One of the problems with tribute albums is that they usually don’t come with historical perspective. Oh, sure, whoever’s doing the tribute obviously gives the artist’s compositions all the love they feel about the subject, but other than – maybe – a few words about how (insert Jazz Icon’s Name here) was the greatest thing since (insert appropriate metaphor here), you’re on your own when it comes to background. With that in mind, drummer Michael Benedict came to the Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble’s drop party at Madison Theater with the ultimate answer to this problem: Music and a movie!
If you’ve followed Benedict’s career over the last 10 years, you know McFarland’s music has been a heavy presence. That said, you may be like me and reacted to the singular compositions by saying, “WHO wrote this?” We all got the answer late last year, when Kristian St. Clair’s 2011 documentary “This Is Gary McFarland” was released to DVD. A mash-up of old TV footage, home movies, audio tracks and radio interviews with major names like Willis Conover and Hugh Downs, the 72-minute film is an outstanding portrait of an artist you’re convinced you should have heard of by the time the credits roll. Benedict brought the film to the Madison Theater’s terrific concert space and sandwiched it with five tunes from Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland, which was at #24 on the national jazz charts when the band took the stage.