Humor was the keynote at the first regular public performance of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in its cushy new home. Artistic director Wynton Marsalis revealed the oblique joy and fun harbored in a jazz legacy and celebrated with Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” and Jack McVea’s 1947 chart hit “Open the Door Richard.” The latter spotlighted Carlos Henriquez’s extravagantly designed bass solo accompanied by a unison vocal command from band members. Ryan Kiser’s crisp trumpet solo and Wess “Warmdaddy” Anderson’s Bird-inspired alto flight made Dizzy’s classic bop flavored tune a fitting welcome mat to the new quarters.
With “Back to Basics” set at a lazy loping pace, Marsalis incorporated a plunger to summon whimpers, groans and screams in an infectious blues setting. I swear I heard someone murmur, “Boy, he sure can make that thing talk!”
A dancing exchange between Ted Nash’s alto and Joe Temperley’s burly baritone lifted Monk’s “Green Chimneys” to smokin’ heights. “Froggy Bottom,” a classic moment in time from deep in the Great Depression, was first introduced by Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy. An Eric Lewis piano intro to the Mary Lou Williams comp provided an infectious watery base for a down and dirty vocal chorus — “where the folks don’t hurry and never worry” — by drummer Herman Riley.
The concert was hosted by humorist Bill Cosby, a great friend of jazz who, backed by an all-star Marsalis octet, held the stage for a hilarious 90-minute turn. At the top of his game, Cosby focused on his favorite subject: growing up. “My parents were not poor,” he insisted. “They were broke!” Reprimanding the band members for misplaced musical cues behind his narrative, Cosby recalled his father’s wrath after slamming a door leaving the plaster on the wall exposed, and a game of spin the bottle that sparked a first sloppy kiss with the girl of his dreams. For a postscript, Cosby capped his turn with an anecdote about Ray Charles.
Performing in the round, the band apparently reached all listeners with a crisp, clean edge. Acoustics were just fine out front at the new auditorium, but Cosby was agreeably accommodating following a plea from patrons seated behind him and cranked up his body mike. Jazz enters a new era in the comfy new setting, and Dizzy, Bird, Duke and Monk must be smiling down from above.