Tonight was a night of true charm. The entrepreneurial clarinet experienced the drama and fancies of classical music by day, and the ‘down in da Parish’ nitty-gritty bayou jams by night. The evening started with several tunes by local kings of New Orleans jazz, Evan Christopher and Gregory Agid assisted by local musicians Tom Mitchell (guitar), John Previti (bass), Troy Davis (drums), and Willis Delony (piano). Christopher and Agid shared several standards and originals for the audience this evening each displaying their mastery, furthering their reputations as our generation’s local legends. Christopher opened the evening by introducing charts (“Blues in the Air” and “Banjo Noir”) by pioneers of New Orleans clarinet Sidney Bechet and Alvin Batiste. Their excitement was infectious. As solos were passed between the featured guests and supporting musicians, there were whoops and hollers from musicians and the audience members alike. As Christopher led tunes “La Ciudad Criolla,” “Tande’ Sak Fe Loraj Gwonde,” and “Waltz for All Souls,” all penned by himself, his natural leadership took center stage. An entertainer through and through, his control, originality, and playful personality shone as bright as a full moon on the Mississippi at night. When Agid’s tune “Summer’s Song” (dedicated to his deceased, young student) and “Swag” were performed, his bag of tricks revealed greater depth than the crowd could have hoped. His funky rhythms, riffs, and colors infected and affected us. In the final number of the first half, Harry Skoler and Felix Peikli joined Agid and Christopher for a jazz clarinet quartet arrangement of “The Mooche” by Duke Ellington. The room’s applause hardly ceased. Transitioning from New Orleans rock to classic swing, their power and prowess was palatable.
Nearly an hour and a half into the night’s performance, Peikli and Skoler took the stage despite a fatigued and fading crowd. Skoler, a consummate gentleman, played with class and old school swagger reminiscent of old New Orleans traditions. As Peikli followed, we heard his compositional chops with “Nocturnal,” a sensitive and moving ballad revealing that this young musician of 24 has more than incredible technique and seemingly natural instincts. He is also a creator of fine music and charm. In his last numbers alone on stage, his technical mastery was unleashed in full force with an unaccompanied improvisation on Gershwin’s “Summertime” which speedily zipped by and immediately transitioned into Grolnick’s “Nothing Personal.” The two pieces seemed to come together as one with the tune of “Summertime” weaving in and out hypnotically by Peikli and pianist Willis Delony.
It would be criminal not to mention the incredible presence and talents of the assisting musicians. The fineness of Delony and the raw power of drummer Troy Davis drove massive force of the ensemble allowing guitar John Previti and bass Tom Mitchell to outline subtle harmonies and nuance.
In the final moments of the evening, Peikli, Skoler, and Agid were joined on stage by none other than Dr. John Cipolla, I.C.A. President, for a final jam session on the blues chart “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” A true master of all styles, Cipolla led the jam, making every lick seem organic and fluid. The quartet of clarinet stars listened with intensity while Dixieland-style improvisations took place with typical busyness of polyphony and flirtatious character. Both exhausted and refreshed, the remaining audience approached the stage for congratulations, autographs, and the satisfaction of meeting these wonderful musicians and personalities. Laissez les bon temps rouler, indeed!
–Notes by Melissa Morales
Melissa Morales is a master’s student at DePaul University studying with Julie DeRoche and Larry Combs. She currently teaches at The People’s Music School and performs with The Candid Concert Opera’s Orchestra Nova and the Chicago Symphonic Winds.