Jazz concerts at York, Queens colleges wow audiences

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Friday night was not only Good Friday in the traditional holiday sense, but serendipitously materialized as a truly great Friday in Queens for jazz fans and aficionados alike.

Vibraphonist Stefon Harris and pianist Jacky Terrasson, two of the genre’s most internationally celebrated and established young lions, held court as a duo at the York College Performing Arts Center 7 p.m.

Later on, at 8 p.m. in the Kupferberg Performing Arts Center at Queens College, the blind artist Diane Schuur, a multi-Grammy Award winner, considered by many to be one of the world’s most eclectic and brilliant vocalists of the past 30 years, gave a concert that was not only divine in the aural depth and quality of her repertoire, but one that was visually entrancing as well, as she moved her arms, fingers and body while seated center stage and later at the piano, in keeping with the subtle and dynamic nuances of each selection.

Stefon Harris, iconoclastically using double and often quadruple red-wound mallets played simultaneously on two different vibraphones, one with metal bars and the other wooden. Providing a wizard-like delicacy and at times an intense immediacy, Harris offered up magical and spellbinding interpretations of the chestnuts “My Foolish Heart”; a Benny Goslon ´╗┐composition entitled “Whisper Not”; and a Horace Silver piano original, ´╗┐“Cape Verdean Blues”.

All along the way on each of those selections and others, Jacky Terrasson, commanding a Steinway Grand, traded fours while interpreting in counter point, resonant symmetry and mimicry every move and nuance of his colleague. Paying homage to his fellow artist, while showcasing their collective jazz chops, Harris responded and reacted in kind on several other tunes.

Just as captivating was each artists occasional, unusual and unexpected fingerings of their instruments, such as Terrasson’s manual damping of the bass strings inside the opened body of the pianos sound chamber, and Harris’s attack on the wooden bar vibraphone using only his left hand holding a mallet while in his right hand he deftly tapped the bare wooden bars with his naked fingers or the stick end of the other mallet. During the performance Harris and Terrasson revealed to the amazement of the fans that they had just gotten together the day before for a brief rehearsal, and that they hadn’t really gigged together since their one-time performance as members of a larger ensemble more than three years ago in the New York City Vanguard Jazz club.

Meanwhile, just a few miles north at Queens College, the blind 64-year-old songstress and vocalese diva Diane Schuur, backed by a youthful three-member rhythm section comprised of pianist Randy Porter, drummer Reggie Jackson and acoustic double bassist Scott Steed, was rocking the house and laying down a series of tunes that touched on many aspects of the traditional American song book and then some.

When I arrived she was delivering her fourth selection, “Without A Song,” and the energy in the space was palpable. Schuur continued by taking the Queens fans down memory lane with her superb old-school rendition of Duke Ellington’s swinging masterpiece “It Don’t Mean A Thing.” The applause and vocal reactions of the audience that followed was not unlike that heard at rock concert. Selections of the same basic genre and era followed, such as “You Taught My Heart To Sing, and “My Favorite Things” made famous by Julie Andrews. This cherished favorite took on a whole new jazz and blues quality as Schuur creatively blended in some frenetically brief scat and yodeling before serving up the fun show tune and crowd favorite, “Making Whoopee.”

To everyone’s delight, after doing most of her extended set seated on a stool at the mike, center stage, and seated now at the 88s, Schuur took a brief foray into “uncharted territory” as she coyly admitted that she was about to play, for the first time, some familiar tunes that she “just learned to play for the first time about four days ago.” While swinging musically and swaying physically at the keyboard, she delivered an exquisitely delicate composition, called “Smile,” followed by her newly learned Beatles song, “Let It Be,” where the bass and drums came in only after the chorus.

Gifting her fans in the large, acoustically superb theater, Schuur, bopping, often scatting, with a touch of yodeling, her body always swaying rhythmically, with foot tapping at times, gave a stellar performance of about 14 beloved compositions that brought home the memories while stirring the crowd to applaud wildly and frequently. She finished up as only she could with two killer tunes, “Incidental” and, with full ensemble, the artfully swinging “Louisiana Sunday Afternoon.”

As the fans strolled out of the theater, one couldn’t help but hear some of the older fans, particularly the seniors in their 60s and 70s, commenting, to no great surprise, on what a great show it was and how powerful her voice and wide her range was. As one satisfied spectator put it: “Man, that lady still has what it takes!”

Updated 5:49 pm, October 10, 2011
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