Curtis Fuller and Louis Hayes at Jazz Standard
New York, NY
March 25, 2006
A packed Jazz Standard played host to two illustrious members of the hard-bop movement's old guard on March 25 as Curtis Fuller and Louis Hayesalong with veteran pianist John Hicksled an ensemble of "rising stars featuring the trumpets of Maurice Brown and Dwayne Eubanks (brother of guitarist Kevin), as well as Nat Reeves on bass.
Saturday night served as the third installment of the four-night run for the ensemble, which likely drew such a large crowd based on the name-recognition of Fuller, who happened to have played trombone on one of the most popular jazz albums of all time: John Coltrane's Blue Train, recorded for Blue Note in 1957. Fuller also led a series of superbly-cast dates for the label during the 1950s, all of which remaininexplicablyout of print. He can be heard, however, as a sideman on a number of readily available discs from leaders like Jimmy Smith, Sonny Clark and Art Blakey.
The drummer Hayes, who also performed with Fuller at last year's New Orleans Jazz Festival, is no slouch himself. While he doesn't appear on any juggernauts that have received the popular recognition of, say, Blue Train, he can be heard on a number of essential hard-bop dates, such as Grant Green's quartet sessions with Sonny Clark (on which he shared drumming duties with Blakey) and pretty much everything Horace Silver recorded for Blue Note during the second half of the 1950s.
In fact, it was Hayes who set the pace on Saturday night after a rather unusual exchange with Fuller. Upon taking the bandstand, the trombonist seemed to notice something strange about the lighting scheme and commented about it to Hayes. "Maybe we should just take it easy for a while, Fuller said. "It's just a thought.
Whether or not Hayes actually took the "thought into consideration is debatable, since - only seconds after Fuller's remarks - the drummer counted off and then blasted into a feverish, up-tempo beat which subsequently morphed into the Sonny Rollins tune "Tenor Madness. Fuller didn't seem to mind one bit, as he stated the melody with much enthusiasm, swallowing his entire microphone with the mouth of his instrument.
At 71, Fuller sounded as though hardly a year had passed since his days as a Blue Note journeyman. He played with the same excitement and fluidity that originally earned him the status of being known asalong with J.J. Johnsonthe "filet of hard-bop trombone players.
Fuller, like the audience, seemed to get as much pleasure from his solos as he did from those of his young trumpeters, both of whom exuded a sense of unadulterated joy at the opportunity to play alongside the man that once shared the stage with luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan and Art Farmer. The young men seemed to enjoy each other's solos and complimented each other upon their conclusions. Similarly, Fullerwho stood adjacent to Brownhumorously congratulated the dreadlocked-trumpeter by giving him the fist-to-fist, more contemporary version of the "high-five."
The group shifted gears for the second number for a laid-back, swinging rendition of Nat Adderley's classic tune "The Work Song, which was preceded by a lengthy anecdote by Fuller, who happened to be in a very talkative mood for much of the evening. Although these portions of the relatively short, approximately 50 minute-long program were both enjoyed and appreciated, part of me wished that they would have been substituted with a ballad, which the audience sadly never got to hear. All things being equal, however, the (according to Fuller) usually soft-spoken Hayes did take the microphone on one occasion to recognize his daughters, who happened to be in attendance for the set.
After a fine trio number led by Hicks who, like Fuller, was also a member of one of the 60s incarnations of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the band tackled the Fuller original "Arabia, which originally appeared on Blakey's 1961 Blue Note release Mosaic which was recently reissued by the label as part of its ongoing RVG series. Before the song, Fuller humorously noted that, when he first wrote the song, he "didn't know anything about bin Laden.
For the final number, Fuller chose the standard "A Night In Tunisia, which he said would feature Hayes, who had yet to play a true solo outside of trading fours near the end of each preceding song. It was before this tune that Fuller gave his lengthiest speech, wherein he recounted his relationship with the song's composer Dizzy Gillespie, whom Fuller credited with saving his career by giving him a job in his touring big band.
Fuller choked up a little while recalling the instance when the bedridden Gillespienear the end of his lifeinvited the trombonist up to his hospital room and presented him with a snapshot of the two of them during their initial partnership. This was very moving indeed. Had the band broken into Gillespie's "I Waited For You, the entire room might have been subsequently reduced to tears.
On the contrary, however, the band took a fiery cue from Hayes and segued into the aforementioned classic. It appeared as though both Eubanks and Brown were heavily inspired by Fuller's speech, since they tried their best to channel the spirit of the puffy-cheeked legend... and succeeded.
Hayes' long-awaited solo wasas predictedmagnificent. My only complaint is that it didn't go on longer. New York audiences shouldn't sweat it, however, since Hayes' own band is scheduled to perform at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola on Saturday April 8, as well as at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center on May 12, 2006. Surely that date will offer many more opportunities for Hayes to show off his skills, which seem to be as sharp as they were back when he played with Silver.
Speaking of Silver, I had a chance after the set to talk to Hayes, who said that he remains in touch and is still "tight with the piano legend, who currently resides in Malibu, CA. Asked if there was a chance that Silver would return to the east to perform, Hayes frankly said "no, citing health problems as the factor preventing that dream from becoming a reality.