An extraordinary double bill by a pair of living masters last night at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater. It was, I'm sad to say, the first time I was in the space for an actual jazz show (my most recent visits were during last fall's White Light Festival.) It most definitely won't be the last.
The Rose Theater, which seats 1,200 in a circular space, was built to give jazz the permanent grand stage it deserves: not unlike the concert halls of the Montreaux and Montreal Jazz Festivals, but with greater intimacy and better acoustics.
First up was alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, 83, whose been playing since the mid 40's. (Go here for a classic 1950's rendition of "My Melancholy Baby" with Bill Evans.) Considered one of the founders of "cool jazz", Konitz has been moving towards more free jazz in recent years, filling out his quartet with folks like percussionist Joey Baron, best known from his time with Bill Frisell and John Zorn.
The main draw, though, was Ahmad Jamal, 80, who Stanley Crouch claims is "second only to Charlie Parker in the development of post-1945 jazz." (Miles Davis was a huge fan, and tailored his own sound around Jamal's spaciousness and lyricism.) Jamal brought with him his longtime sidemen James Cammack (bass) and Herlin Riley (drums), along with newcomer percussionist Manolo Badrena, who played everything from African bowls to conch shells.
Jamal played with elegance and fire, his fingers flying over the keys like someone half his age. Naturally, Jamal played "Poinciana," the jungle-laced hit off 1958's At the Pershing, along with a copious selection of tracks from last year's A Quiet Time. The crowd ate it all up, calling the band back for at least two encores. (It was hard to tell, as Jamal never actually left the stage.)
If you missed last night, Konitz and Jamal are back on stage once more tonight at the Rose Theater; tickets should be available at the box office. (More pics on Flickr.)