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We Remember JJ Johnson
Sunday, May 23rd, 2010
May 23rd, 2010 VTY Jazz "Sunday Serenade" tribute to trombone master JJ Johnson was one that won't soon be forgotten. I'm certain that the hard-core fans that showed up to the Bassline that afternoon are still talking about it today. Not since Slide Hampton and his "World Of Trombones" have I ever witnessed what was about to take place at the Bassline cafe in Mount Vernon, NY. Rarely does a concert live up to its expectations, but this one not only lived up to expectations it totally exceeded anything possible. I guess when you can get Papo Vazquez off his Pirate ship and have him involved in a project for the man that made him pickup the trombone in the first place that was a hint that you hit a nerve. Then you add a trombonist like Clifton Anderson and the alto saxophone of Joe Ford you have the ingredients for something special. The two trombone sensations have not graced a stage together in over twenty years. You then add the unexpected sitting in of trombonist Steve Turre, Kiane Zawadi and Luis Cruz and you have the making of a monster concert. The rhythm section was up to the task, Zaccai Curtis piano, Dezron Douglas Bass, and Dion Parson drums, looked like they were having the time of their lives :). Now the hard part comes, "I have to tell you all the highlights of this concert in the limited space given to me." I guess that's why it's so important that you be there in person because nothing replaces live music."

This concert featured tunes like, "Coffee Pot, Blue Trombone, Turnpike, Minor Blues, Neo and Riffete" all from the pen of JJ Johnson. Add in the beautiful ballads "Lament" and "The Very Thought Of You" and the Clifton Anderson original "K" along with the Cole Porter original "What Is This Thing Called Love" you got a concert that is unforgettable. As far as I'm concerned I can give you highlights on every tune because every tune had them, but as I mentioned earlier, space will not allow it. Here are a few highlights that I thought I would share with you. On the first set the opener "Coffee Pot" was taken from the "Eminent JJ Johnson" recording of the mid fifties. This tune belonged all to Clifton. He took everyone at the Bassline on a musical workout that had him trying to catch his breath after handing it off to Zaccai Curtis for a brief two handed solo. I really liked Dezron's fat sound throughout this piece.

Clifton came back and was sizzling and you knew that the coffee had just been served :). Clifton called up Joe Ford for the next number "What Is This Thing Called Love" a Cole Porter original done with a JJ Johnson arrangement. Joe Ford came out with a blistering solo that let everyone in the house know there was also an alto player that was part of this band. Dezron Douglas's killer bass solo was one that got everyone's attention. I loved the Clifton Anderson original "Z." Z had a very nice happy feel to it and it just fit in so nicely. The beautiful "Lament" which welcomed Steve Turre to the bandstand was a perfect choice. Steve's heartfelt solo was one that I'll never forget. I just got the feeling that Steve and Clifton left it all on the stage with their solos. The last tune of the first set was "Blue Trombone" and that brought Papo to the bandstand. Welcome aboard Admiral I know JJ was listening :).

The second set opened with "Turnpike" and everyone knew that the best was yet to be heard. "Minor Blues" brought Kiane Zawadi to the bandstand and when you talk about the blues you're talking about Kiane. During Steves solo Papo, Kiane, Clifton and Luis were sitting in the front row adding counter points. The beautiful "The Very Thought Of You" was heartfelt. For me the biggest highlight of the day was had on "Neo" and the last tune of the afternoon "Riffette" both JJ originals. Papo's arrangement on "Neo" was phenomenal. Papo took the first solo and it was a thing of beauty. The thing that knocked me out about "Neo" was not only Dion's percussion work, but every soloist solo was in a different key and had so much imagination. The last tune "Riffette" was the block buster that brought the house down. If anyone doubted that this trombonist that Papo Vazquez brought in from his Pirates Troubadours Big Band could play, he definitely let it be known, "that he too knew how to swing." Joe Ford was brought back to the stage and he showed he hadn't lost anything while listening to all that was going on. Luis took the next solo and he took no prisoners and had everyone on the bandstand saying "OK, Luis we get the message." I was looking at Steve and he was smiling and laughing with so much joy with what he had just heard. After solos by Kiane, Steve, Clifton and Papo it was Dion's turn and his solo was one that showed why Dion Parson is one exceptional drummer.

Yea, there were some microphone problems, but in this room made for Jazz it didn't affect the final result. This tribute to JJ Johnson was a perfect example of how special this art form is when done for the right reasons. I can't emphasize this enough "you can't ever replace being there live." If you think sitting home listening to your vinyl, CD's and tapes are what's happening you are sorely mistaken. These "Sunday Serenades" are as good as it gets and if you doubt me show up and see what I'm talking about. As VTY Jazz says "great fans deserve great music" and it doesn't get any better than a "Sunday Serenade" live at the Bassline in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Get there by any means necessary and bring a friend, you will be happy you did.
- Arnie Perez
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