Thursday, December 17, 2009

LEE-WAY

Tuesday night, Scott Gwinnell honored you. Are you familiar with his reputation? . Mr. Morgan, Gwinnell is the best jazz piano player in Michigan that I’ve listened to so far. That’s my opinion. I’m sure they’re others who concur. Let me tell you a little bit about him. He's a tall white fellow. He lives in Harper Woods, a small community near Detroit. We’re neighbors. He gigs mostly around Detroit. He supplements his income by giving piano lessons in his home. His peers only have good things to say about him. He's a self-less bandleader, and he writes amazing charts for the Scott Gwinnell Orchestra, which he formed ten years ago. The orchestra is outstanding. Gwinnell loaded it with some fine jazz musicians.

This summer, the orchestra headlined the 2009 Detroit International Jazz Festival. The capacity crowd cheered, and begged for an encore. The performance was a hit. It was the orchestra's first international exposure. They handled the pressure like pros. Gwinnell is also known for writing challenging charts. His album “Brush Fire” is his best work yet. That's some of Gwinnell's biography. Now, I'll tell you how Gwinnell honored you at the

Cadieux Café Tuesday night. The place was packed. Gwinnell scaled his orchestra down to a ten-piece ensemble. The ensemble played some of your obscure compositions such as "Our Man Higgins", "Totem Pole" and "Desert Moonlight". Trumpeters Paul Finkbeiner and Justin Walter solos were memorable. Neither trumpeter tried to copy your style. They played your music their way. Finkbeiner was the more seasoned. There're traces of trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw's DNA in Finkbeiner solos.

Sax men Keith Kaminski, and Steve Woods were brilliant. Kaminiski arranged "Our Man Higgins", and he wrote the juiciest parts for himself and drummer Scott Kretzer. They passed musicalnotes back and forward like cheat sheets. Steve Woods amazed the crowd. Woods is an old school tenor player. His phrasing is conversational, and his tone is big as an economical recession. Gwinnell's ensemble had a blast playing his arrangements. Finkbeiner told me after the first set that playing in Gwinnell's ensemble is like bowling night for musicians.

Mr. Morgan, I set next to three white teenagers. During the intermission, I eavesdropped on their conversation. They were knowledgeable. They knew about your tenure with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, They sounded scholarly discussing albums you made for Blue Note Records such as “The Sidewinder", ”Cornbread" and "Candy”. They recited facts about your career like a baseball fan reciting
his favorite players stats. The teens probably knew the color socks you wore when you first met Blue Note founder Alfred Lion. Most African-American teenagers probably never heard of you, which is shameful.

I wonder why others appreciate jazz geniuses such as you, and most blacks don’t. When I think about how blacks take black artists, writers, and musicians for granted I get upset. Years ago, a friend told me if weren't for hip whites black culture would've died along time ago. Maybe my friend was right. Most of the critics, historians, and scholars who write about black culture are white. Many of my friends who love jazz are white. To them jazz is just as essential as food, clothing, and shelter. Mr. Morgan that's enough preaching. I'll finish telling your about the performance.

Gwinnell didn't solo much. Which was okay because the club doesn't have a piano. Gwinnell played a Casio keyboard. He introduced the compositions and the soloists. This year, I've experienced him as a bandleader and as a sideman. He never hogged the spotlight. Anyway, Gwinnell's ensemble handled your music like family heirlooms. He put the spotlight on his band-mates, and they didn't let him down.
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