Remembering Junior Cook
Sunday, September 27th, 2009
A sold out Bassline showed once again that if you build it they will come and come they did. VTY Jazz in a year's time has built a strong following of loyal hard core fans, but that shouldn't surprise you because everyone associated with VTY Jazz is as hard as it gets. The energy these adoring fans bring with them is pretty hard to beat and the musicians really respond with everything they have. It's so amazing that with forty-five minutes of rehearsal time that musicians meeting collectively for the first time can create what they do on the bandstand. This "Sunday Serenade" dedicated to the memory of tenor saxophonist Junior Cook brought together a very interesting quintet. The rhythm section was anchored by Andy McCloud on bass and drummer Alvester Garnett. Very Truly Yours Consultants Inc. brought in a young pianist named Nial Djuliarso who looked like he was right out of high school, but played like he definitely belonged on the Bassline stage. The front line featured the talented Kenyatta Beasley on trumpet and flugelhorn with a gentleman who spends most of his time in Europe tenor saxophonist Ray Blue. Ray was the musical director for this concert and he decided to concentrate on the years that Junior spent with Horace Silver. The results were amazing.

The opening tune was the popular "Nica's Dream". Ray Blue took the first solo and you immediately knew this was a much different tenor player than the one that played on our opening concert on August 17th 2008. Kenyatta followed Ray's solo with a physical energetic solo of his own before handing it over to Nial. His solo was full of imagination and his lines were beautifully put together. It was quite obvious that VTY Jazz had the right guy on piano. Andy took a short solo before the quintet took it out. The next tune was the Horace Silver original "Song for My Father" and Kenyatta switched to Flugelhorn. Each band member was given significant solo space. Ray's solo was so glaringly different from what I had heard last year that I had to shake my head as to what he was doing. His thoughts were so spontaneous and so creative and you knew he definitely was inspired by the drum work of Alvester Garnett. At one point during his solo while popping the mouth piece Alvester was all over him dropping some heavy bombs. That was just a sample of what was to come. Alvester's solo was reminiscent of Max Roach while letting you know that he knew something about dynamics. He is an extraordinary percussionist that can swing with the best of them and you can see he loves what he is doing. Each band member was listening to him intently while shaking their heads in disbelief.

The next tune was the beautiful Ray Noble composition "The Very Thought Of You". This featured Kenyatta on trumpet and believe me he took care of some serious business on this tune. Nial took a very thoughtful solo and Andy and Alvester made sure the young man was going to have all the support he needed. The first set closed with a spirited version of "The Theme". The only thing I can say "after one comes two" and the Bassline audience was eagerly anticipating the second set.

The second set opened with another Horace Silver composition "Senor Blues". I loved the rendition they did on this piece. Kenyatta took the first solo and it was quite obvious he was feeling it. Ray followed Kenyatta's solo with one that I felt he was painting a picture about this cat named "Senor Blues". He was swinging going from here to there and I could see this bad cat strutting his stuff, but then again we are talking about "Senor Blues". I might mention that the rhythm section laid down a strong foundation for Ray to take it wherever he wanted. Nial and Alvester followed with some nice solos of their own before the band improvising on the head took it out. The next piece was a Ray Blue composition Ray had dedicated to Junior called "Stuff and Such". As Ray said while announcing this piece "it was totally spontaneous and was going to feature the whole band". Ray opened it up with an improvised head before short solos from Nial, Kenyatta and Andy. Ray came back with quotes from "Lift every Voice". He then flirted with a very spontaneous improvisation before quoting "Freedom Jazz Dance" and then taking it out and handing it back to Andy for an amazing solo and you could feel the fun had just begun. Kenyatta then got into something you could feel he was right at home with "When the Saints Come Marching In" before taking it out. You could see they all had a ball with this piece and for a second as Kenyatta put it "he thought he was back in New Orleans". That was until he looked out of the window and saw the Mount Vernon East train station J. The next tune was the George Gershwin classic "A Foggy Day in London Town" and it featured Nial, Andy and Alvester. The young man definitely had a ball playing this piece. I loved Andy's bass lines and the way he punctuated Nial's left hand. Alvester's sensitivity was so well executed, but isn't that what makes trio's so special? Now it was Ray's turn and he dedicated "Body and Soul" to Junior and his wife. Rita forgives you Ray, after all this was a concert dedicated to Junior Cook J. He said he heard Junior play this at Showman's years ago. This is a great vehicle for Ray because he has that big warm sound. I'm sure that Junior would have loved Rays playing on this as well as Coleman Hawkins J. The last tune of the afternoon was "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise". Kenyatta took the first solo and also took the Bassline audience on a spirited swinging romp before handing it off to Ray. Once again during his solo Ray quoted "Lift Every Voice" before going back into the head. Andy's solo started where Ray's finished, playing the head of "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise". Andy is so rock steady and his solo was a thing of beauty. As you listened to this marvelous quintet take it out you wondered why it had to end.

In closing, Junior was a marvelous talent that never got his due. Make no mistake about it, "on this "Sunday Serenade" Junior was the crowned king and his spirit filled the Bassline, as well as the hearts of each and everyone who packed the room to pay homage to their hero "Herman Junior Cook".
- Arnie Perez
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