Tribute to Maynard Ferguson
With Ryan ReskyPost- blog by LJC
This afternoon spent listening to Ryan Resky and the tribute to Maynard Ferguson, was like a cleansing of the musical palette!! In other synonymous terms…do you know the little fancy cup of lemon sorbet that is served between courses, so that you can taste your food better? Well, this big band jazz ensemble was the equivalent of such a method used to purify or hence cleanse the musical palette. No insult to injury, I love pop culture… It’s just the garbage that we sometimes do have to ingest from urban radio, blemished in a rash of technically modified or “doctored” versions of music that they’re calling talent! Like an overly processed or artificially flavored chocolate chip cookie… it looks like it’s going to taste good, but when you take a bite, well it’s a fake out! It all starts with the quality of the ingredients!!
Now that we’ve established that we as listeners embrace with great enthusiasm, the opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon in the presence of appreciating big band jazz music made of the finest most tasteful, pure ingredients! Really damn good musicians!! In the raw, (And please excuse me; they most certainly are not playing naked). It’s just the most natural form of real talent ever! Live musicians… blowing or strumming or drumming, live music…I am proud to say that I am in such good company, to have so much in common with a dedicated group of people in search of the great appreciation to come out and be a part of an afternoon with the notion that, it’s an honor to find such wholesome and fine Ingredients …quite a tasteful experience of the big band jazz classics performed and available right here in our own back yards… maybe they should call it… Lincoln Center meets Dix Hills Performing Art Center…
Let’s start at the very beginning; Ryan Resky plays the trumpet with the precision and power of Maynard Ferguson.… when he was at his peak! What could be better than a Sunday afternoon spent in the moment of witnessing big band jazz music at its absolute finest? Seriously, until the clock struck 2:00 pm and the show began, I must have been sleepwalking…I thought, wow, what an awakening!! So now I’m all bright eyed and deeply inhaling all of the sweet invigorating air of this jazz infused delightful energy, and I’m powerfully mesmerized right from the very first downbeat… like a breezy crisp fall morning. Oh, there was a lot of air blowing in that room, but it wasn’t mother nature… It was man made, human lung power behind the brilliant tones of the horn sections right there in front of me at the Dix Hills Performing arts center…
Every one of these guys are sinking their teeth in deep…and I just sat and observed and luxuriated in the mastered quality of this twenty-four piece big band of live jazz monsters giving it all they’ve got…and it was wonderful! I guess it must have been a long time since my ears had been treated to such an enriched infusion of the live, big band precision and committed, refined musicians of this caliber. Rhythmic and funky and jazzy… all rolled into a fiery magical wall of sound. I couldn’t help myself from feeling every beat from my head to my toes… and it appeared to be a common synergy amongst the obviously, tuned in and enamored audience. They too seemed quite consumed, while heads were bobbing in time and feet were tapping to the beat. It was great!!… I even overheard one woman say; “this show is a ten!!”
So I was keeping notes in my head while I was so inspired… I was hoping for a break so I could grab my pen and paper to capture “in the moment” all of the words I wanted to write to describe my hearty appetite for sharing my musical experience with anyone who will take the pleasure in reading and sharing my instinctive feedback…Feelings, nothing more than feelings… tingles of emotion… that’s how I describe music. Nothing more and nothing less, to let you know you’re alive… feelings! And I’m pretty sure that whether you are a musician or just a music lover, that those tingles of emotion are a common thread with which we all possess and that somehow creates a common bond of human similarities…feelings, and well, being “moved” by the wonderful and marvelous gift of songs, and the art of music…do you feel it?
