The rain came a few times, but all in all it was a lovely afternoon and evening in the Berkshires for the second day of the Tanglewood Jazz Festival.
I certainly won’t pretend to be objective here — I love Kate McGarry’s music, and have ever since I first heard her. Her set at the Jazz Cafe was a master class in taste, musicality and sensitivity. She sang several selections from her new album, If Less Is More, Nothing Is Everything (Palmetto, 2008), including a great version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’.” She was accompanied throughout by her husband, Keith Ganz, on acoustic guitar, and drummer Clarence Penn. Penn played a percussion kit rather than a full drum set, and he was as tasteful an accompanist and soloist as anyone could want. Full of energy and fun, too.
Marian McPartland is the beloved host of Piano Jazz on NPR, the longest-running performance program on public radio. She’s celebrating her 90th birthday this year and still going strong. Yesterday a sold-out crowd gathered in Ozawa Hall and on the hill to watch a taping of her show. She played two 45-minute sets with an intermission in between. The first set featured pianist Mulgrew Miller, who’s appeared on more than 400 recordings as a leader or sideman. Toward the end of the set, they did a standout duet version of the Thad Jones composition “A Child Is Born.” I think the birds even stopped chirping to listen. After the set, McPartland announced the intermission, saying, “We’re going in the back to … I don’t know … smoke pot or something.” The crowd roared. The second set featured pianist and vocalist Spencer Day, who charmed the audience with his compositions, including a love song about New Jersey. He and Marian performed “Born To Be Blue” together. Then Nnenna Freelon came out to sing with McPartland. For me, the highlight here was Stevie Wonder’s arresting “All In Love Is Fair,” which McPartland requested and Freelon agreed to sing after a “prayer to the gods of lyrics, that they’ll download the words in the proper order.” Mulgrew Miller came back toward the end for some trio work with Freelon and McPartland, and the crowd ended the show by singing “Happy Birthday” to McPartland.
Trumpeter Jason Palmer accompanied Grace Kelly at the 2007 Tanglewood Jazz Festival, and he was a crowd favorite. This year, he got his own time slot at the Jazz Cafe. Palmer performed with a quintet of young players, including his wife, vocalist Colleen Bryant Palmer. The set had some highlights — I particularly enjoyed their versions of “Come Sunday” and Abbey Lincoln’s “When Malindy Sings.” Bryant Palmer has a deep voice that seems well-suited to gospel or maybe classical lieder, and it worked well in those slow, stately tunes. I thought it was less effective in the uptempo numbers like “I Must Have That Man” and “Jump For Joy.” Jason Palmer is a technically gifted trumpet player, and I look forward to hearing more from him as his individuality emerges.
Sadly, I had to leave early, and thus missed the sets by Donal Fox and Diane Reeves. I did hear Fox’s first tune, which sounded wonderful. Fox is a regular at Tanglewood in a variety of settings, and the crowd welcomed him as a hometown favorite.