles was a great sax player [Note: This writer didn’t know.]” before taking the stage with his own musical hero, Tom Scott on “Them That (I Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet).  And Dee Dee Bridgewater, along with Houston Person on sax, was as sassy as she wanted to be on “Hallelujah I Love Him,” adding that she’d met Charles while doing “Sophisticated Ladies, that he’d invited her and the entire cast to his home for a cocktail party, where he told her, “Baby, I like your voice!” She also had tons of fun blowing on “Busted.”

Another highlight was Terence Blanchard doing a smoky, New Orleans bluesy – sounding strokes throughout the set.

The Raelettes were a hoot — soulful, preachy Patti Austin on “Come Rain or Come Shine.”  Sweet-sounding Lynne Fiddmont. Sexy siren Siedah Garrett. And Country Music Academy award-winner Martina McBride.  The Count Basie Band was in full swing mode on “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which Smiley announced was the first official crossover hit known.

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, donning dark glasses like Charles, certainly did justice to “Let the Good Times Roll” with the Count Basie Band and “Hurts to Be in Love,” as well as on “Cryin’ Time” with Monica Mancini.

One hysterically funny moment came from a 1977 “Saturday Night Live” clip featuring the comedians of that show posing as “The Young Caucasians” and singing a dismal version of “What’d I Say” in a 1950’s Four Freshmen style … which brilliantly led to a rocking, soulful version by the tribute musicians.

After ending with an all-star, patriotic “America the Beautiful, there was no doubt that Miles Davis and Ray Charles each left their stamp on the sphere of music — and a Ray Charles stamp is expected in 2013.

Category: Arts & Culture