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The rhythm of jazz

Honorees at Harpers Ferry concert are rhythm innovators

Honorees at Harpers Ferry concert are rhythm innovators

June 26, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. -- Jazz artist Jimmy Cobb, the drummer from Miles Davis' masterpiece "Kind of Blue," will give a free concert Saturday in Harpers Ferry.

Cobb and acclaimed bassist Jymie Merritt, who collaborated with Max Roach and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, are the recipients of this year's Don Redman Heritage Award, given to living jazz artists who, like the award's namesake, were innovators of jazz.

The Howard Burns Quartet will open the outdoor concert and also perform with Cobb and Merritt. The concert will be held on what was once the campus of Storer College, one of the first institutions of higher learning to offer enrollment to blacks after the Civil War. Storer was the home college of West Virginia native Don Redman, the legendary jazz arranger who laid the foundation for swing and bebop.

Unlike past concerts, which paid tribute to famous melody makers, this year's concert will highlight the rhythm of jazz.

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"There's a lot of folks who don't appreciate those instruments -- they're just background instruments," said organizer Todd Bolton.

Cobb is a self-taught musician, born in Washington, D.C., and now living in New York. Before he joined up with Miles Davis in 1957, Cobb played with Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie and Cannonball Adderley. He was in the drummer's seat of Davis' band through the early '60s and can be heard on many of Davis' watershed recordings, such as "Sketches of Spain," "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Porgy and Bess."

In 2007, Cobb released "Corner," played by his quartet -- Cobb, Roy Hargrove, Ronnie Mathews and Peter Washington. Cobb's performance in Harpers Ferry comes after a jaunt in Italy.

Merritt is a classically trained bassist who established himself in the '50s and '60s playing with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Merritt can be heard on more than 100 jazz albums. He also dabbled in the blues, having worked with Bull Moose Jackson and B.B. King. His son, Mike Merritt, is one of the musicians on NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."

Cobb and Merritt come from the school of hard bop, a jazz genre that gives the rhythm section artistic leeway. Bolton said "Kind of Blue" is the quintessential hard bop album.

Bolton said the concert's selection committee chose to pay tribute to rhythm. The committee felt the appreciation for the musicality of percussion was lacking in today's pop music, with its redundant, machine-generated beats. As with the other components of jazz music, the rhythm makers also sought to test, prod and outright subvert the boundaries of traditional forms of music.

"It's something people need to recognize and appreciate, especially in jazz," Bolton said.

The Jefferson County NAACP, the Don Redman Society and the Harpers Ferry Historical Association will present Cobb and Merritt with awards at Saturday's concert.




If you go ...



WHAT: Seventh annual Don Redman Heritage Awards & Concert, featuring a performance by the honorees, drummer Jimmy Cobb and double-bass player Jymie Merritt. The Howard Burns Quartet will open and back Cobb and Merritt.

WHEN: 6 p.m Saturday, June 28. Rain or shine.

WHERE: The lawn behind the Stephen T. Mather Training Center (formerly the campus of Storer College), off Fillmore Street, Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

COST: Free

MORE: For more information, call the visitors center of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, 304-535-6298.

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