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A Tribute to Booker Ervin "The Book Cooks"
Sunday, November 21st, 2010
On Sunday November 21st 2010 while most of New York's population was getting ready for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, a strong turnout of hard-core fans showed up at Creole Restaurant & Music Supper Club for VTY Jazz's tribute to Texas Tenor, Booker Ervin. The only thing I can say is, if you were not there you missed an amazing concert that will not be forgotten soon. It's not often that you find chemistry like this on a bandstand, and what makes this even more amazing is that this is not a working band. No history, no prior rehearsals, just pure, creative jazz. I'm sure if you have the right personalities assembled and give them the right atmosphere magic can happen. For a little over two years this magic has been going on at what VTY Jazz calls their "Sunday Serenades", music dedicated to Jazz Icons of the past and sometimes of the present. I guess when you have someone of the stature of tenor saxophonist Billy Harper you know something special is going to happen. I can't remember the last time Billy graced a stage in Harlem and let me tell you, the Black Saint came ready to let people know that there would be no prisoners taken this Sunday evening. Accompanying Billy was the young, but extremely talented Bruce Harris on trumpet and flugelhorn. The rhythm section consisted of Santi Debriano on bass, Elio Villafranca on piano and a swinging Ulysses Owens Jr. was at the drums.

The opening tune was a killer version of the Booker Little original, "Scoochie." This tune was taken from the "Sounds of the Inner-city" recording by Booker Ervin & Booker Little. Sharif Abdus-Salaam of WKCR FM and I were standing at the bar. He leaned over to me and said "Wow, and this is just for openers!" Bruce's opening solo was one full of fire and fluid runs before handing it off to Billy. Billy left no doubt he was here to burn and let me tell you, that opening solo was one that was hot. Having heard Billy so many times over the years I don't remember him sounding any better than he did right out of the chute. Elio followed Billy and he took an extended solo that made you know the right cat was on piano. Santi's bass solo was one full of imagination and punctuations before Bruce, Ulysses and Billy traded fours before taking it out. As Sharif stated this was only the beginning. After the tune, the bandstand was lit up with smiles from ear to ear and cats shaking each other's hands. Yeah Sharif, and this was only the beginning :).

The next tune was the soulful "Tyra", an original of Bookers. This tune had Bruce on Flugelhorn. Listening to "Tyra" I could only imagine what a mysterious woman she must have been. It was just an easy, swinging tune. The next piece was the standard "Speak Low." This was a perfect example of what Jazz is all about and the quintet had a pretty unique interpretation of "Speak Low." Billy's solo here was another beauty that had him punching and jabbing with authority. Ulysses' solo was one that had you knowing that he knew something about the drum kit. Ulysses Owens is no joke and is going to be a force to be reckoned with, mark my words. The final tune of the first set was the Billy Harper original "Croquet Ballet", one of the great Jazz waltzes from the pen of Mr. Harper. And as Billy said quoting Art Blakey "It will feature no one in particular." Just a great way to end an amazing first set :).

The second set opened up with an original by Booker Ervin entitled "Den Tex" which I believe was written for the town where Booker was born, Denison, Texas. This tune featured a beautiful brush solo by Ulysses Owens that really opened some eyes. The next tune was one that Booker loved playing: "Stolen Moments." This featured a beautiful intro by Elio and it seemed that the tune was being played slower than I have ever heard it played. Billy Harper's solo on this tune was one that had him turning the tune inside out. He just played the hell out of this tune. Bruce's trumpet followed and he started so softly. You could see Elio loved Bruce's treatment on this tune. Bruce had the gifted Santi Debriano right with him and it seemed like Santi's touch added so much sensitivity to what Bruce was playing. Elio followed and his solo was one of fantastic touch and feel. Santi's solo was a thing of beauty and again, Ulysses beautiful brush work escorted him every step of the way. Just a beautifully done rendition of the classic, "Stolen Moments."

The tribute ended with a Booker Ervin blues original, "One for Mort." This tune was played at such a tempo that it had customers flying out of their seats screaming and yelling. Couldn't help but notice Elio during Bruce's opening solo standing up looking at Ulysses and Santi as if he was saying "What is all this??!!", with a smile on his face that lit up the room. Billy's solo once again had him turning the tune inside out as he was dipping and swaying from side to side looking for every note the horn had. You can rest assured Billy found everything he was looking for to the delight of a roaring Creole audience. Elio's solo had runs that were so fleeting that if you scratched your head you were missing something.

Then it was Ulysses turn and his solo had an audience all on their feet roaring with delight as well as one person blowing his whistle :). Ulysses' rapid fire sweeps had conversations going with every part of the drum kit while musicians all were standing with eyes wide open saying, "Go ahead kid it's all yours."

As I always try and let people know, these "Sunday Serenades" are as amazing as it gets. I knew when putting this band together that this was going to be the one band that all others will have to measure up to. As I see it, the bar has been set at a very high level and we as producers have to meet the challenge. What better time to have this happen than at a tribute for one of the most underrated tenor saxophonists that ever lived, Booker Ervin. For one evening in November of 2010 thanks to VTY Jazz, Booker Ervin's life was celebrated in a fashion that was fit for a King, with fans that understood the importance of being there. In closing this was just not another Sunday Serenade, but a Sunday of paying tribute to one of the greatest individuals this music has ever had, Booker Telleferro Ervin II.
- Arnie Perez
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