Area concerts enriched by true jazzmen

March 05, 2006|By Kate Coleman

I recently witnessed some living history.

No, I didn't go to a Civil War battle re-enactment or visit the nearby Fort Frederick.

I attended the fourth annual Black History Month Jazz Heritage Concert in Shepherdstown, W.Va., which featured Butch Ballard and Buddy Catlett with the Howard Burns Quartet.

Ballard, 87, is a drummer whose career spans more than 70 years. He's played with jazz legends Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Seventy-two-year-old Catlett has played bass professionally for more than 50 years. He also performed in the Armstrong and Basie orchestras.

The pair never had played together. That's the way jazz works.

After warming up with "Take the 'A' Train" and "Satin Doll," Ballard issued a warning:

"I'm gonna take off my coat 'cause I'm gonna sweat."

He called the next number - "Caravan" by Ellington and Juan Tizol.

"When you get to the bridge SWING the bridge," he commanded Burns and his saxophone.


The music began with a Ballard solo. He started with mallets, switched to his hands, then sticks. He tapped, caressed and struck drums and cymbals with head cocked, his previously beaming face focused in concentration as he occasionally growled with pleasure.

Catlett's approach was perfectly opposite and equally pleasing - quiet and serene. With eyes closed, contented grin on his face, he delivered his bass notes with the cool bliss of a cat basking in the sun.

I like many kinds of music, but it's only in the past few years that I've started to appreciate jazz. I blame it on Todd Bolton, a Harpers Ferry National Historical Park employee who booked this concert and several others I feel so lucky to have attended.

Jazz's connection to West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle comes directly through one of the American art form's forefathers, Don Redman. Known as the first great arranger in jazz history, Redman was a 1920 graduate of Storer College, one of the first schools founded to educate freed slaves after the Civil War. The college is preserved as part of the national park in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

In 1906 the campus was the site of the first public meeting on American soil of the Niagara Movement, the W.E.B. DuBois-founded organization that set the course for the nation's civil rights efforts.

The centennial will be commemorated in mid-August with an academic symposium, exhibits and, of course, music. Among the offerings will be a gala concert featuring the Count Basie Orchestra premiering an original musical score written for the Niagara Centennial.

I'm not writing about the recent concert to make you feel bad about what you missed - although you have missed some wonderful moments.

Last year's concert in Shepherdstown featured 79-year-old trumpeter Sonny Cohn. After a couple of hesitant first notes, his "Our Love Is Here To Stay" solo soared.

I was moved to tears, and along with the rest of the audience, rose to my feet.

I'm sure there will be similar moments to come, and I don't want you to miss them.

Opportunities include:

"An Evening of Jazz with Charles Davis," Friday, April 7, Quality Inn, Harpers Ferry

Davis, 72, plays tenor and baritone sax. For information, call Bolton at 1-304-535-6026.

The fifth annual Don Redman Heritage Awards and Concert, Saturday, June 24, Storer College campus

The free performance will feature tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath, 79, and pianist Hank Jones, 87.

Niagara Movement Centennial Commemoration, Aug. 18, 19 and 20, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park,

I don't plan to miss hearing these living legends play.

Saxophonist Howard Burns, who also teaches music at Frederick Community College in Frederick, Md., summed it up perfectly at the close of the recent concert, asking the audience if they'd heard of the show "American Idol."

"These are the American idols," he said of Ballard and Catlett. "They are treasures."

Kate Coleman covers the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and writes a monthly lifestyle column for The Herald-Mail.

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