When one of the greatest jazz bassists of all time is in town (at the Opera House on Saturday, 9/26), naturally you think WRTI Philadelphia, one of the finest jazz stations in the east. Since both are from Philly, it made the match even more compelling last Friday night, as Victor Bailey sat in on J. Michael Harrison’s Friday night jazz show, “Bridges.” For a quick look at the proceedings check out this video by Jason Fifield of Slife Productions.
First we took him into one of the WRTI recording studios where he laid down a few bass and voice tracks for their use on their internet shows. Then he took a remarkable turn on their seven-foot baby grand, playing a couple of tunes he had written himself. We shouldn’t have been surprised – not only can Bailey play just about anything you put in front of him, piano was his first instrument.
Then it was off to the studio and a lively jazz discussion with Harrison, whose jazz knowledge is encyclopedic, but even more importantly, he has feeling, a concept that resonates with Bailey. “A lot of cats have technique and all that,” he said while racing his hands up and down an imaginary bass. “But with the kind of jazz lineage of bassists that Philly has, you gotta have some feeling to get people to notice you.”
Bailey is one of the prominent members of that remarkable lineage that includes Stanley Clarke, Christian McBride, Tyrone Brown and Jaco Pastorius, to mention but a few.
He talked with Harrison about growing up in a house full of musicians. His father Morris produced and performed and the house was a haven for Philadelphia’s jazz royalty. His older brother could play anything. His sister performed with the group Creme de Cocoa. His uncle was the drummer for the legendary Hammond B3 player Jimmy Smith. There was even a picture of his grandfather behind a drumset but no one knew where it was taken. “Some guys were playing for the girls and the attention,” he says. “That wasn’t me man, I was serious. No one had to tell me to practice.”
Harrison was well-prepared, mixing cuts from all through Bailey’s long career which hit the big time when he was just a teenager, landing a gig with trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s band. He famously replaced the great Jaco Pastorius in the jazz fusion supergroup Weather Report and immediately recorded a tune “Did You Know Jaco?” which Harrison played. Bailey wrote it and also sang it, and it was put together stream-of-consciousness. “I wrote it in about 10 minutes,” Bailey said. Then he played cuts from a recent compilation disk and also from a new project due out in coming months from Bailey’s new band V-Bop.
Bailey also talked about the rest of the Victor Bailey Band, scintillating talents who will appear with him at the Opera House. There’s drummer Poogie Bell, who has played for David Bowie, Marcus Miller and Teddy Prendergass. There’s keyboardist Peter Horvath, “a truly bad cat,” who has played for Lenny White and melba Moore, among many others. Then there’s the specatacular young talent Casey Benjamin on sax. “This guy is going to be a star,” Bailey says emphatically. “Not only is he a great blower, but he can play any instrument you put in front of him, rap, you name it”
Videographer Jason Fifield of Slife Productions recorded the proceeding and a Youtube video should be out in a couple of days. Here was the video he produced in August 2008 that documented our visit to WRTI with drummer Billy Cobham.
It was an excellent evening and great to sit in with Harrison and Bailey, both doing jazz a great service in their own dedicated ways. Harrison gave me plenty of opportunities on-air to promote Jim Thorpe and the Opera House – a sincere thanks, Michael. And by the way, WRTI is a completely class operation, playing nothing but the best.
But the main thing it did was remind me what a show we have on hand at the Opera House this September 26: world-class talent onstage in one of the finest listening venues in the northeast. I can’t wait.
You can select and reserve your seats online or call 570-325-0249.