I grew up in the home of a former Big Band leader. My dad was an unapologetic jazz and swing fan who played his 33 1/3 ancient mono albums twenty-four-seven during my childhood. There was never any available time on our little hi-fi system for me to pop on a Springsteen album or Pink Floyd’s newest opus.
Raised on a steady diet of Glenn Miller, Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, and Woody Herman, I really, really hated that genre of music. Honestly, there aren’t words to describe how much I despised it.
My dad died when I was seventeen and, just like that, jazz and swing exited my life. I thought I was free. Except something unexpected came up; I started to miss that music. The strains of “In The Mood” no longer echoed throughout our old colonial. After about six months (echoing Rick Springfield’s “My Father’s Chair”) of his thousands of albums lying around the house, we packed them all up and moved them to the attic, which would become an elephant graveyard of old jazz records, until my mom sold me the house and moved away fifteen-plus years later.
Have you ever had to carry almost 10,000 LPs down two flights of stairs to an awaiting moving van and then back up a flight of stairs to their new home a hundred miles away? Ugh. Or worse, deftly handle old Bix Beiderbecke 78s, afraid they were going to crumble like an old mummy hitting the fresh air after 3,000 years entombed in a musty pyramid?
About six months after my mom moved away I walked into a Camelot Music and found a Telarc CD of Big Band standards.
Hmmm. I bought it and threw it into my CD player.
Hearing an all-digital recording of “Sing, Sing, Sing” brought that ancient mono music into the twenty-first century.
Wow. This was pretty good.
The drums were electric.
The horns were on fire.
Maybe, just maybe, this music wasn’t so bad after all.
A whole world opened up to me. And, my dad, wherever he was, must have been smiling down on me.
So, covering last night’s 37th Tri-C JazzFest birthday bash for native Clevelander Tommy Lipuma was an event that I wish my dad could have experienced.
In a word: elegance.
Lipuma, a former barber who left Cleveland almost sixty years ago to chase a dream of working in the music world, has produced a who’s who roster of musicians. Nominated for 33 Grammys, he’s won five for his efforts over the years. A short, bespectacled man of few words, he took the stage at the end of the gala, thanking everyone who came out last night and telling the crowd that he loved every single one of us.
The event opened with the California-based Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, a large jazz/swing band that remained as the backing band for the entire evening. After their short set a purple-adorned Dr. John took the stage. Professing a love and gratitude to the birthday boy, he rambled through a three-song set. Joined onstage by legendary trumpeteer Terence Blanchard, the duo lit up the stage.
Al Jarreau, with the help of a cane and barstool, took the stage next and showed off that silky voice. He may not be in the best physical shape but his voice hasn’t aged a bit since the 1970s.
Throughout the evening, interstitials from artists that have worked with Mr. Lipuma played on a large video screen. Birthday wishes from Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, and others were heaped on the birthday boy from, seemingly, all over the world.
After a short intermission Leon Russell, looking like Dumbledore’s doppelganger, sat at his big piano and banged out three tunes. Not known for much audience interaction, he played his set and quickly exited the stage.
Another Cleveland native, Dominick Farinacci, discussed his relationship with Mr. Lipuma and then pulled out his trumpet. A bossa-nova inspired “Tango” lit up the rafters. His show on Saturday is sold out, so it was a nice addition to last night’s lineup.
The headliner, so to speak, came out in a little black dress and red heels. Diana Krall, under the tutelage of Mr. Lipuma, has sold an astonishing 25 million albums. She announced last night that they were going back into the studio this Fall to commence work on a new collaboration.
Ms. Krall, a showy stage performer, seems a shy girl who lets her piano-playing and singing do “most of the talking.” She became emotional when discussing the importance of her relationship with Mr. Lipuma and abruptly cut herself off, saying “There’s no crying in Jazz!”
Playing a six-song set, the highlight of which was “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Ms. Krall smiled, stood up and exited the stage.
Then Tommy took the stage. His small frame was matched by his unassuming demeanor. He spoke, eloquently and quickly, about his life in music. Thanking all of us for coming, he used the word “overwhelmed” a dozen times.
With that, a large birthday cake was cut as the entire audience sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Hugs were given. Camera flashes went off.
And Cleveland had its second celebration this week. Perhaps it wasn’t as large as Wednesday’s affair, but to the people in attendance last night, it was just as magical.