I had lunch with an old family friend the week before last and it was one of a couple of recent encounters that reassure me our jazz scene is getting more and more solid.
I saw Alan and Sally Davis at the Ron Free concert at McCrady's during Spoleto and it was then Alan and I decided we really needed to hang out. It was like a reunion of sorts among many people at the show featuring the famous drummer, and it motivated us to get together again, something we had been loosely talking about doing for some time.
The recent surge in live jazz has had us in occasional conversations, but originally, I met Alan sometime in the 1970s through my parents.
The couple are well-known around town. Sally, a Wetherhhorn, is a native, and Alan, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., has lived here for 65 years, practicing law for a while and owning and operating A.J. Davis & Co., a clothing store.
After numerous phone-tag and e-mail exchanges, we worked things out. I met him at Grady Ervin & Co., where he works part time, and we walked down King Street to Sermet's, a favorite for both of us and a huge supporter of live jazz.
It was a delightful time. We talked about musicians, old Charleston, the recent upswing in popularity of jazz here, my trumpet playing and his drumming.
Since I found my old school band horn, people have been urging me to play again, but I probably won't. Alan, however, never put down the sticks and brushes and is looking to take lessons and get better.
We got to talking about how good Ron sounded at McCrady's. Turns out, he, 75, and Ron, 74, knew each other in high school and they hung out. Ron left Charleston at 16 and went on to have a noted career.
Alan has always had his finger on the pulse of the local jazz scene. He told me that there's never been a time he knows of in Charleston when the jazz landscape was so vibrant.
He comes out to shows, particularly the 20-piece Charleston Jazz Orchestra, and he and Sally tell whomever will listen that they ought to go.
He offered that day to help in other ways. I told him the best thing he could do is keep on being himself and be a barometer of what the community needs and wants with regard to live jazz.
So, I guess we'll have to keep on going to lunch.
Quentin, Herb and me
Alan's favorite drummers are Max Roach, Joe Morello and Quentin Baxter. Pretty lofty company for Charleston native Quentin, but Alan likes his playing that much. He's not alone.
At the CJO Conductor's Choice concert May 22, Quentin had a 10-minute solo in Tommy Gill's arrangement of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" that people are still talking about. (Nobody in music circles around here can remember ever hearing a drum solo in any version of "Rhapsody.)
Alan said at lunch that day it was some of the best drumming he had ever heard; and he's heard them all.
One night at Charleston Grill, where Quentin is musical director, we were talking between sets about our ongoing explorations into a Charleston sound. He's been revisiting his magnum opus, a 15-year work in progress whose working title is "Gullah Suite," and he said he's looking to further refine his knowledge of his family, his home group (African-American) and his place (Southeastern United States).
He also revealed that there's some Native American heritage in his family in Dorchester County and he wants to know more about the overall intermingling between Lowcountry Africans and Native Americans.
I suggested we get together with my friend and colleague, Herb Frazier, former Post and Courier reporter, who is expert in Gullah history and diaspora and maroon societies such as the Florida Seminoles.
Quentin took me up on it, so Herb and I went to his house last week to talk about the subject. Supplementing the discussion were materials Herb had brought along that included books, articles and recordings he thought would be helpful in Quentin's quest.
We got a lot done, in part because we had worked together on a project before. We already had a rapport. In March 2008, Quentin and I co-produced a record he also engineered called "Seeking," a live recording from a concert I produced in tribute to the work of painter Jonathan Green. On that CD is a traditional Mende song from Sierra Leone, West Africa, an area from which many enslaved Africans here came from. Herb's research led him to a residual of the song as sung in coastal Georgia some years ago. He subsequently shared it with me. In January 2008, I commissioned Charlton Singleton to do a modern jazz interpretation of the Mende song and to put a band together to perform it. It was a natural for the Seeking concert.
The meeting last week is poised to emerge as the impetus of the next major step in defining the Charleston sound. Quentin was elated and energized by what we went over and, I'm sure, what he learned will be part of the bedrock of his music from now on.
Jack McCray, author of "Charleston Jazz," can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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