Well the break came… and I run for the pen and paper, now I’m beginning to hear myself get technical, and I’m suddenly seeking words of perfection to describe all of the magical details that I can’t seem to have enough pages for…lol
The first set ended with “Coconut Champagne” It really sounded like a refreshing tropical ocean…” a splash of a wave”… If I closed my eyes I could have envisioned myself with a fruity frozen drink with an umbrella in it… Ha…The band really captured a Caribbean quality atmosphere, in this dreamy version…creating a vision of a luau, on the beach under the moonlight…. (In Hawaii, of course)
Okay so…Backstage on the break I ran into Shy Kedmi the piano player and he is filling me in on some inside scoop. My first question was who arranges this music? Now I’m just so intrigued, I’m like an investigator, on a mission to behold the information of how the roots of this organization and the birth of this funk infused jazz band creation ever got started…? Excited to speak to Resky himself, as I did later chase him down… well, hoping to pick his brain a little… did curiosity ever kill the cat? Nah…this was all for complimentary knowledge again for the advantage of me to write a clear description of this totally committed jazz band that I was so inspired by… So here are just a few facts to tie it all together. Oh yes, before I forget… A note regarding Ryan Resky; This man literally plays each and every day, with that same intensity that we heard this afternoon, just simply to sustain his stamina and highly skilled, rare breed of chops! His dedication and discipline to is instrument remains sacred and apparent… as he explains the physical commitment it takes to have the proper air supply, and with constant circulation. It just amazed me to see him after the show in his own pool of sweat from his laboring of love…Now that’s what it’s all about! If of course you are going to attempt to be the main man portraying the wondrous ribbons of high pitches in the style and colors of the great Maynard Ferguson… but, apparently, there should be a warning sticker on every trumpet ever sold, a stamp indicating,” instrumental hazard”…possible bleeding of upper lip, cuts around the inside mouth, bruising, and, an occasional chip of a tooth….I suppose in the excitement of it all, while playing with passion in a “Big Band of Jazz, any of these little risks are a distinct possibility… Resky was glad to say; that well…”today he drew no blood”…phew!!
Ryan Resky and Michael Rubenstein, the two trumpeters and sidekicks, are the founders and creators of the band (as well as long time pals)… They actually research through piles of catalogues and archive files, with the intention of selecting the classic composers and arrangements for the big band versions scored for “Big Band” Jazz. (As opposed to “big band”Jazz arrangements for smaller ensembles, such as an eighteen piece big bands.) Names mentioned in the light of Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey and many more famously acclaimed originators of such intricately charted music in the history of our lifetime. Jazz greatness!! This is the real deal…”talk about fine ingredients!!”
Kelly Carpenter was the featured singer, and while she has been acknowledged and noted for her live appearances in many Broadway musicals. She graced the stage and sang the beautiful swinging tune “Just Friends”, in a brightly toned well-seasoned performance beyond her years. I really loved her phrasing and natural ability to loosely and effortlessly swing with the band, blending in very smoothly with their swift tempo… She has a big sounding, clear as day tonal quality! Just one song…? I thoroughly enjoyed her style, she really shined. Thank goodness she came back in the second half of the show with the Latino influenced number “Besame Mucho”, and now… she bellows the richness of her deep register, so lush and velvety smooth. She was comfortable and relaxed in her presence amidst the quick time six eight tempos, at one point she did a bit of scat style and hit the high notes very cleanly like that of a horn player… She delivers! For a moment I was closing my eyes and feeling a little like Dianna Shure was present… and the band now adopting flavors of Santana… nice job everybody!!
I will take this moment to give recognition to the sweet and well groomed guitar styles executed by John Kelly. For me he gave this big band of jazz and traditional sounding arrangements, a lot of original spin with his varied abilities to incorporate many colorful inflections, painting a superb tapestry of new and energetic guitar styles… slick performances. On the lively version of “fire Shaker”, while the big band horn section held a strong, steady with a flow of real traditional value. So very well played brass arrangements… John Kelly took a twist and added the rhythmic enhancement of the “Waka Waka” effected guitar licks…. bringing to light a current and energetic jolt of organic and funky freshness… Now I’m hearing inflections in the realm of Earth Wind and Fire! Then suddenly with the ever-changing thrill of this band of jazz…another clearly defined guitar style, John changes the whole feel of this big percussive number by smoothly, rounding out the edges in now what I would describe as the slick and easy jazz. With the enigmatic wonder of the Steely Dan Band… interestingly as well, was Shy Kedmi on the piano, switching to the Korg MIDI keyboard with emphasis on nicely placed complimentary pad chords…adding subtle floating overtones also gently accommodating the transition of the tempo and feel of this number… On trombone solo, the young Eric Miller displayed poise and confidence, so well-toned and easily executed in the strong rich style of swing band textures…well done!
On the Elton John well known signature song, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” Resky Hits some really peak high notes! As the band held so tightly, again in the traditional sound of big band, I realized that even a contemporary number as this famously accredited piece of musical history, in its own genre and era,(covered by many artists, mostly in the light of rock and roll) … Felt gentle and pleasantly comfortable in the hands of these jazz masters with many peaks It was a rich and tasteful interpretation that made the song sound like It could live forever… a real classic song of timeless nature to begin with, However, this just felt new and, well, taken to quite a higher level!! I appreciated it greatly.
