A Pre-Cruise Jazz Festival Was A Great Birthday Party
Concert Review by: Sheldon T. Nunn
Venue: Moody Gardens Convention Center (Galveston, Texas, United States)
November 11-12, 2005 – In the whole scheme of what smooth jazz should be about, the subject is a hotly debated topic of discussion. Traditionalists will tell you that the music is nothing more than instrumental pop. Smooth jazz enthusiasts insist that this is jazz filled with a contemporary flavor, music that crosses demographic lines. Nowadays, radio stations having this type of format far exceed stations playing more traditional styles of jazz. There lies the impact on society as a whole. In the United States, smooth jazz has taken on an identity and a life of its own with any number of side benefits attached to its promotion. What is even more profound is that this style of music is now being exported to radio stations across the globe and it is a major staple for the 30-54 age group. With that being said, on November 12, 2005 a major milestone was achieved by KHJZ “The Wave” 95.7 FM in Houston, Texas, a city not known for having a strong jazz following of any kind. KHJZ celebrated three years as Houston’s longest surviving commercial jazz radio station. In hindsight, this is an accomplishment many believed would be short-lived due in part to the demise of many radio stations and venues throughout the city since 1975. What is just as significant is “The Wave” replaced a much beloved C&W format known as KIKK FM, which created a high degree of controversy amongst connoisseurs of country music. In three short years, KHJZ 95.7 FM became one of the Top 10 radio stations in Houston, in spite of its smooth jazz base. To commemorate this much-heralded achievement, “Wave Day 3 by the Sea” and “Smooth Jazz All-Star Cruises” joined forces for one of the most dynamic radio birthday celebrations ever experienced in the greater Houston metropolitan area.
On November 11th and 12th, “The Wave,” Smooth Jazz All-Star Cruises and Smooth Jazz News sponsored a Smooth Jazz Pre-Cruise Festival at the Moody Gardens Convention Center in Galveston, Texas. Smooth Jazz All-Star Cruises was already primed to sponsor a 7-day smooth jazz cruise departing Galveston on November 13th; as such was the case, KHJZ deemed it exciting to host “Wave Day 3 By The Sea” in celebration of three years of excellence as the City of Houston’s only commercial jazz radio station. To help the festivities along, Al Jarreau kicked off the party on November 11th, followed by Rick Braun, Craig Chaquico, Nick Colionne, Brian Culbertson, Euge Groove, Alan Hewitt, Boney James, Michael Lington, Marion Meadows and Peter White on November 12th. The next day cruise passengers, pre-concert headliners as well as Mindi Abair, Joyce Cooling and Eric Darius set sail on Carnival Cruise’s passenger ship Conquest to begin 7-days of non-stop smooth jazz music. Ports of call would be Montego Bay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. In Galveston’s Moody Gardens, a birthday celebration of epic proportions set a standard that is sure to be remembered as one of the finest jazz festivals in recent history. Also seen during the event were some unexpected extras who served as sidemen for the headliners, which included drummer Rayford Griffin, keyboardist Greg Karukas, saxophonist Michael Paulo and bassist Dwight Sills. With that kind of line-up in the mix, the City of Galveston had to batten down the hatches due to the level of high profile entertainment that was experienced.
Al Jarreau, one of the genre’s most significant vocalists was as has been previously observed his usual and fantastic self. Following a formula that has mesmerized jazz connoisseurs for more than 30 years, he has filled the gap between traditional and smooth jazz styles, Al Jarreau is the consummate performer and he prides himself on bringing jazz into the forefront of exposure. Although Al is known as a jazz vocalist, he has easily criss-crossed the lines of R&B and pop styles with ease during his career. In fact, it is that level of comfort that has allowed Al Jarreau to become one of the most popular artists around today. During the “Wave Day 3 by the Sea” birthday bash, Al’s rousing welcome to Galveston let it be known that the party was about to start. He established a precedent seldom seen in Galveston or Houston, in the midst of the enthused audience the table was being prepared for a jazz activated sound energy ray of excitement. Jazz connoisseurs from Texas as well as cruise passengers from all over North America and Mexico were exposed to music have a smooth jazz premise. His sound is not consistent with the prevailing format; however, most of the music that he sings has elements characteristic of that style. Al’s musical alliance across melodic styles is invisible for the most part, but jazz is his standard operating procedure. By all accounts, he has also found a way to make his music palatable, which is composed of blends of classic and contemporary jazz. All in all, Jarreau has successfully parlayed his talent into acceptability. Following Al Jarreau, came the Mother of all smooth jazz performances. Eleven artists who have permeated the airwaves of smooth jazz radio stations across the globe graced the stage of the Moody Garden Convention Center one after the other. Hosted by Rick Braun, who was also the host of the All-Star Smooth Jazz Cruise began the show with a high degree of applause.
