Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Jazz greatness ‘visits’ Green Bay

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Birds eye illustrations fascinate. From up close, individual details can be seen and examined. Stepping back, the view gives perspective of how the details relate to one another. If the image is historical, time then becomes time now.

Wednesday night, time then became time now in a rare musical birds eye performance by the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music program.

Nine musicians associated with the university recreated recordings of sixtysomething years ago as a concert.

Antennae were up – that this performance would be most unusual. The concert venue was packed by a mixed-age crowd.

The main audience of more than 200 was seated in Fort Howard Hall of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at UWGB. Extra chairs were brought in to accommodate some in Fort Howard Hall, and an overflow audience listened from the center’s largest auditorium, Cofrin Family Hall.

The program was part of UWGB Music’s “6:30 Concert Series,” a look at varied types of music featuring campus resources.

Wednesday’s program was titled “Miles Davis’ ‘Birth of the Cool’ in Concert.”

The musical birds eye: The program put together – live – nine pieces that were recorded individually in 1949 and 1950 when technology was such that the LP (long-play) recordings and CD (compact disc) were things of the future. The space limitations of 78 RPM (discs that spin at 78 revolutions per minute) dictated that the pieces be concise. The musicians represented nine players who were part of the original project that brought special instrumentation and new approaches to style in jazz.

Summation of the hundreds of thousands of notes played Wednesday: The pieces are quick and nimble. With nine players, a whole lot is going on at once. All the original artists associated with these pieces are dead, but their music and sound lives on with vigor.

The musicianship it takes to recreate these sounds is of lifetime dedication. So, the performers: Adam Gaines, trumpet; John Salerno, alto saxophone; Steve Johnson, baritone saxophone; Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, horn; Kevin Collins, trombone; Kelly Galarneau, tuba; Christine Salerno, piano; Michael Dewhirst, bass; and Bill Sallak, drums.

Organizing commentary – “footnotes” so to speak – were Gaines and Clif Ganyard, UWGB associate provost for Academic Affairs. Ganyard narrated as if storytelling, all sorts of facts and illuminations rolling out without much looking at notes and in a conversational manner.

To start, Ganyard noted the overflow crowd, that the concert was being live streamed and included a listener as far away as New Zealand and said, “Jazz is alive and well in Green Bay.”

Ganyard explained the collaboration of the key thoroughbreds in the original project – trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Gil Evans.

Attaching Miles Davis’ name to this program was a likely magnet – the illusion of being in the presence of his mystique. From Green Bay, Miles Davis seemed to be a persona from another planet.

And then, Wednesday, to hear the stuff from whence he came – played live and excellently – was super-cool.

The history-laden program was historical in itself.

Also super-cool: Present in the audience was Lovell Ives, who started the jazz program at UWGB and founded UWGB Jazz Fest, which will have its 48th edition Jan. 27.

Ganyard also offered societal perspectives, such as this: The original nonet was mixed race at a time when segregation was part of the cultural fabric in parts of the United States.

Another reality check from Ganyard: Despite the artistic achievements of the original project, it was not a hot seller, and Davis and Evans were among those who had a hard time finding jobs.

Recognition was a long time coming.


Wednesday’s program

“Jeru” – Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996)

“Move” – Denzil DaCosta Best (1917-1965), arranged by John Lewis (1920-2001)

“Godchild” – George Wallington (1924-1993), arranged by Gerry Mulligan

“Budo” – Bud Powell (1924-1966), Miles Davis (1926-1991), arranged by John Lewis

“Venus de Milo” – Gerry Mulligan

“Boplicity” – Miles Daves, Gil Evans (1912-1988), arranged by Gil Evans

“Deception” – Miles Davis, arranged by Gerry Mulligan

“Rocker” – Gerry Mulligan

“Moon Dreams” – Chummy MacGregor (1903-1973), Johnny Mercer (1909-1976), arranged by Gil Evans


NEXT (for music program): “Vocal Jazz Ensemble Does Do-wop, Motown and More,” 7:30 p.m. today, Nov. 30, University Theatre, Theatre Hall.

NEXT (in series): “Duo Piano Recital” with Sylvia Hong and Michael Rector, Feb. 5.

THE VENUE: The sound-friendly Fort Howard Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. With seating for 200 when a bank of risers is deployed, the space is used for recitals and small-group performances. Built with acoustical properties of high concern, the room includes five banks of angled wood in the ceiling and seven beveled wood panels each side, with curtains between and flat surfaces dark blue-gray. The hall’s name relates to Fort Howard Paper Co., a historic firm in Green Bay that was founded by A.E. Cofrin, whose son Dr. David A. Cofrin, and other family members were instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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