So, another little birdy backstage revealed to me that…well, amazingly so, each and every one of these selective cats have the capability of virtually sight reading any of these charts on any given day!! I burst out in a chuckle and made him repeat that phrase. Again, I must emphasize how very musically pristine the horn section was, especially with regard to the dynamics. From playing so precisely in “unison”.… to crescendos, (decrescendos) and well, just every performance from each of them as a “whole” was extremely fine and sharply tuned. Attacks and cuts were so clean and so rhythmically tight… I believe it was John Kelly back stage that spoke in genuine terms, that he truly felt honored to be invited into this team of excellence, and expressed, what a privilege it was for him just to play with this level of skilled and educated, “World Class Musicians” … and, I thought to myself, does he know how very equally astonishing his own well-honed chops are?
Well, I didn’t catch the name of the next number… and so I made a note myself, again, got to chase Resky Down after the show for more investigative information…I describe the tune… I said, it was the one with the dueling solo, so richly toned with Eric Miller on Trombone and Gary Pickard on the tenor sax… He clearly recalled, it was a tune called “Super Bone Meets the Band man”. I could easily describe this song as the richest piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever indulged in. Played with such depth and perfectly blended tones shared in the effortless solos of both meaty and solid performances by Miller and Pickard. Like a cup of creamy hot chocolate I thought…”what a treat of sweet richness” Not to admit that I was compelled to select a favorite horn player in this unit of power houses…but may I just mention that that I was completely enthralled each and every time Gary Pickard soloed on that big old baritone saxophone it tickled me with sheer joy! The ability to master such a difficult wind instrument alone is so impressive. But with such ease and personality Pickard really drives it all home…especially when he “bottoms out” on occasion within his flowing, even winded and wide ranged performances he brings a sense of real intrigue again and again each time. Each run with that technique, just one note dropping to the bottom occasionally…. filled me with a bit of a joyful disbelief… almost humored by the gaze of his effortless abilities…again, I chuckle because I can’t imagine what a difficult instrument that the baritone saxophone is to play. So bravo to Gary Pickard!! “Not just for making me chuckle”…
Now, one of the little birdies backstage also revealed to me that on the upcoming number entitled “Chameleon”, that Shy Kedmi on the piano was going to be sight reading the chart. For goodness sake!! So here I am listening to this masterpiece…and I zoomed in on The Bass played by Chris Nolte. I always love the tradition of a stand up tall “walking” bass line… just plowing through all of the complicated rhythms with a half time feel… and notes flying by him, as he holds such an independent stride, solid bottom tones of such distinction with the heavy steps like an elephant just plodding along at his own pace. Which I was totally surprised and entertained by the sudden switch by Nolte, as he changes it all up when he picked up to a “double time” dance on the electric bass… so punchy! Again in perfect sync with the drummer carrying the multi layered, intricate tempo changes of this accurately named “Chameleon” I believe the definition of a Chameleon is its unique ability to be forever changing in color…enabling it to disguise itself, just like this musical treasure…continually switching and blending itself into a variety of rhythmic sequences…It was like taking a walk through a jungle with wild animals roaring and beautifully textured vibrant colored flowers everywhere! Recognizing again that Shy on the piano (while sight reading this piece) was really complimenting the lively rhythm, while he displayed a syncopated “comping” style of piano playing, that was locked in a pocket of duel synchronized accents, accompanied by John Kelly on Guitar. Together they distinctly cut through all of that powerfully blended brass section! Shy plunked out high registered chords accenting contrasting beats…perfect ear candy. That element of syncopation, added so much dynamic soulfulness to this band of boys. With John Kelly’s “Wah Wah” guitar in the tightly woven groove, and not to forget to mention the drummer who held a sparsely, funky pocket of a backbeat as I’ve ever heard…I’m thinking, wow… these are some funky white boys! Reminds me a little bit of the “Average White Band” old school of funky soul going down… and then again, this ever-changing “Chameleon” reflects another color change for the sake of a new disguise …Now John Kelly breaks out into his own sweet pocket in the playing style now of the great George Benson! With A taste of the familiar sliding octaves low to high up and down the neck of the electric guitar…again altering the shades of this musical masterpiece. Again Pickard displays the deep and dramatic tones of that tenor sax and where he chooses to “bottom out” again… It was a really well placed effect in the enhancement to the building of this monster of a composition! Still made me chuckle, in disbelief at the wonder of balance and grace this whole big band jazz jamming experience was able to capture both traditional and currently fresh embellishments, combined together all at the same time! Making this whole experience for me really very pleasant and satisfying ….
