Harvard Celebrates 40 Years of Jazz


Cecil McBee on bass, Brian Lynch on trumpet and Benny Golson on tenor saxophone were among the Harvard All-Stars who performed at Sanders Hall as Harvard celebrated 40 years of jazz.                          (Eric Antoniou photo)

Jazz at Harvard has come a long way, baby.

Before 1971, the African American-dominated musical genre was unheard of at the Ivy League institution. Since then Tom Everett has founded and nurtured a successful program for Harvard students interested in jazz performance.

On Saturday night the weekend celebration of Jazz at Harvard’s fortieth year culminated with a sold out performance at Sanders Hall. Harvard’s two student jazz bands, along with a notable alumnus and the Harvard All-Stars, comprised of jazz masters and former guest musicians, played for more than two hours to an enthusiastic crowd.

The undergraduate Sunday Jazz Band, directed by Mark Olson, opened the show with an energetic performance of Neal Hefti’s “Flight of the Foo Birds.”  That musical introduction triggered wild applause and approving whistles from the audience, which set the scene for the following pieces.

With Olson still at the helm, the band followed with “Peedlum,” by Hank Jones, to whom the song was also dedicated.

Olson and Ingrid Monson then introduced Everett, who took the reins for the second set, directing the Monday Jazz Band in renditions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” and Charles Mingus’ “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers.” Ever the gentleman, Everett truncated the latter title in his introduction to appease a civilized Harvard audience.

The third song, Benny Carter’s “Myra,” added a lyrical dimension with jazz vocalist Samara Oster. The waifish undergraduate’s delicate appearance contrasted the depth and strength of her voice, infused with scatting and smiles. Oster and tenor saxophonist Alex Rezzo wrapped up the piece with a playful back and forth, as though enjoying a musical tennis match.

Before introducing tenor saxophonist Don Braden, the soft-spoken Everett articulated the essence of the evening. “Harvard is not the jazz center of the world, but the significance of jazz is gaining recognition […] that is what we are celebrating tonight,” he said.

Braden, a 1985 Harvard graduate and former pupil of Everett’s, joined the band with his sax to perform one of his own compositions, “Landing Zone.” The song prompted wild applause and standing ovations, both on and off stage.

He then played Illinois Jacquet’s well-known solo performance in “Flying Home.”

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Golson was included in a video montage that featured former Jazz at Harvard Artists in Residence. (Eric Antoniou photo)

A video montage kicked off the second hour of the celebration, featuring past Jazz at Harvard Artists in Residence, including Carla Bley, Jim Hall, Hank Jones, Benny Golson, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Slyde and others. Footage of Jacquet invoked another standing ovation among performers and patrons.

Brian Lynch and Eddie Palmieri then joined the students on stage and they all performed Palmieri’s “Elena, Elena.” Lynch strutted to the microphone like a cool cat in a dark suit, porkpie hat and sunglasses. He silently commanded the stage with his trumpet playing and very presence.

Palmieri was more understated, yet equally talented, at the piano. He was the straight man to Lynch’s more comic and animated onstage persona.

The remaining Harvard All-Stars, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Roy Haynes, joined Lynch and Palmieri for the finale.

Golson manned the mic and honored Everett with his smooth voice. “Forty years ago, Tom Everett had the audacity to suggest Harvard start a jazz program and someone had the audacity to hire him.”

The crowd chuckles.

“Was it easy?” Golson continues. “Of course it was!”

The crowd roars.

“What can I say about Tom Everett?  He is an icon in his own right.”

Everett bashfully nods his head and waves from the stage.

The ensemble then reminded the audience what was being celebrated as they performed Golson’s “Whisper Not,” Charlie Parker’s “Steeple Chase” and “Blues for Moody” in memory of the late jazz musician James Moody.

The spontaneity and experienced improvisation of the old timers complimented the organization and air tight preparation of the student bands. With the All-Star band leading the way, the Ivy League venue morphed into a smoky jazz bar for a set, without the smoke.

One of the highlights was Roy Haynes’ vibrant drum solo, which he played in a funky suit and orange Uggs. Golson gently joked afterward of the 86-year- old drummer’s youthful performance. “[Haynes] has been lying to me for years. He’s really 20 years old!” Golson said.

This article was originally published in the Bay State Banner on April 14, 2011.

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