Monday November 12, 2007
I arose early as always. It was before seven when I entered the Lido in search of coffee. Having traveled 183 nautical miles at an average speed of 14.6 knots (16.8 mph), we were about to dock in Nassau – a mere 8 minutes from first line ashore to safely docked at 7:10am.
Organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith was up early too, and I had breakfast with him and a documentary filmmaker named Bill. Conversation ranged from whether or not we wanted to go ashore and peruse the Straw Market, to more serious ideas such as the home for older musicians that Lonnie wishes existed, one where the older musicians could play occasionally and teach the younger ones who would come to a ‘school’ next door.
Clairdee was scheduled for double-duty today. At 1 pm was the Gospel Hour in the Vista Lounge with Cyrus Chestnut Trio and Clairdee. Cyrus’ trio (with bassist is Dezron Douglas, and drummer Neal Smith) played the first 40 minutes or so. Mesmerized by Cyrus’ big fat chords, fast runs, and dynamic shifts and turns, I lost track of the songs, but remember they opened with Junior Mance’s Jubilation, and Cyrus played some beautiful, reflective solos that showed his prodigious pianistic talent, more meditative than a shout of joy. Clairdee joined them for three songs at the end – Please Send Me Someone to Love (Percy Mayfield), His Eye Is On the Sparrow (lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel, and This Little Light of Mine; before it was over we were back at sea.
It’s just another 80-degree partly-cloudy day in paradise. The next leg of the trip was to be longest – 843 nm (969.45 miles) from Nassau to St Thomas – so we did not remain long in Nassau, departing the dock just before 2 pm and picking up a little speed (averaging 20.8 knots or 24 mph).
At 3:30 in the Queen’s Lounge, a medium-sized room with a small stage, Clairdee began her first set with her own trio. Thanks to an inadequate sound set-up, and no time to sound-check, none of the musicians could hear each other let alone hear the vocals. The result was a timid-sounding musical accompaniment that provided no foundation for the singer — it was something of a disaster, but the show went on and subsequent sets were much better. Norman Simmon, wearing his producer’s hat, has been working with Clairdee on a new album and, though he wasn’t on he ship, we could hear the results of the work they’ve been doing. In fact, but the end of the week, Clairdee had a whole new group of fans wondering where she’s been hiding until now.
Following dinner, during which Jimmy Heath had us cracking up with his funny lines (old meal, you know the stuff that older folks eat for breakfast, and tales of a meter maid, someone who wrote a song using in a whole bunch of different time signatures) we staked out seats in the Ocean Bar to hear the Lewis Nash Quartet with bassist Peter Washington, pianist Renee Rosnes and Jimmy Greene on tenor and soprano sax. Not only did we stay for both sets, but we sat right next to the drum set which is a testament to Lewis’ touch and dynamic range — not once did I have to cover my ears. In Lewis’ hands melody and harmony get just as much attention as rhythm.
They started the set with Red Top, “a blues classic,” said Lewis, followed by an original melody by Renee called Dizzy’s Spell because it is based on the chord structure of Dizzy Gillespie’s Con Alma. Jimmy played soprano on this one and the rhythm section was so tight, so in sync, that I felt it was hard for him to fit in — but my reaction may well have been influenced by my preference for the tenor sound over soprano. Jimmy switched back to tenor on Ask Me Now and I felt it to be much more expressive — whether that is a sign of his comfort or my bias I can’t tell you, but he sure has a wonderful warm tenor tone. They ended the set with Stablemates by Benny Golsen. Renee plays a lot of notes but each and every note says something, and that’s saying a lot.
The second set started with a Monk tune titled Eronel (Lenore backwards) after which Lewis acknowledged in the audience his elementary school music teacher. Then they played Lee Morgan’s Sea Aura (?), a tune that I never would have known by name but I instantly recognized the melody. Lewis has a way of imparting lots of info but you never feel like he’s talking a lot. He began the next tune with hands on his drums, then soft mallets, brushes and finally sticks propelling us into You and the Night and the Music. It was the rolling rhythms and not the waves that had me rockin’ in my seat.
Later we headed back into the Vista Lounge to catch the Dizzy Alumni Big Band set at 10 pm. Seated next to us were two ladies and we began to talk while waiting for the sound people to work out their problems. (John says that when we’re in an elevator I’ll know everyone’s life story before the doors open.) Dorothy J. Frasier Brooks and her friend Sarah are both from Chicago. Dorothy, who is 84-years-young and now resides in Vegas, knew all of John’s friends and haunts from back in the day (that being the 1930s and early 40s). What a treat for John to talk with people who share first-hand his frame of reference.
Finally, the band hit. The set included Hot House (Tad Dameron) with solos by Jimmy Heath (pictured on the right), Roy Hargrove (bottom left of Heath picture), and Eric Gunnerson; Con Alma (Dizzy Gillespie) featuring James Moody (pictured below, left), Claudio Roditi and Slide Hampton; Jessica’s Day (Quincy Jones) during which Roy Hargrove removed his mute to ‘talk about it” with Mark Deadman picking up the conversation from there; and I Mean You (Thelonious Monk, arranged by Dennis Mackrel) with solos by Eric Gunnerson, Steve Davis on trombone, John Lee on bass, with the flutes counter balanced by Gary Smulyan (bottom right of Heath picture) on baritone sax playing out the melody at the end. Also featured during the set were Jay Ashby, Wycliffe Gordon, Antonio Hart, and Jonathan Bosack. And if all of this was not entertaining enough, we were then treated to “a new trio of girl singers” – Roy Hargrove, James Moody and Slide Hampton scatting and yodeling their way through Blue Boogie. The set ended with Things to Come set afire by Roy Hargrove, the Claudio Roditi (pictured below, right), and Gisbert (next to Roy in Heath photo) as they swapped 8, 4 and 2-bar phrases ending together on the highest of hi notes. And so another day comes to a close on the high Cs.