by Matthew Crain, originally published in the Easton Irregular, May 2012
The cuckoo and nuthatch know summer’s a-comin’ in—that’s why they’re singing. So do the Easton Area High School Jazz Band and the Lafayette College Jazz Band—that’s why they played at the Riverside Amphitheatre. Not because it was Easton’s First Annual Jazz Day and Mayor Panto and Tunsie told them too, but because boys, girls, and birds all agree that this world would be a mighty poor place without music. “Let my children hear music!” Charles Mingus said. Let them, indeed. And us geezers too!
To begin at the end, go back to the beginning, and then stop in the middle like a good Irregular should (apologies to Oscar Wilde): probably because it had been a warm evening and many of the LCJB wore short sleeves and had gotten cold—a curse on that river wind–they played only 3 tunes: “Armando’s Rhumba,” “My Funny Valentine,” and a Maynard Ferguson treatment of “Chameleon.”
The highpoint was a sensitive baritone sax solo in “Valentine” by Jack Furlong, the group’s leader, but the band sounded distracted. Mr. Furlong tried to inspire them, but it was like asking a racehorse to give more in the home stretch and they would not answer. Get them indoors and comfortable and I’m sure they’ll play much better.
It was still sunny when the EAHS group began, they were relaxed, eager to play, and ready to have fun. “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” “Softly As I Leave You,” and “I Remember Clifford” were some of the pieces in their first set, and the performances were first-rate. The standout was Miles Davis’s “Four.” It was loud, bright, and clear, and surely this is the charm of swing and big bands, for, who doesn’t love to abandon himself to a fat 7th chord in the horns and wallow in the trombones? The sax section—prizewinners; never sloppy—caught fire trading solos, and I couldn’t help thinking that when Davis died in 1991 (do birds sing because they know they will die?) these kids weren’t born. “You can only know jazz by listening,” Tunsie said, “you can’t know it from a book.” Someone got these kids listening. When they finished their show to a standing ovation, the Mayor (no knock intended: I too am Friend of the Microphone) went onstage and said, “You hear all the time about the 12% that’s bad—how about the 88 that’s good!”
They wouldn’t be this good without Carole Lutte. Whether it was lugging instrument cases from the school bus, pinning the sheet music to the stands to keep it from blowing away, angling the mic closer to a soloist so we could better hear the solo, patrolling the lip of the stage to keep the tempo snappy (the rhythm section ticked along like a pressure cooker); every time you looked, Ms. Lutte was doing something, and if she isn’t the hardest working high school music teacher in show business today (thank you, James Brown), I wish you’d tell me who is. It makes me proud to pay my school tax. I’d never heard of her before this concert, but a blind man could see how her dedication to this band makes them excel. And, why, the PA starts howling and drowns out the vibes solo—the kid doesn’t flinch, doesn’t falter with his mallets. Geese strafe the band shell, honking their heads off, and then a baby gets religion and shrieks along with the trumpet during a quiet ballad, and no problem for this bunch: the band smiles wisely and keeps those chords down to the barest of murmurs.