Jazz Royalty Holds Court at Whole Foods

Reuben Wilson, Billy Kaye and Kevin McNeal form star trio to surprise and delight crowd in Friday jazz series

Only in New York!

When Dave Colding, the scheduled performer at this week’s Whole Food’s Columbus Avenue weekly Friday jazz session from 5-7pm couldn’t make the gig, a remarkable trio of exceptional musicians arrived in his stead, including two old timers who might have stepped down from jazz heaven, given their renown and the laid back panache with which they played.

Both jazz elders were very much alive personally and musically, for sure. On keyboard was the princely giant (in both senses) blues-jazz organist Reuben Wilson, whose warm cool and effortless imagination was joined and encouraged by the nobly great (though considerably shorter) drummer Billy Kaye, now 80 years old.  These two familiar names from the pantheon of jazz formed in the first half of the 20th century were ably complemented by the younger but equally resourceful guitarist Kevin McNeal, clearly very happy to be in the company of the two old timers.

It was quite a pleasant shock for all.  Suddenly those lucky enough to be there who weren’t friends of the performers – or otherwise been alerted to this unique occasion through the grapevine – found themselves in a sizable though casual space with front row seats at a concert which they would have been happy to pay $100 for in a formal setting, if they could afford it, a ticket price which would have been no more than the players deserved.

What they heard for two hours was the beating heart of classic organ jazz trio with its fresh melodic explorations played not only by consummate musicians familiar over decades with the greatest stages and the hippest clubs of jazz history – Billy Kaye was playing in London, he told me, before Ronnie Scott even had his club – but jazz royalty in a relaxed mood whose emotional warmth and casual joy in their shared, easygoing creativity passed their graceful mood right along to the delighted audience, who sent their love right back with rhythmic clapping, finger snapping and, as one lady who came up to Reuben when the music was over put it, heartfelt thanks for “a very good time!”

Hear two numbers right now!

We captured two numbers on video and you can find them along with a few stills at OnlyGoodPhotos at  http://www.onlygoodphotos.com/Music/Jazz/Reuben-Wilson-and-Friends-Jazz/16162468_8gv3Z#1213909167_V4Yxg.  Unfortunately the FZ35 proved to have deficient bass so this most important part of jazz organ needs to be turned up when playing them. but they give some sense of how Reuben Wilson’s long fingers on a keyboard typically created a bluesy rolling 4/4 bass walk underpinning melodic riffs to intrigue, satisfy and cut through to the heart of the matter in Henry Mancini’s Days of Wine and Roses and Ellington’s Satin Doll.  These familiar classics were fully accounted for in about eight minutes each, but when they were followed by Ellington’s Take the A Train for a fine finale our too full camera card ran out of space before it could preserve the moment.

“Hey that was great, Reuben” said Kevin McNeal as they were packing up. “We’ll have to do that again sometime!”

Their listeners should be so lucky.

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