Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Yearly jazz show at Lakeland a treasure for fans

I believe it was Duke Ellington who wrote, “Music Is My Mistress.” I understand the sentiment.

My collections of classical and country music are modest — at best. But jazz — that is another story. My home is overrun with jazz in all its contexts and variations, as well as playing speeds.

Now, it is perfectly acceptable to have a focus on a singular genre of jazz — that is, to say, a specific era. I cut my musical teeth on Big Band Jazz and the Swing Era. But to be well-rounded in all aspects of jazz, one must gain exposure to all of its manifestations, listen to everything that is offered, and give it a chance to win its way into your heart.

I know people who are still hung up on Dixieland Jazz, never progressing beyond that stage in the evolution. They are known as Moldy Figs. They are good people, but severely limited in jazz scope.

But if you give jazz in all its forms a chance, you may discover some sounds you might have never known existed.

Thus it was that four of us ventured a week ago last night to the 40th Annual Jazz Festival at Lakeland Community College — and to hear some music with which I was basically unfamiliar.

The featured group was Yellowjackets, a Grammy Award-winning jazz fusion group that is light years from the cotton fields of the South, the tailgates in the funeral processions in New Orleans and the stuff I grew up on — Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Ellington, Buddy Rich and, later on, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz and even beyond — Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and other avant-garde artists.

You can’t appreciate the Yellowjackets without a sense of music history in jazz. And I will be bold enough to say that there is no singular contribution to the playing of live jazz in Lake County that approaches that made by Lakeland Community College and its annual Jazz Festivals.

Furthermore, there is no individual who holds a more elevated position in the promotion of jazz in the county than Chuck Frank, a retired faculty member at Lakeland and the founder of the Lakeland Jazz Festival.

Chuck was honored at the Feb. 25 concert, as he should have been. He really started something! At the first Festival in 1973, he brought in trumpeter Clark Terry to headline the show. The luminaries who have performed over those 40 years are lengedary — some of the biggest names in jazz.

They were all listed in this year’s program. If you don’t recognize the names, take my word for it — they are jazz superstars.

Our foursome – Kirtland Mayor Mark Tyler, his wife, Sandy, the lady who runs our household and me — grabbed a quick meal at the new Skye Restaurant at Lawnfield Inn in Mentor. We were in a rush because we didn’t want to be late for the concert.

Too bad we had to hurry. The restaurant — an enterprise of Rob Kneen and his mother, Arlene Kneen of Traveline fame, is in every way fabulous. We’ll go back soon when we can spend more time.

As we seated ourselves for the concert following a brief reception hosted by Lake National Bank, we found ourselves surrounded by friends. We were right next to Dick and Ellen Foley Kessler.

But the highlight of the evening was the music. Much has happened harmonically in music since the 1950s, and we are now in future shock. A lot that happened was “cool.” Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” helped lead the assault. A true rebellion was under way. We were surrounded by unresolved cadences.

Pianists Theoloneous Monk and Dave Brubeck were playing time signatures we had never heard before. There were odd meters. There was modal jazz, free jazz and fusion, which is really jazz rock. Miles’ album “Bitches’ Brew” led the way. That evolved into Weather Report.

Somewhere in this lexicon of futuristic fusion sounds comes Yellowjackets.

You really have to hear the group to appreciate everything it does musically. The individual artists, Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone, Russell Ferrante on keyboards, William Kennedy on drums and Felix Pastorious on bass, are mega-talents.

I didn’t see an empty seat in the house. And the hugely enthusiastic audience roared its approval. It rocked the place, and didn’t let the Yellowjackets off the stage without an encore.
The evening was a WOW! with capital letters. Thanks, Chuck Frank, for starting it all. And thanks, Lakeland, for continuing the tradition.


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