by Matthew Pugh
Jazzmen Chuck and Robert Redd
Jazz is like love. It suggests things to you while touching you in the most intimate of ways.
Good jazz is like love. It takes communication and intimacy to make it work.
Jazz musicians Chuck and Robert Redd barely talked to each other in the hours they played at intimate 49 West Café in Annapolis, but much was said through their music.
Chuck plays the vibraphone while his brother Robert plays the piano. Both brothers have been speaking jazz for more than three decades. As young, aspiring musicians in the 1970s, they ventured to Annapolis to see jazz greats Charlie and Joe Byrd at the King of France Tavern at the Maryland Inn.
Back then, the King of France was an East Coast mecca for jazz, and the jazzmen of the Charlie Byrd Trio were the high priests. So when Chuck joined the mighty group in 1980, at age 21, it was a dream come true.
The trio took Chuck around the world and earned him a reputation as a serious player. He was tapped to perform with such other historic notables as Dizzy Gillespie, Barney Kessel and Mel Torme. He appeared with the Gillespie in Africa for the Namibian Independence Day Celebration, in a recital at the White House with Kessel, in several concerts at Carnegie Hall with Torme and on the Tonight Show.
A Tacoma Park resident, Chuck is featured on more than 35 recordings and is a member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, the New York-based Ken Peplowski Quartet and the Loren Schoenberg Big Band.
Roberts resume is not as plump, but his playing is equally astute. He co-leads several jazz groups and appears frequently at Blues Alley in Washington D.C. with local and national artists.
Robert, who is also a D.C. area resident, is a member of the Keter Betts Quartet and has performed with the Smithsonian Masterworks Ensemble. For several years in the 1990s, he too performed as a member of the Charlie Byrd Trio and was the pianist and musical director for singer/songwriter Kenny Rankin.
Annapolis is a second home for the Redd brothers. They now revisit the city to play Jazz at the Powerhouse in the Loews Annapolis Hotel, where their old friend, bassist Joe Byrd sponsors monthly shows.
A late June show at 49West Café also sponsored by Byrd was special because it presented jazz in the way it ought to be presented: two world-class musicians in the snug back room of a local coffeehouse and wine-bar.
Like conversation, jazz begins with the tune or melody, which is established like the topic of a discussion. Once the tune or topic is set , the musicians or conversationalists improvise, or talk, around it.
The musicians dont necessarily know where the musical conversation is going, so they pick up melodious phrases and sentences from each other. To do this, they must stay focused on each others playing and react on an immediate, spontaneous basis or choose not to.
As a listener, you are part of that musical conversation and equation. Your reactions directly affect the musicians discussion. The idea is to create a symbiosis between players and listeners. When this is achieved as the Redds proved the music is mesmerizing.
They opened the evening with a rendition of Love You Madly by Duke Ellington. From note one, all who were in the room were captivated.
Chucks blue-headed mallets moved across the vibes like water over smooth rocks. His improvisation was poetry, colored with icy blue and green hues.
Roberts piano, full and robust, filled the air with a complimentary warmth. His feet jumped about beneath him like fleas on hot coals; his face was awash in ecstasy.
The melodies seemed to move in time with candlelight that flickered through the diamond-patterned glass centerpieces resting on the tabletops. Softened by red wine and pink drinks with parasols, people listened hypnotized to Chuck and Roberts move through ballads like Ellingtons Prelude to a Kiss and Ray Charles Georgia On My Mind.
Like conversation, Jazz takes active listening to reach communication. Everybody in the room was caught up in this one, sharing the same focused look as if they were part of a campfire powwow, oohing, aahing and marveling at the same musical expressions. All understood. All were included. All fused in the intimate setting.
49 West Café is cozy, with stucco and exposed brick walls, upon which hangs art for sale. The lights are low. Fresh herb and spice scents waft through the air and scruffy-haired waiters deliver huge wedges of cake and itty-bitty cups of espresso. Space between people is limited.
In a setting like this, you have to communicate with people directly. Theres no avoiding eye contact. These days, most music is processed and sanitized into artificial moments. Improvisational jazz on the other hand, can make for wonderful, even mystical experiences of connection between strangers.
What Chuck and Robert Redd said on Saturday as they wove their musical tapestry was that jazz is more like love than conversation. It suggests things to you while touching you in the most intimate ways.
Jazz frees you to center yourself and melt into contentment.
But to enjoy this music, you have to be open hearted and engaged.
Jazz continues in Annapolis on Saturday, July 17, 49 West Café offers another duo night, featuring New York-based guitarist Howard Alden. Shows begin at 8pm. Make your reservations with Elana Byrd: 410-266-7338; www.joebyrdjazz.com.