Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra 25th Reunion Concert

Jazz Buddies,

Last night (Tuesday), at Blues Alley in Washington D.C., I had the pleasure of checking out both sets by the Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra, which was celebrating its 25th anniversary.  Thad, the great WDC-area trumpeter and Fort Dix, NJ, native, led his 15-piece ensemble through two sets of Jazz standards, as well as original compositions by band members.  Most notable was that all of the excellent arrangements were penned by band members.  (The Giant Steps  arrangement was by the late, great alto saxophonist, mentor, and author, Andrew White.)

In opening comments, Thad stated that back in the late 1990s, he and his fellow WDC-area Jazz musicians felt it unimaginable that the birthplace of the greatest Jazz composer, arranger, conductor, and bandleader – that is, Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington – did not have a resident big band or orchestra that appeared at a Jazz venue on a weekly basis.

So, through jam sessions, composers worships, rehearsals, gigs, auditions, word-of-mouth, etc., Thad took it upon himself to slowly assemble a working big band that made its debut at the legendary One Step Down Jazz club (1963-2000), located just blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, on Monday, January 19, 1998!!  The ensemble maintained its Monday night residency until the club’s closing in 2000.

The orchestra’s performers last night included mostly original members (a few NYC-based), along with a few ‘young lions’:

  • Saxophones: Brian Settles, Jason Marshall, Antonio Parker, Lyle Link, Elijah Easton
  • Trumpets: Alvin Trask, Joe Brotherton, Donvontae McCoy, Thad Wilson
  • Trombones: Rick Parker, DuPor Georges, Reginald Cyntje
  • Piano: Allyn Johnson
  • Bass: Kent Miller
  • Drums: Nasar Abadey

During both sets, Thad and his cohorts displayed stellar craftsmanship and improvisational skills through beautiful introductions and respective solos, with the rhythm section holding it down throughout.  And the blowin’ and swingin’ horn arrangements… WOW!!!  The set lists of burners, blues, swing, and ballads comprised:

First Set

  • Moontrane (W. Shaw)
  • Carousel (R. Rodgers & O. Hammerstein)
  • Naima (J. Coltrane)
  • Freedom Ride (A. Parker)
  • Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey (J. Marshall)
  • The Lamp Is Low (M. Ravel) (Vocals: Thad Wilson)
  • The Cup Bearers (T. McIntosh)

Second Set

  • Nancy Jo (G. Wilson)
  • Giant Steps (J. Coltrane)
  • Naima (J. Coltrane)
  • Stablemates (B. Golson)
  • Greenwich Stomp (T. Wilson)
  • The Lamp Is Low (M. Ravel) (Vocals: Steve Washington)
  • To Wisdom, The Prize (L. Willis)
  • Let’s Go Home (sing-along)

During the first set, by happenstance, I sat next to Jazz buddies, Bill & Rena, whom I first met and shared a table with at Blues Alley in November 2019 for a Helen Sung Quintet performance.  And during the second set, I sat next to two new Jazz buddies, Bashak & Reed, out-of-town academics from Minnesota and Edmonton, respectively, who were attending the Transportation Research Board (TRB) 102nd Annual Meeting.

Just goes to show, you never quite know what wonderful Jazz folks you’re going to run into… 😉

Throughout the month of January, the Thad Wilson Orchestra will continue its Tuesday night residency at Blues Alley with:

  • January 17th – Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra Tribute to Sarah Vaughn & Billy Eckstein, featuring Sharón Clark & Steve Washington
  • January 24th – Thad Wilson Quintet Tribute to Duke Ellington & Horace Silver, featuring legendary trumpeter Jimmy Owens
  • January 31st – Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra 25th Anniversary Live Recording, featuring original music

The Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra continues to perform at numerous local-WDC engagements, as well as at international festivals and concerts.

For me, the sold-out first set and nearly sold-out second set provided a great opportunity to showcase the immense talent of WDC-based Jazz musicians, past, present, and future…

Yes, an evening well spent, indeed!!! 🎵🎵 See you at the next set… 🙏

Kenneth

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