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Cool sounds for a cold night

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LaGuardia Community College's Little Theatre, during this past Friday's stormy, icy and brutally cold evening, became one of the very coziest and intimately comfortable jazz performance venues in Queens. In the hippest of circles, it's been said "that the cats will always hang when it's time to hang," and this first gathering of a promising schedule of future performances to follow, as part of "The Second Annual Jazz Jam Series," certainly proved the axiom to be the truest of truisms.

About 45 jazz fans and aficionados, scheduled professional jazz artists/educators, and several notable drop-in artists gathered to partake in one of the, hottest, hippest and grooviest of evenings. Internationally renowned jazz fluglehorn-trumpet player, educator, producer, composer, and arranger Cecil Bridgewater was introduced as the featured artist by Eric Lemon, an acoustic double bass player from Jamaica and the musical director of the series.

Accompanying him were the other seriously talented members of the series, which included much-celebrated alto sax player and recording artist Justin Robinson, a resident of Hollis, the magical stickman Bruce Cox on drums, and keyboardist extraordinaire Joe Tronchina.

Lemon indicated with great enthusiasm and pride that some of his students were in attendance, and that the members of his ensemble for the evening were not only world-class working musicians, but also professional educators of the jazz idiom with regular teaching responsibilities at prestigious institutions such as The Manhattan School of Music, JazzMobile, and the Brooklyn/Queens Conservatory of Music.

The artists' wide-ranging musical gifts were skillfully and unselfishly bestowed upon the audience, which was treated to two sets including Charlie Bird Parker's signature piece "Cherokee," and the Clifford Brown composition "Joy Spring."

Bridgewater's mastery of the trumpet, with his clean, cool and soulful homage to these deceased trumpet icons, was beautifully accented and augmented by Justin Robinson's alto sax reminiscences of Parker and Brownie, as they traded rhythmic sequences and riffs with the rest of the ensemble.

Each artist in his own time mini-soloed and mixed it up with the rest of the ensemble, showcasing his singular and collective chops, on tunes such as the bebop national anthem "Omithology," all the while making it eminently clear that they were some of the finest practitioners of the art form.

The Ellington/Strayhorn classic "Take The A Train" followed a short reminiscence by Bridgewater as he casually engaged his entranced audience with personal recollections of his formative years.

In particular, he spoke proudly of a childhood trip with his father to see Louis Armstrong for the first time "that convinced him that he wanted to become a trumpeter just like him."

The rest of the evening the ensemble was joined on stage by another Queens artist and very talented vocalist, Flossie Wilson, also associated with the Brooklyn/Queens Conservancy. Her vocal stylings added an extra dimension to the depth of the whole performance.

Also invited to the stage were an Astoria-based songwriter and acoustic guitarist, Paul Helou, and a young and talented alto sax player, whose moniker was simply "Chelsea." Chelsea, a young man probably no older than 18 and already known to the group, having played with them in the past, exhibited exceptional potential and a natural flair for improvisation as he accompanied Bridgewater and Robinson on several tunes.

During the last few songs, including Cole Porter's classic "What's This They Call, Love?," Sylvia Quenco, a renowned Latin West Coast drummer, sat in and with her exceptional virtuosity, helped focus the ensemble toward the conclusion of the second set, of the evening's outstanding jazz event.

This jazz series, which is a part of a larger and eclectic performance series being presented at LaGuardia College's Performing Arts Center, continues on Mondays at 8 p.m., with the next gig scheduled for March 13. Established jazz musicians are encouraged to come down to future performances, and sit in and jam. Anyone who wants to learn more about the art of jazz, as presented by world class jazz educators and practitioners such as these, or who has interests in the performing arts, should hurry and get their tickets by calling 482-5151.

Or speak to Judy Holland, the public relations person for the performance space, which is located on the college campus at 31-10 Thomson Ave., Long Island City.

Flushing Town Hall, Queens' newest crown jewel for the performing arts, continues its world-class series Jazz Live on March 3, with the famous Brazilian percussionist Nego Gate. The hall is located at 137-35 Northern Blvd., in Flushing. Call for these tickets at 463-7700. Both venues are being made possible by the "Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts."

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