Grammy-winning composer-pianist Billy Childs performed in the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center January 25th with his Jazz Chamber Ensemble (Scott Colley, Bass; Brian Blade, Drums; Larry Koonse, Guitar; Saxophone; Carol Robbins, Harp) and the Ying Quartet (Janet Ying, violin; Phillip Ying, viola; David Ying, cello; Kristen Lee, violin). The refined and descriptive grace of his music transitions so perfectly from the recording to the live setting, filling the space with its beauty.
The evening was a unique opportunity to bond with nature. As the set progressed through the six pieces- including a harp-enriched interpretation of Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair"- the ever-gorgeous view of Central Park from that massive wall of windows behind the musicians surpassed being a mere backdrop. The lush and driving "Into the Light" opened the mind, the snow-dressed trees seemed part of the performance.
"The Path Among the Trees", the work that earned Childs one of his three Grammy awards ("Into the Light" is another one), could not have been played at a more appropriate setting or time as the eyes gazed into the softly lit pathway of the park. The next piece, inspired by Art Spiegelman's Maus and fittingly titled "Hope in the Face of Despair" revealed that inner beauty is impossible to destroy even in the most horrific circumstances.
As the evening closed with "Music for Two Quartets" the strings were as crisp as a brisk winter breeze- not like the punishing gusts fellow New Yorkers have experienced as of late. Within the context of this performance, in the Allen Room, winter is more of an awakening, calling the senses to pay attention to the splendor surrounding them.
If people limit their perception of jazz as simply a lot of swinging, swaying, and cool rebirths, a whole world of original, elegant classical work is lost to them. Billy Childs is one of those special composers who has the knowledge of the rules of both jazz and classical music, and succeeds in blending the two in full, flawless fashion.