Since the 1980s, smooth jazz has been reviled by traditionalists and followers of classic jazz ideology; however, there is a caveat to that premise. The smooth jazz heard over the airwaves of radio was not the jazz heard in Moody Gardens on the night of November 12th. The music played by Braun and company was more characteristic of funk-oriented contemporary styles heard during the 1970s. What few connoisseurs and beginners fail to understand is smooth jazz is a format for radio airplay. The music is not a true indicator of an artist’s natural talent; in fact, many of the musicians in smooth jazz have studied the skills of Grover Washington, Jr., Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louie Armstrong, Wes Montgomery, Stanley Turrentine, Cannonball Adderley and a host of R&B artists who have also been great influences in their own right. When trying to understand the philosophy behind smooth jazz, every aspect of jazz has to be considered, including the idea of change. Throughout the history of the genre, it has been all about the process of evolution. When Miles Davis conceptualized cool and fusion jazz, he was condemned for his vision. In both cases each new trend became an accepted style amongst more than 100 different established nuances. Smooth jazz is but another addition to the category of music, which has now become a phenomenon that has taken the world by storm. The line-up showcasing the “Wave Day 3 by the Sea“ and the Smooth Jazz Pre-Cruise All-Star Festival have merely followed a series of events that first began in 1899 with pianist Jelly Roll Moten and a host of other individuals. Everyone on the bill for the second night of festivities jammed and partied the night away to the delight of a couple of thousand jazz fans filling the convention center. The entire format was set to entertain and pump-up the enthusiasm beginning with saxophonist Michael Lington. The funk and circumstance that permeated this jazz experience was not smooth by any stretch of radio interpretation; however, the events were augmented at various times by the melodic lines of Marion Meadows. With that being said, the level of enthusiasm continued to be heightened, even with the addition of other new artists that were being seen for the first time in Galveston. Nick Colionne, Michael Lington and Alan Hewitt have been rarely experienced or heard in Houston/Galveston; as such, little was known about their live jazz experiences. But with each encounter during their performance, the level of appreciation escalated in the hearts and minds of everyone. Any misconceptions or misgivings about this smooth jazz event were quickly set aside once the festivities ensued. Many believed the highpoint of the Festival was going to be saxophonist Boney James who was set to close the action-packed adventure into sound; however, with the antics of Braun, Chiquico, Colionne, Culbertson, Groove, Hewitt, Lington, Meadows, White and the effervescent array of sidemen, Boney would have his work cut out for himself.
As most people have come to realize, saxophonist Boney James’ star always rises to the top, no matter who is on the bill with him. With a career steeped in the traditions of R&B music, Boney’s funk-oriented style of jazz is filled with energy and is definitely a cut above the norm. Following an introduction by trumpeter Rick Braun, Boney hit the stage with Act II of “Wave Day 3 by the Sea” with a series of grooves that hyped the level of excitement previously generated to a higher level of immense proportions. He cavorted across the stage with any number of his much-heralded grooves that have stood the test of acceptance. Boney’s signature sound stands as a testament to his R&B roots, which in its own way has allowed him to amass a cadre of enthusiastic fans. With tunes taken from the tracks of “Ride,” “Sweet Thing” “Seduction” “Body Language” and a host of other notable releases, there was a definite party atmosphere and a hypnotic groove going on. By most standards, Boney is the ultimate performer in a live setting and his presence in Galveston was as charismatic as it has ever been. The entire concept of the Festival was to celebrate the 3rd Birthday of KHJZ 95.7 and a warm-up for the Smooth Jazz All-Star Cruise. Having Boney James close-out the show, the audience going home as well as the cruise passengers left excited about the entire evening. This was a birthday party filled with patrons of jazz and a high degree of musical escapades. Each time I view a live smooth jazz performance, I walk away with a different view of the music. The radio version is easy listening, but the live setting often witnessed in “Guitars & Saxes,” “Jazz Attack” “Groovin’ for Grover” and now the ‘Smooth Jazz All-Star Pre-Concert Festival” for “Wave Day 3 by the Sea” continues to provide a different perspective on a topic that is much maligned and filled with controversy. But with all of the discussion set aside, the birthday party for “The Wave 95.7” has established a precedent that will be difficult to follow; however, this Festival stands as a celebration for a much-heralded accomplishment in a city where jazz acceptance continues to be an enigma.
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