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Remembering Gigi Gryce
Sunday, January 30th, 2011
Neither an earlier in the week snow storm or the cold January temperatures in New York would keep VTY Jazz from following through with their January 30th tribute concert to alto great Gigi Gryce. Despite all the snow around Creole Restaurant & Music Supper Club another packed house showed that Jazz is alive and well in Harlem. The band that was brought together for this tribute consisted of, Mike DiRubbo on alto, Bruce Harris on trumpet, Helen Sung on piano, Luques Curtis on bass and Darrell Green on drums. As is the case with these Sunday Serenades these are not working bands, but the care and respect they gave to Gigi's music was very much evident.

The quintet opened the evening with the Gig Gryce original "Nica's Tempo" which was written for the Baroness (Nica de Koenigswarter). Just a harmonic swinging piece of music that reminded me a lot of something that had Horace Silver styling's. The next piece I must admit I never heard before was entitled "Sans Souci" which as Mike said was clearly from the changes of Tadd Dameron's "Casbah." This is a medium tempo tune with a great melody. Mikes solo here was beautifully laid down and Ms. Sung's playing behind him was just what any soloist wants :). Loved Luques the way he stayed in the cut and provided a wonderful feel for whoever was soloing. Not only does he have chops, but he knows how to swing. The next tune was another Gigi composition called "Futurity" which if listened to closely you could hear "There Will Never Be Another You." Mike's solo had that attack that I love hearing. Bruce followed Mike with runs that were so fluid that he had a rhythm section smiling with their approval. After solos by Helen and Luques, Mike and Bruce traded fours before handing it off to Darrell for a nicely played solo.

The seldom played Thelonious Monk tune "Ask Me Now" was next and this featured Helen with just bass and drums. Helen intro here was quite unique and she is never lacking in technique or imagination. The group took the first set out with the Gigi Gryce standard "Minority." Let me tell you, they all let it hang out on this piece. Helen's playing behind Mikes fiery solo was a sign of things to come. Her solo here was by far her best of the evening and left nothing to be desired. Her two handed style plus her animation is a thing to watch and judging from the audience response, they enjoyed all that Helen had to say. Luques followed with a short but very effective solo. Darrell's solo here was another beauty starting off with his use of the brushes before letting it all hang out with the sticks. What a great way to end the first set :).

The quintet opened the second set with another Gigi Gryce masterpiece that was originally recorded with Clifford Brown called "Salute to the Bandbox." As a matter of fact this tune was also known as "Salute to Birdland." This was a straight ahead Be-Bop tune that the crowd loved :). Listening to Bruce's solo here, I'm sure he listened to that Clifford Brown recording many times. "Social Call" was next and after playing the head Helen took a beautiful solo. It seemed like to me that her two hands were having a swinging question and answering period with one another. Bruce's solo was next and it was as lyrical as it gets. His quote during the solo made reference to "I'm in the Mood for Love." You could feel Bruce was right at home on this piece. Mike was next and his solo was right out of something that had Jackie McLean written all over it. Having studied with Jackie in Hartford you can see the profound effect the master has on Mike and I have no problem with that at all. The next piece of music was taken from an early Art Farmer LP featuring Gigi Gryce entitled "Shabooz." The chord progressions here are not your average ones and Mike and Bruce did a great job of blowing right through them. This tune is a great vehicle to swing and did they ever :). Besides some fantastic solos taken by Mike and Bruce, Helen followed them with another two handed gem.

Mike and Bruce was featured on two beautiful standards, Mike having the spotlight on "If You Could See Me Now" and Bruce playing flugelhorn on "My Ideal." Two beautiful treatments given on both compositions. The evening ended with a blues piece Gigi wrote for his wife called "Eleanor." It seems like everything this band touched they found a way to swing it and even though you never wanted it to end they gave you something warm and swinging to pat your foot to before going out in the cold New York night.

As I reflect on this tribute to alto great Gigi Gryce I realize how significant his contribution is to Jazz. Even though he really never got his due while being with us this concert showed you that Gigi gave us all something that we can enjoy for a lifetime. It's indeed a pleasure in times like this to be able to have a venue like Creole. Where once a month you can forget about all your worldly problems and just lean back in the company of good people and enjoy some great music. Hats off to Kevin Walters the owner of Creole and his wonderful staff for believing in the dream and VTY Jazz for bringing all the Cats together and "creating the best Jazz experience on Earth." If you have any doubts about what I'm saying you better get hip to what a "Sunday Serenade' is all about. I Look forward to seeing you because as Irene Reid once said "we always have room for one more."
- Arnie Perez
Date Review Title
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