|A view of Harlem Meer from atop the penthouse of One Museum Mile|
On this balmy evening, the view from atop the penthouse was spectacular. Despite the large cumulus clouds that lingered above threatening the outdoor proceedings with the possibility of showers, the evening was unscathed by any rain. The mostly gentrified crowd of invitees was treated to good food, drink, a soft sales pitch (the luxury apartments are for sale with presently 40% occupied) and great music. Like a lush Persian rug being unrolled before your eyes, the great green expanse of Frederick Law Olmsted's masterpiece, Central Park, and its hidden Lake, Harlem Meer, are majestically viewed from this unique vantage point .
But on this evening it was the music that I came for and I was not disappointed. The Harlem Blues and Jazz Band is a now venerable institution. Originally founded in 1973 by King Oliver's trombonist /blues singer Clyde Bernhardt and the jazz aficionado Al Volmer, it is dedicated to keeping the significant side-men of the Classic Jazz period working and not forgotten. Since those early beginnings, an impressive number of musicians from the classic era have moved through this group's ranks, often until attrition forces the band to replace them. Through it all the band's authenticity to the music is retained while providing these journeymen musicians a reason to still play and giving the listeners an important link to the music's heritage.
|The Harlem Blues and Jazz Band play the penthouse of One Museum Mile|
|Tenor Saxophonist Fred Staton|
|Trombonist Art Baron|
Art Barron, who was a one time member of the Ellington Orchestra, did a fine job resurrecting the spirit of Ellington trombonist "Tricky" Sam Nanton, as he slurred and muted his instrument to create a plethora of unusual sounds. He would often team up with tenorist Fred Staton in a tag team of call and response. Staton's hushed tenor sound was smokey and warm; somewhere between Lester Young and Ben Webster. Staton is the brother of the late singer Dakota Staton and has played with Earl Hines among others. Reynold "Zeke" Mullins was holding down the piano duties on the electric keyboards. You could barely see his eyes under his NY Yankees cap. Mullins was a frequent collaborator with the great Lionel Hampton's band. The stately Michael Max Fleming, whose tall lean appearance was the human embodiment of his instrument the upright bass, stabilized the bottom and kept the groove on track. Fleming made his bones playing with childhood friend and multi-reed player Rahsaan Roland Kirk as well as Eddie "Cleanhead" Vincent and backed up the singer Sammy Davis Jr.
|The Bassist Michael Max Fleming|
With showmanship and joy that belies their age, the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band is a living tribute to classic jazz from the swing era and a treasure to anyone who appreciates the fine tradition they are keeping alive. As a working band that has done tours all over the United States, Europe and Scandinavia this group shows no signs of letting age get in the way of their love of this music. Catch them if you can.