Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

November/December 2010: Anat Cohen

Wycliffe Gordon & Peter Martin:
Courting King Oliver

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The next concert in the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series is “A New Orleans Celebration,” with one of the sharpest bands we’ve ever put on that stage: trombonist/singer Wycliffe Gordon will be joined by Peter Martin at the keyboard, Jumaane Smith on trumpet, and Quincy Davis on drums. I’ll be holding down the bass chair.

Wycliffe Gordon was one of the first people to clinic in the new jazz program almost seven years ago, and he’s been through Winnipeg a few times since. He’s a huge talent, and he made an impact on everybody—you can still feel the excitement when you just mention his name.

Wycliffe was Wynton Marsalis’s top-choice trombonist from the mid-80s through the 90s, at which point he branched out on his own. He has incredible chops, incredible lyricism. He plays the trombone with the effortlessness of a flutist, but with all the grit and huskiness you’d expect from a traditional New Orleans tailgate party. He can sing too, like an angel, but with a whole lot of attitude. He’s one of the foremost authorities today on the New Orleans style, but even if he never said a word, his music stands as a perfect example of the second-line sound.

If you’ve seen Wycliffe on a stage and heard him play, I don’t have to tell you that there’s always a lot of wit and playfulness in his music. Even when he’s a sideman, the force of his personality shapes the band. He’s always a lot of fun.

I’ve known pianist Peter Martin since he was a pup—he grew up in St Louis, same as I did, just a lot of years later. As the son of a symphony orchestra violinist, he was always steeped in music and understood the necessary discipline. He was another of Wynton Marsalis’ finds. Even before he established Jazz at Lincoln Center, Wynton used to barnstorm the country seeking out young talent. Martin was one of the first of a string of young players he discovered and brought to New York. A few years back, Martin moved to New Orleans where he hooked up with Joshua Redman and Dianne Reeves, among others. Now he’s Reeves’ first-call pianist.

Peter Martin can play the blues like it’s supposed to be played, and he can handle that delta rhythm sound like he was born for it. He’s also a big wit—and a bit of a prankster, like Wycliffe. I look forward to playing with him again, and to hear what kind of wisdom he has to offer young musicians at the Masters of Jazz Masterclass.

Rounding out the band is Jumaane Smith, a young trumpet player who grew up in Seattle and has since performed and toured in some of the most respected jazz venues and festivals in the US and around the world. He’s got a great big sound with lots of edge, and you can hear that he feels way back to the roots of this art form. He’s going to be a great addition to a program of New Orleans music—he can tear it up!

Drummer Quincy Davis, the newest faculty member in our Jazz Studies program, is already one of my favourite people to play with. He’s like a quiet riot. That’s a perfect match for someone as rowdy as Wycliffe. His crisp, stylish drumming will help to push this party right through the roof!

New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and those early musicians knew how to put their various voices together and make music that transcended prejudice and make everyone want to celebrate. It still works that way—this is a concert not to be missed!

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