Charlie Parker. Dizzy Gillespie. Art Blakey. If you’re a fan of bebop jazz, you know those names. I’m way too young to have heard beboppers play live back in the late 40s and into the 50s, but several nights ago, I came awfully close at the Cafe Stritch in San Jose, California.
That’s exactly what drummer Akira Tana’s quintet did for me. Tana’s band freakin’ bbq’d the joint, practically burning it down to the ground. Reminded me of why I listen to jazz in the first place.
This wasn’t sedate, restaurant background jazz. It was full on, bombs away get outta my way kinda jazz. Two horn players playing their asses off, a bass player from Stockton on the edge of not being able to hang with the speed of some of the tunes but getting to the edge of his abilities in the process. Local pianist now living in New York hammering away at the keys and the bedrock of the band, Akira Tana, going off on the kit. Whew! Double whew!
Teodross Avery. The guy looks a little like a young Sonny Rollins. I mean it. He has, of course, his own sound. Talk about knowing how to build a solo. It doesn’t take long for Avery’s feet to start kickin’ to the notes he’s blowin’. It became clear that when Avery’s feet were moving, he’s playing as hard as he can.
Mike Olmos. I don’t think I’ve heard a better trumpeter live. I mean that, too. Has the speed and articulation of the best of them, even the beboppers.
Art Hirahara. If you’re gonna play in a band that flies, ya better have the chops, and he does. It would be easy for a pianist to be overwhelmed in a band like this, with such powerful players. Not Art. He made it look easy, with the notes free flowing outta his hands like butter.
Giulio Cetto. Way too young to be this good. He told me he was hangin’ on, when the band got going. You wouldn’t know it, though. He was totally into this band, he enjoyed this show as much as the audience did and it showed in his playing.
Akira Tana was the leader. I had seen him play at a nearby restaurant recently, with a completely different band. Different setting, different feeling, even a different drum kit. This was Tana, doing what I hadn’t seen in decades…a drummer who reminded me of Art Blakey. Nah, he doesn’t sound like Blakey. But that insistent swing that Blakey had, Tana has, too. When he wants to power a group, he powers the group. And this group responded, because they had to.
I saw Blakey do that, to a group of young guns playing at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California, maybe two-plus decades ago. Those poor guys had to play their asses off, because Blakey wouldn’t let them do anything else.
That’s exactly what it was like, listening to this band. They powered through the tunes, blowing hot and heavy, the way it must have been to watch Parker and Gillespie, or Fats Navarro play, back in the heydey of New York jazz. A privilege.
Cafe Stritch, is known for great jazz shows, and is about the only place in San Jose to consistently produce them.* It’s small and you get to sit awfully damned close to the band if you want. You might have to stand if it’s packed, or you can sit outdoors if the weather is nice.
It’s surprising, really, that half of the audience appears to be in college, probably because San Jose State University is very nearby. I don’t think most of them know what jazz is, but when a band like Tana’s is playing, they figure it out fast. Jazz is cool and it can be nasty. It’s worth it.
Upstairs was a group of guys that frankly, looked to me like they were in the wrong place. They just didn’t look like jazz lovers. Hard to describe. But they were applauding and getting off on the vibes like everyone else.
There were some older folks, too. In their sixties or so. You might expect to see that age group at a show like this. No one cared about the odd mix of ages and faces. All they cared about was the band in front of them, uncorking a mind blowing set of songs. The way the crowd responded, I knew. Music doesn’t get any better than this.
I don’t know if this band will ever play together again, but if you see them advertised, drop everything.
Here’s the last tune of the night, Cedar Walton’s Firm Roots. Afraid my recording doesn’t do the band justice. Ya had to be there.
Recorded with a Tascam DR-07mkII and DR-40.
Akira’s website is here.
Teodross’ website is here.
Mike’s Facebook page is here.
Art’s website is here.
Giulio’s site is here.
*The Blackbird Tavern closed fairly recently. It wasn’t around for long, but they did a fair number of jazz shows in downtown San Jose.