Dutchess Community College sponsored its annual Spring Jazz concert with the newly formed Dutchess Community Jazz Collective in a free concert at Drumlin Hall this past Tuesday night. The lineup consisted of an assortment of local pros and teachers at Dutchess Community College. Piano legend Larry Ham is the current Director of the Jazz Collective. Dr. Christopher Brellochs, Head of the Music Department, announced that of this coming autumn the College will be offering an expanded music program that will begin to give instruction to children 6 years old and up.
Pianist, Composer, and Arranger Larry Ham is a jazz legend who has appeared at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Iridium, The Village Vanguard, and Small’s, as well as playing in most countries around the globe. The Today Show” (NBC) “Breakfast Time” (FX) and has been featured on NPR programs such as “Jazz Set with Dee Dee Bridgewater” and on Judy Carmichael’s “Jazz Inspired.” Ham grew up on a dairy farm in Millbrook and has recently returned to our area. Besides teaching at Dutchess Community College, Ham also teaches at SUNY New Paltz, and Bard College.
Trumpeter Matt Finley aided in arrangements of his compositions for this concert; Larry Ham made all the other arrangements The rest of the lineup consisted of: Chris Brellochs-Bari Sax; Dave Glasser-Alto Sax; Peter McEachern-Trombone; Tom Melito-Drums; Joe North-Tenor Sax; Lou Pappas-Bass.
They swung open with Larry Ham’s “22’s Blues” with Brellochs playing his deep Bari sax, an instrument that rarely appears in jazz ensembles. Ham and Brellochs brought counter-point humor to the various parallel lines of the other instruments, as Melito kept the beat rolling. Ham’s “Bleecker Street” followed. Ham lived in Manhattan’s West Village for over a quarter century and this was his tribute to the street he lived on for so long; all the old artists who lived there had to move out because they can’t afford the housing or neighborhood anymore. Here there was a definite note of nostalgia for the old wayward days of creative inspiration.
Moving on to “Brazilian Coffee,” a tune Ham wrote when playing as a sideman for Lionel Hampton on the band’s tour of Brazil in 1981, I was pleasantly surprised with the Big Band sound fronted by the three saxophones. I once heard this tune in a trio context and I thought it was interesting, yet with nine players the caffeine was popping. The tune had deeper complexity in orchestration, more swing, more extroversion and conversation than the muted and romantic parlor room version I once heard. The audience travelled on these rhythms to a new continent! The ghost of Hampton hovered in the background!
Ham’s “The Big Balloon” was a mood-changer as we suddenly tumbled into the world of childhood. Players took their slightly comic solo turns, offering their personal riffs on chasing that big balloon melody with variations with Glasser having the last high notes on flute as that balloon tune rose out of sight. “Just You, Just Me” by Greer & Klages, arranged by Larry, shunted into adult reverie of two couples in love, the instruments alternating as if in a male-female dialogue. Finley’s “Thirty Cigars,” a tribute to his father who often traveled to Cuba on business, highlighted more percussion from Melito as Finley taped out arpeggio notes on trumpet with an astonishing flurry of rapidity. The complex Cuban rhythms delivered exciting contrast to the rest of the program. Peter McEachern on trombone supplied a riveting solo.
After the break, they opened without the five horns, which one by one the horn players walked through the audience casually playing their instrument as if marching in a New Orleans parade, until they were all on stage, blazing away in unity after their improvised walking solos.
Easing down the flight of the raucous Big Band sound was Finley’s “Kind and Gentle” with Finley’s flugelhorn solo that displayed what a gentle and tender instrument a flugelhorn might be. They turned to the classic “All God’s Chillun” by Jurman, Kahn, and Kaper in Ham’s arrangement for this ensemble. Here Ham excelled in rapid cluster bursts on the keys as North played his tenor sax with raw immediacy and deep feeling.
“Our Love Is Here To Stay” by George and Ira Gershwin remains a triple charmer. Here Ham’s orchestration was outstanding, especially the slight dissonant blending of horns, and it was clear that that love was a love of music which was contagiously infectious. Closing the second set was “Lee Rides Again” by Larry Ham. This number was a tribute to bassist Lee Hudson with whom Larry once played. (Hudson has recently played with the Joel Press Quartet or with jazz Pianist Ehud Asherie.) This was a great opportunity to turn bassist Lou Pappas loose for an energetic romp solo with Ham playing counterpoint on piano. Each player had an opportunity for a brief improvisatory solo and that meant that this all-pro ensemble didn’t miss a beat or note. This delightful program was full of shimmering contrasts as it explored a wide variety of styles and contrasts with the compass needle registering friendship and joy.
Several of the original compositions played are available on Larry Ham’s most recent cds: Presence and Carousel at http://larryham.com/music.