Although the marvelous, veteran tenor saxman Houston Person was in the spotlight, the show was really all about someone who wasn’t even there.
With the ever-worsening state of economic affairs in the jazz world – let alone the music business in general – who would have thought, all those years ago, that the brain-child organization created by the late Butch Conn would be celebrating its 25th anniversary?
But considering all the obstacles, financial and otherwise, the good folks running A Place For Jazz since Butch’s death in 2005 have prevailed, keeping his memory and cultural contribution to the region alive and well.
Last Friday night, jazz fans came out in droves, filling to capacity the circular rows of seats in the First Unitarian Society’s Whisperdome. Though senior saxophonist Houston Person has played Nippertown several times in recent years – most notably at the Lake George Jazz Weekend – his instrument’s deep, golden tenor sounds are always welcome here. They’re warm and rich with the jazz tradition.
On Friday, the uniquely acoustic-friendly hall was filled primarily with the welcome sounds of well-known standards piled high with Person’s unique instrumental tones and those of his exquisite quartet.
Magnificent drummer Chip White didn’t let an unintended beat escape into the room, nor did acoustic bassist Matt Parish. Pianist John DiMartino traded harmonic licks with Person and then added his own distinct imprint on every composition played. The traditional round robin of the musicians’ solos was the norm for the night, but Houston’s robust, yet sensitive, playing stole the show, applause rising from the audience after each solo.
Everyone who knew Butch Conn smiled a little bit wider after each song, knowing that APFJ’s patron saint was up there looking down, listening and grinning. And in truth, Friday’s 25th anniversary concert was as much about Butch’s vision and dedication, as it was about Houston Person’s impassioned playing and the devotion of the faithful jazz fans who have helped A Place For Jazz not only survive, but thrive year after year.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk