A constellation of All-Stars
Once the word got out in the jazz community that NJPAC was hosting a special musical homage for George Wein, the 250-seat Chase Room filled up faster than you can say Satchmo.
The 88-year-old jazz impresario was honored before an invited audience for his expansive career in making and producing music, as well as pioneering the Newport Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 60th anniversary next summer. Driving the performance – a veritable “Wein machine” of talent – were the Newport All-Stars. The starry assemblage of jazz deans and masterful newcomers was led by Wein on piano.
A trio of jazz connoisseurs – NJPAC Jazz Ambassadors and hosts Tray Davis, Paul Profeta and Jeffrey Sherman – played prime roles in their support of the evening and in sharing their enthusiasm for jazz with other guests.
“We are very proud to be the founding members of the Jazz Ambassadors, which provides leadership and support for jazz at NJPAC,” said Sherman. “After all, how can this world-class cultural institution not house a rich and deep jazz program here in the City of Newark, the birthplace and home of some of the greatest names in jazz?”
NJPAC is the curator and presenter of more than two dozen major jazz events to come this season. Sherman said the Arts Center will continue to “build upon the growing successes of the annual TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival and the many performances in Prudential Hall, the Victoria Theater, the Chase Room, Dorthaan's Place in NICO Kitchen + Bar, and out front during our wonderful Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City festival.”
In a conversational prelude, NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber flashed back almost 40 years, when he worked for Wein as a college kid, writing Newport festival press releases for $100 a week. “There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not grateful to George Wein for giving me my life as a professional,” said Schreiber, who at the time of his hire had a letter of recommendation from the great jazz pianist Marian McPartland.
Wein chatted with Schreiber onstage about his encounters with such icons as Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. A lover of opera, Wein recalled singing for Luciano Pavarotti after loosening up with a couple of drinks at a party. When he approached a critical high note, the tenor crept up behind him and blurted out, “NOW, Giorgio!” After nailing the note, Wein was rewarded with a “Bravo, Giorgio!”
Bravos also went out to the Newport All-Stars, composed of Wein, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli (176 years of swing between them, as Schreiber pointed out), bassist Jay Leonhart, drummer Clarence Penn, saxophonist and flutist Lew Tabackin and trumpeter Bria Skonberg. Among the captivating moments were Pizzarelli’s lead on Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” (“He’s got a son who plays pretty good, too,” quipped Wein, referring to singer-guitarist John.) and Skonberg’s tender version of Louis Armstrong’s “Sleepy Time Down South.” Leonhart recited an original poem about the predicaments of traveling with his bass, while accompanying himself on said instrument. Wein, whose parting advice was “Take care of your friends; they’re the ones who make your life,” closed by singing and playing strains of “Just a Gigolo,” his fingers gliding briskly along the keys.