On the way back to the club, passing the West 4th subway, I look to my left and there’s guitarist Jeff Miles, sporting a lemurian grin. He’s lent Ilan Bar-Lavi his guitar amp, and so is anointed for the guest list. We cross the threshold a half hour before downbeat, the place is gloriously packed, and we’re extra glad to have seats reserved down front.
Jeff graduated from Berklee last spring, after quietly ascending to go-to guitarist status on campus, and co-leading one of the Berklee Monterey Quartets, with pianist Mika Nishimura. Before moving to NY last summer he entered, and won, the Montreux International Guitar Competition, which brings with it beaucoups bounty: a European tour, and a recording, for Jeff and his band.
Lights go down, the crowd is visibly intent, almost leaning forward. Looks like an even split between downtowners and out-of-towners, with a table of already inebriated ladies just behind us, ready to cheer the boys on. And they do. Throughout.
The band files in, down the stairs, to exuberant applause, Darren thanks the audience, and thanks the club, and they boys go right into “Word Dr. Byrd.” Everyone in the band is ready, playing with drive, and energy; the solos get (and deserve) the kind of applause you hope for. The house mix is good, and, as predicted, it’s not too loud.
Each of the players takes a turn, swinging for the fences. Each has highlights, and in the course of the set, merits a special hand. Throughout, Mark Whitfield Jr.’s drums, and Josh Hari’s bass keep the vehicle hurtling forward, and they do this with plentiful smiles. The women behind us are practically baying at the bandstand. They’re loud even when the boys are soloing quietly. I weigh speaking to them against ruining the mood; I think Jeff would have Tased them, given the chance.
In just under 90 minutes, it’s almost time for the show to end. Myron and Darren hop up to remind the audience both how good these young guns are, and that there’s no substitute for the effect time and playing with the best can have on your art. The teachers form a blistering front line, blowing through Myron’s “And This Too,” with the students providing able support, and making “can you believe he did that?” faces to each other.
After some valedictory announcements and thank-you’s, the students, most of them now first-time, Blue Note veterans, finish the show with their best work of the night: Darren’s “1st One Up.” Very fitting. Barrett wrote this one to commemorate Kenny Garrett’s guest turn on his first CD. Garrett told Darren he was stepping up to help, just as the great Woody Shaw — an idol of Darren’s — had done for Garrett on his first CD.
And so, corny as it may seem, the torch is passed, from master to student, through the music, down the years. It’s a privilege to watch craftsmen at this level sharing what they know, with young men so richly talented and keen to learn. Next spring, another group of young masters-in-the-making will play the Blue Note. I certainly hope to be there.