Berks Jazz Fest 2008: To Grover With Love

Berks08_GroverTribute.jpgSunday evening we were in for a treat - the hard working Jason Miles brought one of his star-studded projects to us, it was the Celebrating the Music & Life of Grover Washington Jr.: "To Grover With Love" event which was held at the sold-out Sovereign Performing Arts Centre. The band consisted of players who were part of Grover's career, most notably Buddy Williams on drums, Ralph MacDonald on percussion (who wrote and produced many classic Grover tracks), Will Lee on bass, Chuck Loeb on guitar plus leader Jason Miles on keyboards. They started the show with "East River Drive" featuring Chuck Loeb on guitar, soon it was time for the first guest, saxophonist Walter Beasley, followed by Kim Waters and Everette Harp on saxophones, among the songs played was "Let It Flow" and Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" (which was a straight jazz track that Grover covered as well at one point in his career).

Berks08_LylePerry.jpgThen Bobby Lyle joined the band on grand piano, delivering one of the highlights of the show together with singer Phil Perry who sang a truly heartfelt version of "Love Me Still" in his inimitable style. World-class artistry in the true sense of the word. But the bar was raised one notch when living legend Patti LaBelle came to the stage, looking stunningly great for a woman in her 60ies. She shared some of her memories about Grover before delivering "The Best Is Yet To Come" and "You Are My Prayer", supported by her musical director John Stanley on piano. Despite some slight vocal problems (unfortunatley she caught a cold that day), she gave her all and touched the hearts of the audience, kicking off her shoes and falling on her knees at the end of her performance, proving to be a consummate artist delivering under any circumstances. Singer Maysa is another Berks favorite - she was part of the Soul Summit event last year - delivering a beautiful rendition of "The Look Of Love" culminating in some heavy scat improvising at the end, supported by Chuck Loeb's guitar plus a mellow vocal version of "Mr. Magic". Another highlight for me was Everette Harp's rendition of "Black Frost", a track from Grover's CTI days. Present in the audience was Grover's family giving this whole event a personal Philly touch.

I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate the work of Jason Miles making these events possible, not only by bringing together this incredible bunch of artists, but also to recognize the legacy of an artist like Grover Washington Jr, who is one of the artists having ignited my life-long love for jazz.

PS: Good news - this summer Vol. 2 of "To Grover With Love" will be released.