Aaron Diehl presents Jelly and George -Featuring Cecile McClorin Salvant and Adam Birnbaum, SFJAZZ, San Francisco, CA, March 17, 2017
Julliard trained Aaron Diehl has created considerable buzz amongst jazz aficionados as the 2013 recipient of the Jazz Journalists Associations Award for Up-And-Coming Artist, the 2012 Prix du Jazz Classique recipient for his album Live at the Players from the Académie du Jazz, and winning of the 2011 Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association. Travelling the world with Grammy Award winner Cecile McClorin Salvant and his trio of Paul Sikivie (bass) and Lawrence Leathers (drums) has brought him widespread critical acclaim. With Jelly and George, the virtuoso gets to show off a bit presenting the music of Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin, two composing giants of the 20th century.
Arranging Gershwin’s Preludes for two pianos is no small feat in itself. Deihl and guest Adam Birnbaum were mesmerizing as they traded solos. This would set the tone for the evening as the duo, accompanied by Paul Sikivie (bass and Lawrence Leathers added the rhythms. Throw in sizzling solos from Corey Wilcox on trombone, Evan Christopher on clarinet and Brandon Lee on trumpet and you have the makings of a most satisfying evening of jazz.
Jelly Roll Morton was represented by his “Jelly Roll Blues” foxtrot, a sophisticated rhythmic number featuring the horns and ending with a driving climax. Morton’s “Sidewalk Blues” with its Spanish ‘habanero’, typical ragtime and blues influences featured impressive solo passages by Diehl. Equally amazing was Morton’s “Finger Breaker”, an astounding breakneck piece that pushes pianist to the limits of dexterity.
The septet was joined by jazz sensation Cecile McClorin Salvant on Ira and George Gershwin’s lovely and obscure ballad “Ask Me Again” and Morton’s explicitly sexual rag “Windin Boy”, which drew big laughs from the audience. Gershwin’s “Boy What Love Has Done to Me”, arranged by Paul Sikivie, showed off Salvant’s penchant for playful vocal modulations. She shone on Porgy and Bess’s plaintive “My Man’s Gone Now” backed by the Aaron Diehl trio. The four jell so intimately that the number seems like one unified soul.
Morton and Gershwin probably never met; Morton, a Creole, was from New Orleans playing in whorehouses, Gershwin, an urban New York Jew. Diehl and Birnbaum illustrate the similarities to their styles, a love of jazz and a synthesizing of ragtime and blues. Diehl and Brinbaum open up the compositions to add their own improvisations, further blurring the lines between the two composers. The final piece was a stunning arrangement of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”, where everyone had solo shots. The communication between musicians was flawless and the execution perfect. With such a high level of expertise on the stage, you’d expect nothing less.