This was more than just a concert. The folks gathered in the BTI Center's auditorium were there for an event. That's exactly what they experienced. The focus of the evening was Ahmad Jamal masterfully communicating and spreading joy with his piano. Mr. Jamal had a very strong supporting cast for this event; Idris Muhammad played drums ... I mean he had fun playing on the drums, and the anchor for the evening was the boyish looking Mr. Cammack on bass. This was a wonderfully produced event from the marketing to the pre-concert reception, the concert itself, and the post-concert reception. The Mayor of Raleigh proclaimed it Ahmad Jamal Day in Raleigh at the beginning of the concert. Every element was elegant, and classy.
Ahmad Jamal, Idris Muhammad and James Cammack spent two hours, with intermission, exploring musical ideas in a collaborative manner. It really didn't matter what the songs were originally. Melodies were played by Idris Muhammad in such a playfully musical manner, you forgot he was the drummer, and there were times Ahmad Jamal was the timekeeper. Mr. Cammack smiled and gave us a pulsating frame of reference throughout. This group played with and around the musical ideas as only true masters of music can do.
Just before intermission, Kitty Kinnin, host of WLGX-FM's Jazz Brunch, invited folks to come closer and fill what few of the expensive seats were left in the orchestra ... I couldn't resist an invitation like that. So, I moved to the front row right in the middle. I was joined by a few other music connoisseurs (geeks). We thought the first half of the show was entertaining--little did we know.
It just happens that I sat next to a few other musicians and we were in total awe of the sheer mastery of each musician over their instrument. The listening experience was enhanced by the complete control they had over the music and the relaxed communication exhibited on stage.
Make no mistake, Ahmad was in total control of this session, however Idris' personality and his New Orleans drumming style was allowed and encouraged to be up-front and center. Idris flashed that big kid's grin from behind those big red sunglasses. He was visibly having a ball--the whole night!
Idris Muhammad's big kid contrasted with the elder statesman presence of Mr. Jamal. However, Mr. Jamal was having his share of fun through the evening. He appeared to have great joy in introducing "Poinciana," which the crowd loved. By this time it really didn't matter the name of the song, or even whose song it was originally. This trio had won over the audience and was taking their improvisational explorations to the edge and the audience with them. The audience loved the journey.
The evening was coming to an end as we heard quotes from a few familiar tunes, like Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," during the solos of the closing song. Neither the crowd nor Ahmad Jamal and crew were ready to go home, or for this party to be over. He returned for his encore and played "But Not For Me," another ballad that when asked about after the show even he didn't remember, and he closed with "Ashante."
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the concert was when Idris Muhammad asked a young boy (about 10 years old) sitting in the second row to come up to the edge of the stage during the bows. Muhammad grabbed one of his sticks, walked forward and handed it to the little boy. This was a night of appreciation and sharing.
This was an evening to remember. The music was a wonderful example of "spontaneous composition," also known as jazz improvisation. It was presented in a very elegant manner. And the crowd left with much joy in their hearts, uplifted by the experience. I actually heard people saying that ... YES!
Footnote: The concert was a benefit for an Education Foundation and for Vital Link, a school managed by the Murray family of Raleigh. The Murray family and Mayor Charles Meeker salvaged a parking crisis that almost ruined a post-concert reception for some event guests. They should be commended for their assistance and class in resolving the conflict.