The Jazz Series initially promoted as a six-concert series back in 2011 ended its third year with a performance that was quite possibly the most explosive, yet elegant, of the entire Series. The Ertegün Jazz Series—born of a partnership between the Embassy of Turkey, the Coca Cola Company (the Boeing Company preceded Coca Cola as a sponsor) and Jazz at Lincoln Center—welcomed the Sean Jones Quartet through the front doors of the Turkish Embassy Residence on Monday night for what turned out to be a great night of jazz. As Ambassador Namik Tan shared stories and video about the Series’s namesake, the late Ahmet Ertegün, and the historically significant jam sessions that Ertegün and his brother Nesuhi used to host in the very room where we were all gathered, trumpeter Sean Jones stood in the room’s entryway taking it all in.
The Warren, Ohio native ended a six-year tenure with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the top of 2010 before going on to tour the world as part of Marcus Miller’s heavily lauded, Miles Davis inspired Tutu Revisited Tour. During his time with Miller’s band, Jones also held down faculty positions at Duquesne University and Oberlin College, Artistic Director positions with the Pittsburg and Cleveland Jazz Orchestras, and maintained his own bandleader responsibilities, releasing his sixth recording No Need for Words (Mack Avenue Records) in 2011. Standing in that doorway in those moments was a man who could look back at history with a smile on his face, because he understood. He understood that without the jam sessions former Ambassador Mehmet Ertegün allowed his sons to host at the Residence in the 1930s and 40s, the Ertegün Jazz Series may have never come to be. He understood that without time spent with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Marcus Miller’s Tutu Revisited Tour that his professional accomplishments may have come in a different package. And he also understood how implausibly beautiful it was that the course of his life would converge with the ugliness of times’ past and hold him up as a living representation of the new stories that have yet to be told. He understood that he was ready, and he stood there patiently waiting to be introduced.
“Are you all having a good time tonight?” Once Jones and his quartet (featuring pianist Orrin Evans—the only musician to perform in at least one concert all three years of the Ertegün Jazz Series, bassist Madison Rast, and drummer John Davis) were on stage, the artist(s) and the audience were eager to experience the music. Some familiar faces shouted their hellos from the crowd as soon as Jones stepped on stage while those unfamiliar with the trumpeter’s work expressed their curiosity amongst themselves before the first note sounded. Make no mistake about it, when the music began the room was transfixed by the power and proficiency in Jones’s playing.
Beginning his set with a spirited performance of “60th and Broadway,” Jones described the next song as one that was written during a particularly dark time in his life. As the music to “Dark Days” progressed, not to sound cliché, it began to sound like a testimonial. The pain and turmoil, the longing, the defiance, and the vulnerability… those elements were all audible. But so were the transition, the promise, the amazing grace that saved a wretch, and the ultimate triumph over tragedy that brought the song to a close. Evans delivered a poignant solo that could only be performed by someone who’d known Jones long enough to express that kind of empathy. When the theme shifted from “Dark Days” to an up-tempo, Latin-groove tinged “Interior Motives” to an exploration of the male and female dynamic in “Of Mars and Venus,” Jones revealed more layers to his multi-faceted musical personality with each transition. Ending the night with a nod to the blues, each musician cut loose and gave everything he had all in the name of whatever the feeling was at that moment. That’s easy to do when you’re playing the “I Don’t Give a Damn Blues,” but Jones and company made it all worth listening to.
The Ertegün Jazz Series will return for more concerts in 2014. Stay tuned.