by Beverly J. Packard
Yes, I was at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base again!! You see, on November 4th a very special band was scheduled to play. I've heard them before, both live and on CDs named for them. I can summarize my reaction to this night of music with one word - speechless. A writer with no words. And that was after only the first set; after the second set, I was -- twice as speechless. The music is still filling my head and it's still hard for me to capture this night in words.
But there's no way to tell you about the show if I remain speechless. Typing the words might make it a little easier to convey my thoughts, so let's take the plunge and see where this goes.
The special band is named the Heads Up Super Band. Heads Up because that's the record company the main players --- Gerald Veasley, Kenny Blake, Joe McBride and Keith Carlock are signed with. Super because when a record company decides to put together a powerful combination for a concert or collection of songs on a CD, the result is truly Super. Super players with a super sound putting on a super concert. And that created an audience of super fans.
The fans were on the edge of their seats from the very first note and they were wonderfully expressive throughout the entire show! They couldn't sit still and they couldn't be quiet. I was hoping Gerald wasn't going to give us his usual plea to 'sit back'and 'relax' because it was obvious we weren't going to be able to do that on this night.
I'm not sure what it was that propelled all of us into sheer enthusiasm almost immediately. It might have been the look of expectancy on Gerald's face at the outset, or maybe it was Kenny Blake's total comfort up there and the way he literally seems to 'speak' with his saxophone; for him, playing is as easy as talking. Perhaps it was knowing that Keith Carlock, a drummer who might shy away from the limelight but is oh so present in every song, was here after having played with bands like Sting and Steely Dan.
It could have been the addition of the talented Berks Jazz Fest Horns -- the Shiny Horns, as Gerald calls them (Bill Miller on trombone, Chris Heslop on Baritone, Rob Diener on trumpet, Mike 'Bad' Anderson on saxophone) or the lovely Joelettes (Susan Ernesto, Toni Lynn, and Tracy Hamlin. Now that I think about it, it had to be all these things. But pushing us over the edge, I believe, was one additional factor I haven't yet mentioned.
I think we should simply call him Joe. Everyone knows him. Everyone loves him. What a picture of enthusiasm, what a picture of love for music and musicians and fans. After watching Joe McBride play the piano closely for the first time during the Berks Jazz Fest a few years ago, I wrote the following about him: 'When vision cannot distract, music seems to take a faster path from the heart to its expression.' I have the same thought about him now.
Everyone really does call him Joe, everyone except his stage woman, Susie Ernesto, who responds to him with 'Oh Johnnie' during that heart-breaking but crowd-pleasing number 'I Believe.' It's true we could say Joe created sympathy for himself in that song, when his woman went off with 'Johnnie Ernesto', and he certainly created some empathy when he jokingly tried to tell us he was afraid of the dark. Joe has a seasoned sense of humor, and his stage presence, sense of timing and rhythm is simply not to be surpassed. Gerald and the rest of the band enjoyed Joe's setting the tone and gladly indulged him for a fun-filled night.
The band had opened the Rehoboth Jazz Festival Wednesday and played the Jazz Base on Thursday. Rehoboth must have been a great warm-up because the Jazz Base show began in the pressure cooker with heat escaping from the pot in all directions.
The concert, a tribute to Ray Charles, included 'Night Time,' 'I Got A Woman,' 'I Believe,' 'Hit the Road Jack,' 'You Don't Know Me,' and 'Let The Good Times Roll.'
During the break, there was time to go outside for some fresh air and over the hotel radio came Steely Dan's 'What a Shame About Me' from their Two Against Nature CD featuring Keith Carlock on the drums! How exciting to know he was with the band, preparing for the second set, which included 'Hallelujah,' 'Georgia,' 'Unchain My Heart,' 'What I Say,' 'America,' and a fun reprise of 'Let The Good Times Roll.'
It was a super show, with a super ending. I continue to be amazed at Gerald's skill in leading a band, in fostering so much fun, audience connection, and last, but not least, in his head-bobbing that is not only to the quarter beat, but also occurs in double time, half time and syncopated time, as needed. I can't believe I didn't mention that before now!
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo credits: Michael C. Packard