What: Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival
Where: Moscow, Idaho
Why: Because even Idaho needs jazz
Who: Last night featured a headlining performance by Dr. John
As the self-proclaimed coolest person in Moscow it's hard for me to admit this. Yesterday I wasn't even in the top five of cool people in this Idaho college town. Dr. John, the Night Tripper himself, was here. As cool as I am (as cool as I think I am), I am nowhere near as cool as Dr. John. Sorry, folks, just not happening.
I'm not as cool as his band, either, so there is three more spots that I fall.
I'm not as cool as Georgia-born trombone player Wycliffe Gordon, so that dropped me out of the top five.
For four days every February, the University of Idaho hosts the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival. This might seem weird, especially if you've ever been to North Idaho, one of the whitest places in the country. Besides nightly concerts featuring jazz icons (Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald have played here in the past), students from middle, junior, and senior high schools are invited to participate in adjudicated workshops and clinics. While the UI student body bitches about their parking spaces being taken and how a gaggle of middle school kids jammed the lunch line, there is constant music going on.In fact, I can here it right now. A drum kit being brushed, alto sax and bass-- oh so low.
So, last night started with the Open World Quartet, a Russian group with a smoking hot female bassist. Slap me know if you have to, but female bassists, be it upright or electric, are among the sexiest sights on the planet. The group was a good start to the evening.
Next up was the Lionel Hampton All-Star Rhythm Section. No, Hamp didn't play. He's been dead for a years now, but that's one of the great things about this festival: Hamp's spirit lives on. A couple songs into the set, the quartet was joined by Aaron Weinstein on violin. Jazz violin seems weird to me, but Weinstein's fiddling was solid on "Juicy Lucy" and "Three Little Words."
The real swinging jazz began when Wycliffe Gordon joined the group, replacing Weinstein. I can't say I had ever heard a trombone purr like Gordon had his doing.
This was supposed to be "New Orleans is in the House" night, but Gordon's performance of "Basin Street Blues" was the first real hint that NOLA was indeed in the house. Switching it up with vocals, Gordon uttered my favorite phrase of the night: Shap-doop-a-zee-zo. I think I spelled that right. Say it. Shap-doop-a-zee-zo.
Gordon and the rhythm section moved onto "Sweet Georgia Brown" after a round of "Hamp style" introductions.
"On piano," Gordon said, "Gates. Gates on the guitar. On bass, that's Mr. Gates. On the drums, Gates Gates. And me, I'm Gates, too."
The classic Hamp nickname fit each performer because they kept on swinging.
Gordon re-appeared as part of Ed Polcer's "Lionel, Red, and Bunny" group. Polcer and Gordon were joined by Houston Person on sax, Joe Ascione, bassist Christoph Luty, and John Cocuzzi alternating between piano and vibraphone. Vocalist Judy Kurtz sauntered on stage for "St. Louis Blues" and "Blue Skies."
This is where i had hoped to bring you good people photos of the Night Tripper. Unfortunately, Dr. John's contract stipulated no photos could be taken of him or his band and that no one was allowed to talk to him.
Yes, I'm bummed out, too. Especially when I was backstage, standing two feet away from him and couldn't eve say hello for fear of getting kicked out.
After an intro from his band, Dr. John strutted out in a green suit and matching fedora, voodoo cane in hand. The single candle and skull on his grand piano should have set the mood for a rollicking good time. This, however, is a modern jazz crowd. The PA informed everyone to remain seated and to be quite during performances. When Dr. John's drummer told everyone to stand, that this was a party, a wave of hesitance rippled through the crowd before everyone came to their feet.
Halfway through the set, one of my college newspaper colleagues asked me if Dr. John was the original artist for the song he was playing. The song happened to be "Right Place Wrong Time."
So, yeah, that's Dr. John's song.
The highlight of his set was a rendition of Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene." Anytime the good doctor turns to play his organ with one hand while keeping the other on the piano, it's magic. Even if it only lasts a few bars.
The night finished with a jam of "Down by the Riverside" featuring many of the night's previous performers. Gordon took the lead vocals and made the song his own, like something left over from New Orleans that only he could share with the rest of the world.
All in all, a good first night.