I had been writing reviews for BluJazz for five or six years and Nicole and I took Greg up on his offer. The concert was stellar (I wrote about it in the March 20, 2017 edition of the Sentinel & Rural News).
We also got to know Curt Hanrahan and his brother, drummer Warren Hanrahan. With them was Curt’s son, Tim Hanrahan, on bass. No chlorine in that gene pool! Along the way, we became pals with Warren’s wife, Maryann. Wonderful people, one and all.
This year, Greg Pasenko and Curt Hanrahan invited us to the MJO concert with Michelle Coltrane as guest vocalist and Shea Welsh as Michelle’s musical director. The concert was held at the Racine Zoological Gardens, an excellent venue for Jazz.
Nicole had discovered that the concert was an outdoor concert but what we didn’t know was that you needed to bring your own seating. All we had was a blanket in the trunk of the car.
We spread out the blanket only to discover that we couldn’t see when people would put their chairs in front of us. We kept moving up until…oh, yeah…we were like Bob Uecker—“On the front row!”
We met up with Maryann before the show and got an enthusiastic wave from Warren from behind his drum kit. But no Greg Pasenko yet.
The concert started almost right on time, a rare occurrence in the music world, with the mighty MJO starting off with Keith Jarrett’s The Raven Speaks. Guitarist Steve Lewandowski just cooked his solo and the orchestra was in powerful form.
From there, they moved to a Curt Hanrahan original called Seattle. I thought it was a description of driving through the “Emerald City” but Curt came clean on the inspiration for the piece when I asked him about it last year.
“It was when the Packers lost to Seattle and that ‘Fail, Mary’ pass,” Curt had confessed. It is featured on the MJO album, Welcome to Swingsville, and is one of Nicole’s favorite tunes on the CD. Eric Shore played tenor sax and wailed that piece.
The final number before being joined by Michelle Coltrane was Juan Tizol’s Caravan, made famous by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. With a big band of four saxes, four trumpets, and four trombones, plus the drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards, the zoo was lit up. Tim Hanrahan got special attention for his bass work.
Michelle joined the band, after the crowd settled down from Caravan, for All the Things You Are by Jerome Kern. The song was made famous by Tommy Dorsey and Dizzy Gillespie with Charlie Parker. Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra put their stamp on it but Michelle Coltrane just owned it.
An original by Michelle, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, followed. A beautiful piece that she performed with grace and beauty.
That Old Black Magic set up a sweet surprise with Michelle singing lyrics that she wrote for her father, John Coltrane’s, song Moment’s Notice. A few years ago, I got to hear Ileana Santamaria perform her own lyrics for her father, Mongo Santamaria’s, tune Afro Blue. Something cool about hearing the lyrics that daughters write for their fathers’ songs. A nice way to end the first set.
During the break, we got to say a few words to Curt. He was talking about the outdoor venue and the heat of the July afternoon. “You should’ve seen the rehearsal this afternoon,” he said. “We were burning.” I said, “All right, then!” “No” he corrected, “I mean burning like we were hot as can be in this sun!”
The heat didn’t die down after the break. The MJO started off with Carole King’s Jazzman. It is a great song in its own right but the MJO makes it swing. Warren and Tim Hanrahan are just hounds for the groove—they can sniff it out from a mile away. They are an amazing rhythm section. Like Curt said, “Ah, it’s in the genes.”
Michelle returned for Softly As in a Morning Sunrise by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II. It was also covered by John Coltrane in the 1962 album, Live! At the Village Vanguard. She followed with All of Me before Shea Welsh got his turn with his own composition Sancho T. Panza. It gave Michelle a breather but not the band. It was hotly heavy on the Latin rhythms and the band did everything Welsh could have asked.
S tella by Starlight was also performed by John Coltrane with Miles Davis and Michelle turned it into one more tribute to her dad. But the sweetest tribute was her closing number, My Favorite Things. Of course, the piece is from The Sound of Music but John Coltrane took the Rodgers and Hammerstein song and made it into something truly spectacular. It was recorded when Coltrane left Miles Davis’ group so Coltrane could explore freer, more modal expressions. And it was played on soprano sax, an instrument not widely used in Jazz yet, to perfection. Curt Hanrahan boldly took the challenge and worked it beautifully. Michelle would have made Rodgers and Hammerstein and her father proud. Next to A Love Supreme, My Favorite Things is my favorite Coltrane number.
Sunny by Bobby Hebb was the encore number. It was the finish to a concert I hoped would never end.
But when the concert finished, we found Greg (who had only been siting about 10 feet away from us) who introduced Nicole and me to Michelle Coltrane. We got hugs and photos and I didn’t want to leave.
Poor Nicole. I babbled about the concert and the song selections for the next couple of hours. Fortunately, Nicole enjoyed it as much as I did.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl