Clarksburg and others. Fall, 2000.
A concert review by MF fan Emil Potersnak.
My family and I had the fortunate honor of seeing Maynard and the band three times last week while they were touring the Pa/WV area. Our first concert was in Clarksburg, WV. Then onto Pittsburgh, Pa and finally back to WV., in the small rural town of Sisterville. We had not seen MF in nearly a year, so we were long over due.
The first concert was in a gymnasium, which isn't the best in offering adequate acoustics, never the less, the show was great. No matter how many times I see MF live, I still get goosebumps when I hear the band start into Blues Birdland. At MF's age the sound he is able to create is unmatched by anyone. Not only in the upper register, that has become his trademark, but, also the fat rich sound that he possesses in any range ! This nouveau band has been touring together only a month or so , but, sounded very tight. In the gym setting, it was hard to determine the true sound quality due to the metal structures and the soundman had taken a while to get a handle on it. During the first number the amplification had gone out all together. The band continued to play and MF merely moved closer to the end of the stage to compensate, although he doesn't need amplified !!After several minutes the amps were up and running and the soundman did a good job considering the type of the room.
Maynard has always found musicians that were great jazz performers, that stands true even today. Both saxophone players were outstanding as well as the trumpet players. I noted they played hard, I guess you'd have to as to be able to back up MF's sound. The drummer was right at home on the drums and figuratively speaking, being he is a Clarksville, WV native. He adds a strong rhythm to the band, considering how new he is to the band. The bass player performed a great solo, accompanied by the drummer at one point. This was a good show-off piece for the duo. Following this, MF sang, yes, sang "Sunny Side of The Street", in addition to his outstanding trombone player, Reggie Watching. MF then stepped aside and all our attention was turned to Reggie as he performed vocals and trombone solo to "I Miss New Orleans." This guy can really blow that horn !!! Finally, that leaves MF's new pianist. I feel he is by far the best MF has had in two decades. He combines both classic and jazz licks to create some great music.
My over all account of the bands performance was they were exceptional. From the first note MF played to the last, what a fantastic sound. I describe it as fat and mellow in tone. After a solo from MF on the trumpet, you know it was him, even with your eyes closed ! MF's sound has always been his trait and for good reason. Why, after sixty years, we still go to see him perform and buy his recordings. We invited the girl who baby-sits for us. She is in the high school band and plays a trumpet. She sat speechless the entire show and said on the way home, at one point MF's playing brought her to tears !! We spent the three hour ride home discussing his techniques and history and she was captivated !!
Now on to the Pittsburgh show on Thursday evening. This setting was only an enhancement to what MF and the band did this night. We arrived at Dowe's on 9th, a newer jazz club in downtown Pittsburgh at 6:30pm for dinner and by 8:00pm were anxious to hear MF play. This setting was obviously smaller the gymnasium and more appropriately detailed for a performance of this nature. The club is owned by Al Dowe and Etta Cox, both well know musicians from the Pittsburgh area.
The atmosphere was exceptional along with the food, leading me to one of the best MF concerts I've seen. The sound was 'in your face' and being we sat right next to the stage, they were "right in our faces". The opening number was again "Blue's Birdland" and when MF hit that first note, he moved you back in your seat !! WOW! What energy MF brings to the stage. the second song was "You Got It", this time you could get a better feel for the music and the talents of the guys in the band. That night you could hear the sax players, they were smokin' Both soloed throughout the set and did a fantastic job. The show followed as it was played the night before with the exception of "Mirsa Dhenuka". They played it in the second performance. But, as usual, the sound was tremendous! You could pick up more distinctively on the lower tones, especially those of the trombone player, tonight you could
hear a lot of tonguing going on, not just the higher notes. Next was the arrangement by Reggie Watkins. "The Girl From Ipinema" I do hope Maynard records this Watkin's tune. It shows the sound and power of the band as well as MF's incredible sound. One thing about it, that damned song, once you get it in your head, you can't get it out, no matter who arranges it. Never the less, on with the show. Back to back vocal numbers by both MF and Reggie Watkins.
MF sang "Sunny Side Of The Street." and Reggie Watkins, "I Miss New Orleans". Both are nice arrangements. Cajun Cookin was up next, this is a Dennis DeBlasio chart in which Maynard lays down cool solos , it is always sensational !! During the MF Hit Medley", the audience was wild. It was good to hear the old tunes and even better to have Maynard leave the stage to grace us with his immortal presence ! The band plays on as MF makes his way from table to table, hand to hand, a little one on one with a legend. Afterwards MF played through the rest of the medley and as always he played the super high notes he's famous for.
The encore was "One More Trip To Birdland" MF does more on this current version than in the last year, but, it's still the same chart. After a short break, the band was back on stage and it seemed they had reengergized themselves, they sounded tighter and more pumped up than before. It was at this point, the format of the show had changed. They performed a few numbers Mf hadn't performed in the first set and then got to "Misra Dhenuka". It's easy to see why MF likes this chart. He plays his Firebird and smokes on his solo's. MF and Watkins duet in the beginning and then the whole band starts in hard and heavy. I have to admit, the first time I heard this piece, I wasn't sure about it. Now, after hearing it live four times, it's a real POWERHOUSE! Much more soloing was goin on in this second set. Again the bassist's solo was groovin and then funky as the drummer joined in. Now to the piano man again, can't say enough good things about his improv skills, what a player! This set's encore was Caruso with only MF and piano. If you ever doubted MF's sound or soloing skills, you wouldn't after this chart!!!! MF has such a sound all his own, not just high notes. Yes I know no one plays hi notes like the man, sometimes he plays for the animal kingdom just for fun, but the overall sound of his playing. His mellow tone, get out any of his recordings and listen. Listen for him and then the rest of the trumpets, you can always tell which is the boss. The last tune was " A night in Tunisia" what a chart! It's a very powerful chart, and the band was moving with it. MF played is solos and his hi notes as if there was no tomorrow. This was the first time I heard this chart played in a smaller room, it was smokin' ! The only downer for the night, was the fact that Kevin MF's assistant didn't play the MF medley as he normally does. He normally joins in on " when the saints go marching in" on trumpet. Kevin sounds very good, and it add more power to that part of the chart.
Now onto Sat. and Sistersville WV. We left early so we could find the place. I knew were the town was, but not the school. So we stopped for directions at a small bed and breakfast, no one knew. well Reggie Watkins knew. Talk about luck, Reg was coming down the street toward his car, no one better for directions to the gig, but from MF's musical director. We were obvious fans, we all had on tour shirts. we talked and then got directions and off we went. Off only to find out the show was sold out. although the music teacher from the school held us tickets, we called and told her to save some. Good thing we called, a two hour trip to sit in the parking lot would not have been fun. The music teacher was cooking MF his dinner( chicken and shrimp cocktail) so she was off fairly quick. Shortly after the concert started. The book was the same from Clarksburg, and I think in the same order, but did not slow done the show at all. WE sat in the front row, and I could really watch MF's fingerings great. His sound again was just the best!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At one point in, on of his harmon muted solos, MF played down low and sweet, then only blew air into the horn, it might sound weird, but this was a great effect. Another effect like the half valve deal from "Beautiful Hearts". It seemed like everyone took a turn out front in the solo spot, and everyone sounded good. Trumpeter Armstrong was blowing his brains out, or at least trying, really hot solo from him. On "misra-Dhenuka" MF went up so high, that the crowd didn't respond for a couple of seconds, it was a real stunner! The type from "Lush Life" from live from San Fran. The sound again was right on, it was a school aud. and really set up well( new building). The encore again was "birdland"(1996) and again MF plays more in the chart than in the Past. No matter how many times you hear it live, it's always great!! Maynard has the real chart on "birdland" everyone else just rips off his. No matter where you hear it, you'll notice they always add MF's classic front licks to it.
Again in the show MF plays his "hit medley", and leaves the stage. I cant say enough about this.Yes I know everyone would like to hear him blow MacAurther Park,( but his lead does a good job). It's the walk threw the crowd that is just great! Watching everyone in the crowd's face as they get to shake MF's hand. The little kids are the ones I like best, You know they love him and then to shake his hand, WOW. That's better than Mickey Mouse any day! Besides the rat can't blow a horn like the boss, but who can. That's the point, no one can, even today. No one matches his sound, NO ONE.
The night's concert ended, and we met up with the man himself. Maynard signed some albums, cards, and anything else that was put in front of him. Can you imagine how many times he must have signed his name by now. If he only used bib, I'd say buy stock. Not only is MF the best trumpet player in the world, one of the best band leaders of all time, but a great guy too! He doesn't have to sign auto's, and pose for pictures, but he does. night after night, year after year. I have seen MF for over twenty years now, and I'm working up to my 200th show( that is not a typo or inflated number), I've listened to his music since sixth grade. The only thing I can say is thank You Maynard for all of the memories that you have given me. The times I've seen you live, played your records( you know the big things before CD) and all the times I've played your charts. All the times that I was sure the coping machine must have screwed up and coped to high on the page, or the guy passing out the score handed me the piccolo sheet. If you can go see him, GO! Pete Ferguson is going to do too many things at ones, but succeeding. I think he should set down from playing and let me in! The shows were good and the admiral( remember that) was great as usual!!