Okay, and now I am ready to express some of my most incredible acknowledgements to the truly amazing horn sections…as most apparent on the well acclaimed Ferguson, signature theme songs such as “MacArthur Park” and “Bird land”. With particular mention might I say that alto sax player Matt Townsend shined in the well-executed solos as well as compliments to the whole saxophone section as a unit for their powerful ability to blend in such a well-balanced quality of pitch, tone and equally sharing the spotlight in all registers…from soprano to alto to tenor and that bellowing rich baritone…. Each very accomplished player embodied a well-rounded quality of tone in all ranges of highs and lows, with a tremendous energetic confidence all together. My analogy of the saxophone section…“a flock of seagulls, soaring and hovering, dipping and spiking, weaving circles around and around”…
This leads me to the next flight of horns to be mentioned…the meaty, glorious tones of the trombone section…again, with all due respect to the difficulty of which it takes to simply master this heavy toned brass horn….I give great praise and accolades to souls brave enough to the commitment of learning this full-bodied instrument. Just the pristine ability and dedication to become a trombonist…yet at this level! Even more astonishing…I describe the sliding trombone, visually, well,“warm, such as, melting lava flowing down a mountainside“….
Trumpet section… Blaring, punchy, bright!! By no means could any one person that I know at least, consider this to be an easy task to find the commitment and dedication, not just in the sacred ability and the physically demands of this lively horn…but to reach such highly renowned, honorable recognition. Most amazingly, Resky (as well as Rubenstein and Dr. Leon petruzi) are to be commended for their inspired accomplishment of reaching unlimited heights of technical greatness…Imagine achieving the level of preciseness and the sheer dedication it must have taken for him to be accredited with the enabled wonder, of emulating the stylization of the amazing man of honor…Maynard Ferguson! With my deepest respect… The late great Maynard Ferguson was undoubtedly known to be “The Master” of his incomparable trumpet skills!! As he excited and entertained audiences worldwide, with his unique and extraordinary ability to accurately execute a remarkably high register of tones…with great power and thrilling precision in all of his songs and performances, he remained dedicated and true to the dramatic big band jazz music creation for ensembles… spanning a remarkable career throughout fifty-years!!
They close the show with the unforgettable and probably one of the most acclaimed signature theme songs ever… Rocky,”Gonna Fly Now”. Ryan Resky also gave mention that this particular arrangement was that of the original Bill Conte composition. This incredibly memorable theme has been internationally acclaimed for receiving multiple music awards including the Oscar for best theme song of a movie in the fourth or fifth series of the Movie Rocky!! What a powerful introduction. I found it to be another refreshing original version, yet so true to the traditional rendition…Again, highlighting Dr. Leon Petruzi on trumpet. Though, I think it might have been John Kelly on the guitar again being responsible for the more current/edgy sound! All I kept thinking was, gee, I really love that “guitar vibe”… I sat back and recognized the once again value of the forever bellowing air supply of the invigorating horn sections …. With Resky in the front of the line, showcasing such a tremendous capacity of leading this band of genius, with his unbelievable, deeply skilled overtones of sky high pitches…just ringing clearly and brightly throughout the whole evening. I describe the trumpet section as a unit, well, visually like rocket ships soaring and shooting up to orbit way up above into another galaxy….yes, that’s right, I said it… “Rocket ships reaching for the stars”…
Well this afternoon of big band jazz was the ride of a lifetime! With unique twists that added newness and some originality to the classic and traditional based arrangements. Special thanks with high regard and respect to these dedicated musicians in Ryan Resky’s tribute “Give It One” Big Band. A truly wonderful job! And a real treat to be a part of this astounding treasure of “Musical Greatness”…. “Lemon Sorbet Anyone?”
Remember to swing around again for more home baked goodness…The Dix Hills Performing Arts Center has many big band jazz performances up and coming for all of you live music, big band jazz lovers! You will be delighted with many more treasured moments throughout this holiday season. So much big band to fill your hearts, as you will again be refreshed with a glow of cheerful satisfaction… and a big band jazz smile!! You know what I mean….? So, “joy” to the world…. And, “joy” to Five Towns College for always providing a variety of musical excellence at The Dix Hills Performing Arts Center!!
Special Thanks to Sam Ash Music for your constant support, and for…” The Sponsorship” of this show……