In the month of April, Da Camera had a series of Jazz concerts at Discovery Green. On April 12 Pamela York and Trombone Summit with Andre Hayward and Thomas Hulten performed before a crowd of jazz enthusiasts as well as everyday people curious as to what the sounds they were hearing were coming from. Pamela York is a Canadian born Jazz pianist, vocalist and composer (York). She was classically trained at an early age, but when she was exposed to the likes of Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall she was hooked to jazz.
She went on to receive her degree from Berklee College of Music and later got her Master’s degree as well. (York) Andre Hayward is a Houston Native that attended HSPVA and has been compared to the likes of J. J. Johnson. He started playing trombone at the age of 11; this was no surprise as both his parents were musically inclined (Hayward). Thomas Hulten probably stands out most of the concert due to his foreign background.
He was born in Sweden but later migrated to Houston in 1997 where he has played with the likes of Ray Charles, Barry Manilow, and Michael Bolton (Hulten).
Together all these great musicians put on a free show for the Houston audience to enjoy on a day with already perfect weather. Pamela York started off the show early on in the day, the weather was nice her music was inviting as the audience was still settling in. One by one as she started playing the audience began to grow slowly being drawn by the smooth piano playing and vocals.
She was on vocals and piano and was playing very upbeat and improvising on piano. There were also drums and an upright bass accompanying York.
Her vocals were kept in basically the same range throughout never breaching far into much higher or lower tones. It was very rhythmic and upbeat. She then began playing her rendition of a traditional spiritual called “Sometimes I feel Like A Motherless Child”. This song felt very bluesy and had a lot of staccato piano playing. The piano notes varied from high to higher tones, with lots of chromatic sounding runs. The feeling of the song felt very neutral, sometimes going into very dissonant sounding chords and coming back with very consonant sounding scales.
After this song she transitioned into another cover but this time of “Dream A Little Dream”. York seemed to focus more this time on vocals then any of the other instruments playing. I had heard versions of this song before with Louis Armstrong and Eddie Vedder with his ukulele, so I was very biased to hear them with these grand and unique voices. York’s version was a bit lacking seeing as she was really emphasizing on the vocals. When someone hears it with the likes of the people mentioned above it’s very hard to make the song your own and unique.
The arrangement of hers also focused the soloing on piano, being only a trio there was no room for other instruments to really shine. In between songs there was a mix of improvisation of the drums and piano each showing off their virtuoso skills, while the bass didn’t really get much time to solo. The overall tone of her performance was much more influenced by blues I believe, but for my taste it left a bit of a much-needed larger band to fill the emptiness at times. The bass wasn’t as present as I would of liked and an addition of an instrument or two could of blended very well to give the performance a fuller and grander sound.
Next to head up was the Trombone Summit with Andre Hayward and Thomas Hulten with Pamela York accompanying them on piano for the performance. The sound of the trombones added gave it a more New Orleans style sound to the mix. It was a bit more lively and rhythmic; one could almost dance to it. The focus was more on the trombone’s and its soloing with felt very much improvised through most of its playing. Much like the first performance I felt the bass wasn’t as present, it was overshadowed but if played a little louder it would have given it that fuller feeling.
In between songs the Swedish trombonist Thomas Hulten came in to give a bit of comic relief with his anecdotes and commentary which was a nice feature that gave the performance a more relaxed and laid back feeling as opposed to just transitioning from song to song. During each performance each trombonist would take turns soloing and often play in unison as well. Then a song called “Pilska Polska” which I believe was an original by Hulten was played. This song stood out as being an almost anthem like melody one might here at a college football game. The tempo was faster and it was very melodic throughout.
The tone of the songs being played by the Trombone summit sounded like it was meant to be heard by the average person or curious jazz listener as opposed to something that could sound very dissonant that newcomers to jazz would be put off by. A highlight of the night was when the Trombone Summit started playing the Thelonius Monk song “Blue Monk”, which I immediately recognized from class. The tempo was much slower than the original song and the trombone gave it a smoother legato feeling to it, which made it flow in my opinion better than it would on a sax or piano.
Overall the trombonists played it safe and didn’t really experiment which extremely high or low tones. Also no over the top soloing which I respect because sometimes musicians, I can plead guilty to this one as well, want to show off or pull off a fast and intense solo that might be reminiscent of the movie Back to the Future where Michael J Fox’s character just goes into his own world guitar soloing that the audience is left dumbfounded as to what’s going on.
I appreciated the fact that these musicians kept it simple and enjoyable for everyone as I saw many people drawn to come in and very few, if any, leave during the performance. I enjoyed the concert very much with the second half being a bit more to my taste than the first. It probably helped that by that time the sun was setting and that added to the mood and relaxation that the soft trombones gave off. Being able to just listen to instrumental songs helped a bit more to enjoy the music.
Sometimes hearing lyrics one starts trying to decipher what they’re saying and what the song is about and in the process forgets about the music playing in the background. Even though the concert was free, there were no formal seats, and it was at a public park, the concert felt very classy and one that people of all ages and backgrounds could enjoy. It was a new experience for me, never having been to a jazz concert it took me outside my bubble of music that I usually listen to and will definitely be looking out for future Da Camera Jazz Performances.