New York Blue Note Jazz Club with The George Duke Trio

Al rehearses at the Blue Note New York

I’ve been talking to the Blue Note staff for years about doing a run in their internationally famous jazz club. If you could somehow magically mysteriously have all of the people who have played in that room walk in the front door and out the back, the line would nearly be as far as the eye can see, and the array of superstar jazzers would exhaust your jaw-dropping.

We finally worked it out by having me do an atypical performance week. I did two sets a night, 90 minutes each, over four nights, instead of six nights. … Much more vocalist-friendly. And it was a deliciously slammin’ run. The room is 110 feet long, and 20 feet wide, with the stage being in the center of that length … You play across the width of the room. “Jazz Clubs” come in all shapes and sizes. Because of this, we had to do some very interesting maneuverings and finaglings. George and I entered the room from the upstairs dressing rooms, each of us with a mic, doing a call and response with the audience, and drummer and bass player, who were preset on stage, singing an a cappella “Every mornin’ finds me moanin’, Yes, Lawd!” A little ole’ showbiz that delighted everybody. You should’ve seen them squirmin’ and grinnin’.

I would scat solo then George would follow me with a piano solo, just like at The Half Note in San Francisco 1965, then back to the top of the tune, all together, with some soulful “Yes, Lawd” audience participation, and out… “Good evening, y’all! I sure am glad you’re here. Let’s have some fun!” And then it was George’s turn in the spotlight. He took them deep into Brazil after mentioning that it was Cannonball Adderley who strongly advised George to include some Brazilian music in his programs. How interesting that I was seriously exploring Brazilian music with Julio Martinez during that same time period.

Now it’s time for me to go back and do 4 more songs with George, and Mike Manson on bass, and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. I’m touching people on the shoulder, shaking hands, and doing quick hugs as I go back and forth to the stage. Everyone in the audience is a loud stage whisper away. This closeness is rare, and so we take advantage of it, doing as much intimate stuff as possible. Nobody’s heard me do Come Rain Or Come Shine. Sweet Pumpkin is perky and poppin’, and nobody’s heard me sing an uptempo jazzy ensemble piece like this unless they previewed it on the new CD of me and George Live at The Half Note 1965.

During the breaks between the first and second sets, George and I sold and signed CDs, with some up-close hand-shakin’ and picture takin’. We did this all week long, and toward the end we were huffin’ and puffin’ doing this kind of schedule. Though you can bet it was all smiles.

Susan and Ryan came with me, and Ryan joined our work staff, even though there was not to be as much work as there will be during more normal weeks. Susan brought her speed-shopping shoes.

The weather was beautiful, a kind of continuation of the Toronto Spring that we had just come from. It’s not real easy to do a power-walk on the streets of New York; I almost got run over by other walkers and pedestrians. But we did it, every day, me and Patrick. I got together with Jon Hendricks and Kurt Elling (yippee!) to talk about the North Sea Jazz Festival this summer to take a look at some material that the three of us might do onstage with the Metropole Orchestra from Holland.

Esperanza Spalding, a wonderfully talented and beautiful upright bass player, 26 years old and right from the cover of Vogue magazine, substituted for Mike Manson during three nights, including two with Brenda Russell. (Get Here When You Can.) Esperanza’s play is the spit and image of Stanley Clarke and more. She plays with some delicacies and subtleties of syncopation that are mature beyond the age of 99% of bass players. She and Terri Lyne took George’s music to another level.

I must tell you about Thierry Guedj from Paris, who is a film director and videographer who has taken a profound interest in my work and career. His plan is to do a documentary of my life in depth and detail, including a visual walk through Milwaukee, and lots of live performance footage. I am touched and amazed at this serious interest in me, coming from a guy who is credentialed and experienced, and who is, very importantly, from France! The French are very serious Jazz people. Do you remember ‘Round Midnight? The Thelonius Monk song is the title of the documentary, but the story is about Dexter Gordon, a jazz icon Saxophonist. The setting is France. And if you’re a googler, you’ll find other films about American Jazzers produced and created in France. So this is fabulous stuff to be thinking about and working on with Thierry at this time in my life. It inspires me yet again in a new direction. He spent a week with us at the Blue Note, filming and chatting on camera.

Hugs and kisses to Onaje Allan Gumbs, a brilliant composer who showed up, and together we re-initiated our commitment to a song of his called Collage. I did the lyric, and I’ll record that song soon and how wonderful it would be in fact to be a part of this documentary coming out of France: Collage. And what a weeklong occasion for Randy Chaplin and Bob Zievers to come to say hello and get fired up again about symphony orchestra gigs and bookings in general. Hi Adam, good to see you again—say a special hello to your mom, Dr. Marian Serosi. Oops! All my doctors should come first… my holistic doctor, James Lynch—Mind/Body/Spirit person. Good to talk to you. I love you, Judith. You fixed yourself good, let’s talk.

What a way to revisit New York City. You were there moments after my birth as a performer, and you’re still cheering me on. I love you, see you soon.

Thank you, Blue Note, Thank you George, Thank you everyone!

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