Remembering Ray Brown, who died in July during a tour stop in Indianapolis, host John Clayton Jr. recalled the late bassist’s true groove. As a supreme innovator, Brown captured the pulse beat of jazz during the last half-century, and as Clayton summed up, “He knew how to shake your booty!”
In a weeklong tribute, lions, young and old, gathered to remember Brown’s warmth and wit, his wisdom, influence and, most of all, his music. They also came together to swing, and swing they did. Bass player Clayton served as music director for the fest, which spotlighted such guest artists as Nicholas Payton, Jon Faddis, John Pizzarelli and Marlena Shaw.
In a bop-flavored nod to Sonny Rollins, pianist Larry Fuller tossed out some bold ideas, and Clayton capped it with a luscious bowing solo. Brown wrote an intro to Neal Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’ ” that Clayton summed up as a song unto itself. It was heightened by Clayton’s beautifully sustained and tempered solo. Drummer Karriem Riggens, a frequent Brown side man, proved to be bristling and inventive.
Russell Malone, who guested on Brown’s recent Telarc CD, “Some of My Best Friends Are Guitarists,” proved the most moving touch of the evening. After a rompin’ turn on Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners,” Malone recalled a phone call from Brown, just three days before his passing. Arranging dates for a forthcoming tour, Malone expressed his appreciation and love to the jazz giant. Brown responded, “You make an old man feel good.”A beautiful unaccompanied solo of Jerome Kern’s “Remind Me” followed.
Malone wrapped up his spot with a burning turn on Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me.” His solos are keenly sculpted, and his playing boasts a facile lyricism.
Violinist Regina Carter bowed with Duke Ellington’s “Imagine My Frustration,” spinning it into a smoldering blues.
All gathered to jam on “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me,” and the unharnessed sense of joy was infectious. Ray Brown would have loved it.