Berkeley Jazz Festival Highlights

by Michael Zipkin
July 1979

This year's UC Berkeley Jazz Festival, held for the 13th year running in the campus' 9000-seat amphitheatre amidst the eucalyptus, presented a mixed bag of beboppers and fusion flyers that guaranteed sold-out houses for two of the three shows. As might be expected, the younger cross cover artists exhibited an unfortunate predilection for cops over substance. A performer like Al Jarreau, for example, who closed Friday night's show, possesses and absolutely awesome array of instrumental vocal effects. His breakneck, instrument-mimicking scats worked best when incorporated into the body of a tune, but too often seemed designed as ends in themselves.

Jarreau is an undoubtedly sincere and, in the final analysis, entertaining singer (though his band didn't provide much fire), and his voice, while highly derivative - Al Green and Betty Carter are his most overt influences - is flexible, supple, and occasionally astounding. But to truly make his mark in jazz, he must transcend his technique that threatens to overshadow his most appealing asset: emotional transparency.

Blues rocker Robben Ford, a last-minute addition to Sunday's concert, suffered from some of the same excesses. Again, his was a professional and competent set - this time of polished urban blues and pop-rock vehicles - but his conception and delivery were too commonplace and lacking in real meat to sustain much interest at this end. He closed with the classic "Driftin' and Driftin'," and did manage to burn his way through that gem.

One of the festival's truly inspired performances came Friday, when Betty Carter and the superb John Hicks trio took the stage. Following Tony William's rather bombastic set, Betty walked on scatting and never failed to breathe energetic life into everything she tackled, from Cole Porter's "Gentlemen Don't Like Love," to "Favorite Things." Without batting an eyelash, Ms. Carter brought her double-jointed sizzle down to deep, breathy airs, and just as effortlessly cranked it back up to double-time bebop, twisting time, melody, and accent with marvelous serendipity. Someone get this woman a contract.

Kohn Klemmer, backed by pianist Karl Shroeder, basis Bob Magnusson, drummer Roy McCurdy, and percussionist Ray Armando, managed to swing in his own laid-back fashion. Klemmer's percussive interplay with Magnusson (the bassist was the band's trye catalyst, hands down) was particularly dynamic. Overall, however, it was not one of the man's best performances, suppering from a rather peak-less sobriety.

Berkeley resident Art Lande greeted the Saturday sun and packed house with his Rubisa Patrol, and proceeded to weave his desert magic with the aid of trumpeter Mark Isham, saxist Bruce Williamson, bassist Bill Douglas, and drummer Kurt Wortman. Isman's Bitches Brew era Milesisms blended with pianist Lande's delicate yet forceful statements and Eastern flourishes to provide a music brimming with surprise and virtuosity.

Guitarist Pat Metheny and his crack band followed, opening with the shimmering "Phase Dance," and continuing with his tightly conceived brand of electric music that owes as much to country as it does to gospel or bebop: a sound largely defined by the interplay and unisons of Metheny and keyboardist Lyle Mays. The set went on for nearly two hours, however, and after a while the chops couldn't overcome the growing rhythmic and melodic predictability of the tunes. There's a lot of talent in that band, though with plenty of room to grow.

A player of massive rhythmic power and bebop licks to supply the fuel, Sammy Rollings absolutely burned up the Greek with calypso fire and wing from his high top sneakers to his electric blue sun hat. Supported ably by drummer Al Foster, pianist Mark Soskin, and electric bassist Jerome Harris, Rollins once again proved himself the king of funky swinging tenor. Except for a rather out of place disco bop exhibition, Rollins captivated the gathering with constant invention and playful quotations from everything from "Over the Rainbow" to "Oh, Susanna" to "pop Goes the Weasel."

For all the dry ice, special lighting, and rock concert ambience, Weather Report still turned in a dazzling free floating program of tunes that stretched from a "Silent Way" Zawinul/Shorter duet, to their hit from last year, "Birdland." The band was loose and jammed quite a bit, and Wayne's considerable soloing was a pure joy to hear (though Pastorius' solo spot was an exercise in self-indulgent anti-climax). A segue from the eerie "Badia" into a cooking "Boogie Woogie Waltz" was the highlight of the set.

Local pianist Rodney Franklin opened Sundays' show with a professional and varied program of bebop and funk. His solo piano piece bowed considerable to Tyner, and the band's reading of Mignus' "So Long, Eric," while a bit sloppy, was a nice tribute to the late bassist. Franklin displayed a poise and conception lacking from his debut CBS album; at a mere 20 years of age, he's one to keep your eye on.

The aforementioned Robben Ford followed, yielding eventually to alto man Richie Cole. The spirit of the late Eddie Jefferson, who was to appear with Cole, was everywhere during the smoking set, which opened with the Jefferson favorite, "Jeanine." A ten-person choir from Foothill College added Jefferson-taught vocals on "In the Still of the Night" and "Moody's Mood," contributing to that family feel the late singer always instilled. Cole himself, backed by a young five-piece band, uplifted Bird and Woods in a thoroughly enjoyable and virtuosic display. More and more people should find out about this emerging bebop giant.

Dizzy Gillespie led an electric band through a decidedly funky set that was down-home and familiar if not instrumentally brilliant. The hour ad a half was heavy on electric blues - build acceptably by guitarist Ed Cherry and bassist Michael Howell - and near disco-ized funk, Dizzy played his patented trad bob; spewed Gillespian with and humor; got the audience to sing "Salt Peanuts," Jimmy Carter style; and played congas and changed Cuban rebop. Predictably entertaining.

Elsewhere in these pages you will find comments concerning Joni Mitchell's "Tribute to Charles Mingus" program, so we will pass here. Speaking of the singers represented at the festival, however - Jarreau, Betty Carter, Joni - a comment seems in order. Each, in one way or another, owes quite a debt to the late Eddie Jefferson, who was to return to Berkeley this year following 1978's show-stopping performance. It would have taken little effort for any or all to acknowledge that debt to the late innovator of vocal jazz, or for the festival itself to say even a few words in his honor, for that matter. We're losing the cornerstones of the music all to rapidly; let us not forget them.

Printed from the official Joni Mitchell website. Permanent link:

Copyright protected material on this website is used in accordance with 'Fair Use', for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of the copyright owner(s). Please read 'Notice and Procedure for Making Claims of Copyright Infringement' at