Roger Manins uncoupled the microphone and looked around the club. It was winter outside but you wouldn’t have known it. The windows were steamed up from the heat of a capacity crowd; all eyes were fixed on the stage and the stocky man holding the tenor saxophone. “You know how lucky you are …. right,” Manins asked the audience? A loud cheer went up accompanied by whistles and foot stomping. George Garzone was in town and no one was in any doubt.
The Garzone phenomenon is hard to pin down, there are so many facets to it. While incredibly famous in Jazz education circles, revered by elite saxophonists; loved by club audiences and improvising musicians, he is under-mentioned in the Jazz press. The reason for this apparent contradiction cuts right to the heart of the man himself. Garzone has always plotted his own course and his playing reflects this. He travels less than most musicians of his stature, but he has never the less carved out a unique space; that of the underground hero, the musician to have on your tenor player bucket list, the artist that is talked of in hushed whispers, ‘the guy’. While a monster player, he is always happy to share his knowledge and to share the bandstand. Most of the tunes were in long form and most were Garzone originals. All were perfect for the occasion. As you might expect, the Garzone tunes were springboards for deep improvisation; the heads, however, were memorable and so well-arranged that they stood out. I failed to catch all of the titles because the applause often drowned out the announcements. There was a catchy tune referencing Bourbon Street, A moving tribute to his friend Michael Brecker and a tune titled ‘The Mingus that I know’. They all had pithy stories attached. The two standards were Billy Eckstine’s ‘I want to talk about you’ and a wonderful earthy take on John Coltrane’s ‘Impressions’. I read somewhere that Garzone plays like he talks, in a Bostonian/Calabrian dialect. The cadences and rhythms of speech are part of who we are, it is, therefore, logical that they encompass how musicians express themselves and especially on a vocal instrument like the saxophone.His pick up band were Kevin Field, Ron Samsom, Mostyn Cole and Roger Manins. Like every international who passes through, he heaped praise on the local musicians. Coming from Garzone this really counts. He and Manins go back a way and the synergies between them are evident (the Garzone influence is worldwide and Manins is no exception). Whether playing in unison or in counterpoint, they sounded right together – tenors who knew just how to compliment or when to keep clear. This was a very big sound and when trading fours they cajoled each other as friends might. The rhythm section was energised as well; Cole, Samsom and Field providing rhythmic and harmonic trickery. And at one point, ‘Hey great, I heard some Salsa in that solo’, said Garzone looking in Fields direction.
The tour was put together by Roger Manins on behalf of the CJC Jazz Club and other clubs throughout the New Zealand Jazz touring circuit. Those who attended the two master classes at the Backbeat Bar and the two sold out Thirsty Dog gigs certainly knew how lucky they were. This was the night that Boston’s best; one of Americas finest tenor-men, came to town and blew like crazy. You had to be there to fully comprehend it, but this was a night to tell our grandchildren about.
George Garzone (tenor saxophone, compositions, arrangements), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Mostyn Cole (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club at the Thirsty Dog, Auckland, K’Rd 16th August 2017.