JAZZ REVIEWS : JAZZ-AND-POETRY WEDDING REVISITED
Billed as a tribute to Black History Month, the concert Sunday evening at El Camino College was organized by the eminent bassist John Heard. It was also announced as a multimedia show, since some of Heard’s work as painter and sculptor was displayed on stage.
The wedding of jazz and poetry, a short-lived fad in the 1950s, was celebrated by Sherley Williams, a literature professor from UC San Diego, accompanied by the splendid bass work of Bert Turetzky, a music professor at the same college. Williams’ so-called “Bessie Smith” suite, a series of short poems with blues overtones, was notable only for earnest good intentions in a genre dealt with far more successfully several decades ago by Langston Hughes.
John Heard’s group played five tunes, mostly based on well-worn, over-familiar standard routines. Despite a rich array of talents, among them Bobby Hutcherson, George Cables and Oscar Brashear, it was a cheerless set, poorly balanced (for the first couple of numbers Heard was unheard), enlivened now and then by Brashear’s well-constructed solos. The closing “Night in Tunisia” found Benny Maupin’s tenor sax subjected to the tonal distortions that have become a familiar solecism in the pseudo-avant-garde.
Joe Williams knew how to save the evening. Addressing himself to the premise of the concert, he talked about the heritage of the blues, sang several, talked about the spiritual and sang “Down by the Riverside,” talked about Duke Ellington and Eubie Blake before singing their songs, then indulged in a narration that managed to say, in 10 minutes, what it took Alex Haley several hundred pages to express in “Roots.” In short, he was in rare form, except that in Joe Williams’ case, rare means well done.
Aside from Williams and his fine trio (Norman Simmons, piano; Bob Badgley, bass, and Gerryck King, drums) the most impressive things on stage during this flawed evening were the busts by John Heard of Ellington and Billy Eckstine. He is indeed his own one-man multimedia presentation.