by Gail Marten
They did it again! At their 49th concert, on Saturday, December 15th, Marianne and Howard Katz brought an extraordinary group of stellar jazz musicians to Jazzway 6004. Our hosts welcomed a roomful of jazz lovers, hungry for seasonal healing, and related the genesis of their unique venue and its goals, which include the showcasing of local musicians and the promotion of jazz in Baltimore. Howard quipped, “We like having a jazz club in our basement.”
This was a magical night. Santa came to Charm City—only he was a lot thinner and wore a really sharp suit. With his mellifluous voice, the sartorially splendid Tim Warfield greeted the guests warmly and enthusiastically, then plunged into the first song of the night, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” performed with ample creative license by these magnificent (and also smartly dressed) musicians: drummer Billy Williams, Jr., bassist Eric Wheeler, trumpeter Terell Stafford, and (the surprise guest) pianist Cyrus Chestnut. Wheeler led with a stunning bass solo before Stafford came bodaciously swinging in. Warfield followed with his hip interpretation of Johnny Marks’s 1949 novelty tune, made famous by Gene Autry. Chestnut’s fingers nimbly flew across the keys, fashioning multi-colored tones and displaying his mastery of the piano. When the cheers, whistles and applause subsided, Warfield’s soprano sax shepherded us to “The Little Drummer Boy.” His increasingly fierce solo was followed by Stafford’s moody, passionate treatment of this holiday classic. Wheeler and Williams, both exuding virtuosity, technique and taste, laid down just the right fills for Chestnut’s elegant improvisations.
“When what to my wondering eye should appear” but the lovely Philadelphia-born vocalist Joanna Pascale, with her ebony hair tumbling over black lace and satin, shod in ultra-high-heeled patent leather pumps. “O, Christmas Tree” took on a whole new meaning in this unique and sublime arrangement. Pascale’s compelling vocal was supported by Warfield’s sweet alto responses and the rhythm section’s flawless accompaniment. Her measured confidence soothed any savage breast in the audience, and things only got more soothing as she continued. A soulful, eloquent rendition of “Let It Snow” followed, with Warfield imaginatively soloing on soprano with rhythms that ran the gamut from swing to Latin, and Chestnut demonstrated his versatility with limitless explorations and hypnotic riffs. Pascale’s arrangement of “Caroling, Caroling” began with an exuberant solo by Warfield, the rhythm percolating and bubbling and Stafford’s notes pouring out of his trumpet like molten lava.
The program ended with a sophisticated, sparkling arrangement of Claude Thornhill’s rarely performed “Snowfall,” after which Warfield invited Baltimore’s own Baroness, Marianne Matheny-Katz, to the bandstand. He expressed appreciation on behalf of all the musicians who have played at Jazzway 6004, before asking her to favor us with a closing song. Marianne was radiant as she sang her sweet rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and the audience enthusiastically displayed their appreciation.
Then we were all invited upstairs to partake of delicious hors d’oeuvres and the famously delectable desserts that Ms. Matheny-Katz creates herself (blood sugar level be damned!). Thank you, Marianne and Howard, for this remarkable holiday gift. Priceless!