February is one of those months when this New York Beat column could expand into a full periodical because of the plethora of jazz activity occurring in Gotham.
I began my trek early in the month, when the city was buried in crystal mounds of snow from winter storms that had pounded the city, week after week, producing record totals. I made my way down to Del Posto (which I'm told is the country's only four-star Italian restaurant) to hear pianist Tony Monte display his gourmet menu of Cole Porter music. Bobby Short used to drop by Monte's gigs in chic Manhattan boites because he rated him the number one Porter exponent. After several years at Del Posto, Monte still holds court nightly, and I can report that his Porter music is as lilting as ever.
The Manhattan School of Music's 3rd Annual Charles Mingus High School Competition & Festival had events occurring all over town. The Mingus Big band played to packed houses at Jazz Standard, Gunther Schuller conducted Mingus Orchestra concerts at St. Bart's which were recorded on NPR, free clinics and master classes were given at Manhattan School of Music, and twelve schools from all over America with big bands and combos performed during the competition. Producer and judge Justin DiCicoccio said the student musicians were "the best that I have ever seen..." Producer Sue Mingus added, "For years, Mingus' music was thought to be too difficult to perform ...The future of the music is in the hands of these kids. They are keeping the music alive."
Over at The Kitano, vocalist Antoinette Montague celebrated Valentine's Day weekend with a show dubbed "Love Stories & other Tales from the Deep Blue Sea." Surrounded by a quintet of stalwart players (Bill Easley on tenor, Jay Hoggard on vibes, Tommy James on piano, Hassan Shakur on bass and Payton Crossley on drums, Montague stirred the room despite her occasional pitch problems and the room's spotty sound mixing. Her Betty Carter-like phrasing, forceful body language and humorous patter buoyed her set, reinforcing the old jazz axiom about live performances outweighing studio recordings.
The highlight of my February peregrinations occurred at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola where Benny Green was ensconced with his trio, performing a program dubbed "Monk's Dream: Fifty Years Fresh." I can't remember when I've heard Thelonious Monk's music played so deftly and with such, well, freshness. Green's improvisational lines were particularly intriguing and brought to mind the irony of Monk not always being the best pianistic executor of his own music. Monk's heads do not readily lend themselves to improvs which wander far into the forest, but Green's explorations were daring and brilliantly conceived. The "Washington Boys"Kenny on drums andPeter on bassadded luster to the swinging set, with the bassist's solos carefully articulated seminars in the complex Monk literature, and the drummer's stick work, particularly in the four-bar trades, was outstanding.
When altoist Jesse Davis came onstage to join the party, the swinging intensified. Davis' multi-note tapestries on such standards as "Fifty-Second St. Theme" and "Trinkle Tinkle" were delicious. The Monk ballads"Introspection" and "Reflections"were performed with solid, even scholarly perspicacity by Green, whose career is soaring.
There was a lot more going on in February, but at least we seem to have covered the letter "M" pretty thoroughly.