The Kansas City Symphony and Kansas City jazz musicians, including Bobby Watson, came together last weekend to take audiences on a musical trip through the history of Kansas City jazz.
“A Tribute to Kansas City Jazz: From Basie to Bebop Featuring Bobby Watson” premiered on Friday, Feb. 9, and ran until Sunday, Feb. 11. Along with the Kansas City Symphony, saxophonist Watson performed with Hermon Mehari on trumpet, Deborah Brown and David Basse on vocals, Curtis Lundy on bass, Stephen Scott on piano, Rod Fleeman on guitar and Victor Lewis on drums.
The performance was conducted by Jason Seber of the Kansas City Symphony making this a spectacular collaboration of incredible artists. Chuck Haddix, host of KCUR-FM’s “Fish Fry,” offered commentary in between some pieces.
This performance provided the full range of what Seber described as “all the best music in Kansas City: symphony and jazz.”
“Moten Swing” was an interesting piece with the Symphony. Mehari’s vibrancy on trumpet and Watson’s smoothness on the saxophone stood out while the strings gave an almost ethereal softness.
“One O’Clock Jump” by Basie was bright and full of energy. The tremelo of the strings in this piece added a jazz quality that was unexpected.
Mehari shined in “Cherokee” by Basie as he sputtered in with short staccato notes with just the band behind him and then passed it off to Watson as the symphony joined in. The audience burst out in applause after Scott took off in a blur of energy on the piano.
Watson took a moment to convey his love for Kansas City and its incredible jazz history. He described Kansas City as a “hidden jewel” with a thriving community of artists and great BBQ.
When Watson introduced Brown to the stage, he described her as “one of the greatest vocalists of our generation.” This statement is certainly true as Brown stunned the audience with her silky quality, wide range and effortless crescendos in “How Deep is the Ocean?” Every note was sung with the same clarity and grace.
“Everyday I Have the Blues” featured the deep and soulful voice of Basse with the full big band sound. Watson took a moment in between pieces to acknowledge the recent passing of Kevin Mahogany who
many have called one of Kansas City’s greatest jazz artists. They went on to appropriately play “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Big Joe Turner featuring the vocals of Basse.
“Love Remains,” written by Watson and wife, Pamela, also was featured. Watson gave the theme of this magical orchestral composition as “through trials and tribulations.” At the end of the day, he added, “We hope that love remains.”
In “Wilkes’ BBQ” from “The Gates BBQ Suite” by Watson, Mehari joined Watson again for this quirky piece with lots of Kansas City flavor. This program truly was a full immersion into Kansas City jazz featuring some of the city’s best musicians.