Texas Tenors Times Two
It took just one jazz-loving priest to launch the Trinity Jazz Festival in 2002. The Rev. William Miller was new to Houston's Trinity Episcopal Church, a congregation that has a special interest in bringing the arts together with spirituality. Along with all the usual church services, religious education and outreach ministries, Miller wanted to have a jazz festival, one that would include performances, musicians' clinics and a jazz mass.
Dr. Bob Morgan, the former director of Jazz at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, says, "Father Bill wanted to do the festival not only because he loved jazz but also as a way to get new people into the church. That first year was small, but still very successful. The [jazz] mass was conceived by Father Bill and Paul English. That has become so successful that we've had to add a second [service] to handle the crowd."
New Orleans pianist Ellis Marsalis and Miami saxophonist Ed Calle were the guest artists for the first Trinity Jazz Festival. Over the next five years, guests have included David "Fathead" Newman, Marvin Stamm and a couple more musicians named Marsalis, namely Jason and Delfeayo. Each festival has also included local (or once local) artists like Jason Moran and Roseanna Vitro.
This year's three-day festival includes two shows, "A Tribute to the Texas Tenor" with Marchel Ivery and Shelley Carrol on Friday night, and a performance by drummer Ed Shaughnessy with the Dennis Dotson Quartet and Horace Grigsby with the Bob Henschen Quintet on Saturday. Shaughnessy will also lead a drumset clinic on Saturday morning, with pianist Matt Oprendek and the Reverend Murray Powell leading two jazz masses based on the music of Ella Fitzgerald on Sunday morning.
Morgan says that the Friday-night tribute to Texas tenors is especially well-chosen because of the style's Houston roots. "The Texas tenor is a style of playing the saxophone that started in Texas," he says. "The Texas tenor started, as I understand it, with the great Illinois Jacquet, who was born in Louisiana but was raised here [in Houston] and went to Wheatley High School. One of his successors was the great Arnett Cobb, who also ended up living here." Buddy Tate, James Clay, David "Fathead" Newman and the recently late Dewey Redman were all considered classic Texas tenors.
"No other instrument has the same moniker," says Morgan. There's no South Carolina saxophone or Tennessee trumpet. The Texas tenor is very aggressive -- blues tinged with kind of a growling tone, with a bit of humor in the playing that later evolved into the rhythm and blues tenor players.
"For some time now," Morgan goes on, "the younger saxophone players don't play in this style. I mean younger compared to Arnett Cobb, for example. Players from the '60s and '70s and beyond really come out of the John Coltrane style, more of a centered tone, little bit more controlled, very serious. That's one reason we're doing this, to call attention to this style.
"We're having a kind of elder-statesman-and-young-lion thing with the two saxophonists we're bringing down. Marchel Ivery, who is very well known in the Dallas area, he's the reigning Texas tenor player still living within the state. The younger guy is Shelley Carrol, who is in his late thirties. Shelley went to HSPVA and even in high school, Shelley tended toward this Texas tenor sound -- he loved Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet, which was very unusual for a younger player. We thought it would be great to bring them both in. Shelley, the young guy, will open the show and then we'll have a break, then Marchel will do a set. Then the two of them will play together.
"A long time ago, they used to have these tenor sax battles," says Morgan. "Especially in the bigger cities where after musicians got off their gigs, they would go someplace and they'd have these jam sessions and literally play all night. The tradition was mainly among tenor players, not trumpets or anything else. It would actually be a cutting contest, almost like a football game or something. The crowd would scream for their favorites and by the time the sun came up, there would be just one tenor player still standing.
"It would be great if [our show] would go on until dawn," says Morgan, laughing, "but we hope that with Shelley and Marchel tangling on two or three tunes, there'll be at least a little bit of the atmosphere of the old tenor battles."
The Trinity Jazz Festival will be held Friday, January 26 to Sunday, January 28 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1015 Holman, 713-528-4100. For information, visit www.trinityjazzfest.net.
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