Jazz musician Art Blakey states, “Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life,” and that is nothing short of what happened at Slosberg Music Center this past Sunday, Oct. 4, as the New Black Eagle Jazz Band lit up the stage as part of a series of benefit concerts for friend of the band and fellow jazz musician, Anthony Weller. In 2002, Weller was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down, and the group hopes to support an artist in need in the best way they know how.
The New Black Eagle Jazz Band is a seven-piece ensemble consisting of Tony Pringle on the cornet, Billy Novak on the clarinet and alto saxophone, Stan Vincent on the Trombone, Peter Bullis on the banjo, drummer Cees Hans Pameijer, bassist Barry Bockus and former pianist Bob Pilsbury. A strong force in the international jazz scene since their founding in 1971, the group has toured extensively throughout North America and Europe, performing at festivals in cities like Toronto, New Orleans and London to name a few, and has produced over 40 recordings, including the Grammy-nominated “On the River.”
The group opened the night with “Wolverine Blues,” a piece originally composed for piano by Jelly Roll Morton, a key figure and influence in the early world of jazz. This piece set the tone of the night, as the majority of the pieces performed were reminiscent of early jazz, with influences of traditional marches and an overwhelming presence of ragtime.
Though it was stated that the group likes to play a different arrangement of pieces each night, there were a few fan-favorite classics known by the returning audience members, old and young, who came from all around the Boston area to see the performance. These included jazz arrangements of Cole Porter’s “It’s Alright With Me” in C-minor and Earl “Fatha” Hines’ “Rosetta” in F. The group also included a few pieces that crossed over into pop-culture, like the theme of the Burns and Allen Show “Love Nest,” and a piece the group had heard on the 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” titled “I’ll Fly Away With You.”
The group had two feature solos during their performance, the first a soulful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by trombonist Vincent. A crowd-favorite, as well as a favorite of Vincent himself, this arrangement featured a slowed-down tempo and calming minor tones that contrasted the uplifting vibe of the original arrangement’s instrumentation. Vincent’s warm tonality and use of slide vibrato also added to the audience’s appeal, and after the applause faded he charmingly added, “Every time I play that tune, it reminds me of Walt Disney. I don’t know why.”
Alto saxophone player Novak performed the jazz standard “Body and Soul,” which was originally written in 1930 and was quite possibly the most contemporary piece of the night. Though “out of time” in accordance to the group’s other songs, “Body and Soul” was most definitely not “out of place” that night, providing a much-welcome break from the uptempo rhythm of traditional rag-themed jazz. The slow and melancholy tone of the saxophone was more reflective of New York style jazz than the group’s predominantly New Orleans style.
In addition to the two solo pieces, each song had solo sections where each of the three main wind players, as well as the rhythm section, got to show off their improvisational skills within the contexts of the different pieces. Though the bluesy solos of the bass and piano players added yet another layer to the group’s musicality, it was the upbeat and intense drum solo featured in the performance’s final piece, “Shake It and Break It,” that made an impression on the audience.
Though the music was most definitely the highlight of the night, audience members left the performance reminded of the true power of music’s ability to unite people in a common cause. A portion of the concert’s proceeds will be donated to Webber in order to help him receive both appropriate care at his home and adaptive technology that will allow him to continue writing music. The New Black Eagle Jazz Band’s next benefit will take place at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, this Sunday, Oct. 11.