Happiness--pure, simple joy--seldom rears its flaxen head in the Quincy House dining hall. But last Friday night, after all those sky-blue trays had been carefully tucked away, the tortured drone of discussions of international trade policy gave way to the sweetness and excitement of a first-rate jazz concert.
Most of the three dozen or so people who performed come from Harvard or Radcliffe, and a few others are students at Boston Berklee School of Music. Except for Sadao Watanabe, a young alto saxophonist and one of Japan's leading jazz musicians, none are polished professionals; yet the quality of the music remained exceptionally high throughout.
Gary Berger's fifteen-piece big band, which played first, showed how much it has improved. At last year's Quincy-Holmes jazz concert, the Berger band was hesitant and restrained. Now its voice no longer cracks, and its sound is bigger, smoother and surer. Also, the band has developed a group of soloists who can play in front of a big ensemble and still not sound thin and tremulous. Sam Saltostall's humorous trombone and the vigorous saxophones of Watanabe and Errol Burke provided some fine solo work.
The Mike Tschudin sextet followed with three tunes, all originals. Tschudin's group played a lonely, jagged kind of jazz: in ensemble, it sometimes bordered on the disorderly. Its hear number, Half Dozen, featured a wispy, peaceful solo by flutist Ray Taylor. Tschudin, on piano, played a startling mixture of styles: Cecil Taylor, Horace Silver, David Tudor, and his own. His combo is rough around the edges, but his attempt to find his own way makes his music exciting.
Lowell-Davidson is an imaginative pianist who sprays his fingers across the keyboard, creating little patterns and half-completed ideas: somehow the bits and pieces fit together, Davidson's performance was remarkable. His quartet included Kent Carter, a brilliant bassist, and Michael Mantler, a trumpet player whose imprecise phrasing just cluttered things up. In Laura and Portrait of Anne, both Davidson compositions, piano and bass complemented each other well.
The Sam Saltonstall quintet, playing an agreeable, recognizable brand of jazz, contributed the slickest set of the evening. It's easy to see why Sadao Watanbe, the quintet's altoist, wins all the jazz polls in Japan; few foreigners can handle an alto sax with as much feeling and expertise as he can. He has great emotional range. On Davs of Wine and Roses, his tone was liquid, and smooth as marble; on Miles Davis' So What, he spat and screamed in a breathtaking solo. Watanbe (who is really good enough to play with anyone) had excellent support: the melodic, unpretentious piano of Brian Cooke, Saltonstall's bass, and Billy Elgart's drums. Trumpeter Ken Houk still has problems making himself understood; but he is moving away from a slavish Miles Davis style and starting to do some interesting tricks with rhythm.
As if so much good music weren't enough, choreographer Bob Walsh and twelve dancers capped the evening with an eye-filling jazz ballet of Richard Rodgers' Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. The audience's attention stayed riveted from the moment that Nancy Tobey, as The Stripper, began to take off her clothes. The lovers (Walsh and Linda Townsend), various thugs and madams (Mark Cohen, John Kronenberger, Jane Greengold), and a slew of undergraduate cops and whores helped make the production a highly entertaining one.
Except for this annual concert, Harvard is a bleak place for jazz lovers. There is room for much, much more jazz around here, and Friday's huge, happy audience proved it.