On Sunday afternoon I hustled into the Town Hall Theater, set up my camera in the back of the room, and waited for the show to start.
I was on hand to listen to Jonathan “Jazz” Russell and the Bud Leeds Ensemble, a performance I previewed in last Thursday’s issue of the paper. Leeds, who I spoke to in advance of the show, warned me this would be a concert I wouldn’t want to miss. I’ll admit it, though: I was a little skeptical. The show fell in the middle of the day on a gorgeous, sunny Sunday. I loathed dragging myself indoors. And frankly, I know very little about jazz in particular and music in general. I did my best to pick up a bit about Webern and Schoenberg from my music major of a best friend in college, but that’s about the extent of it. I’m pretty much lost when it comes to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong.
But the things I do for you, dear reader! I wanted to capture a snippet of Jonathan “Jazz” on tape: I’d promised to, in fact, and I wanted to deliver.
Plus, I’d already spoken with Jonathan and his mother, Eve Weiss, a little less than a week earlier by telephone. It was 9:30 p.m. at night, and Jonathan was plowing through homework, practicing and nightly exercises in composition when I called the pair at home. Eve gave me the go-ahead to call late. I had to remind myself that not everyone in the world collapses in bed at nine every night.
So I set aside my early bedtime, rushed home from a meeting I was covering in Bristol, and called up Jonathan. He told me about starting high school just that week, and about discovering jazz in his grandparents’ home among the old 78s they always played, and about his toddler affinity for the violin.
I should mention, at this point, that Jonathan is 14. He hates the term “prodigy” (this I learned from Leeds), but he’s something of a wunderkind on the jazz circuit. He’s recorded two CDs already, and has a third (“Duets,” recording with a pianist who lives down the hall from Russell in the Bronx) due out in October. “Hang in there, everybody,” he quipped on Sunday as he told to the audience about the latest CD.
He’s also recently been awarded the Danny Pearl violin by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, in memory of the journalist who was abducted and killed in Pakistan. As Jonathan told the audience in Middlebury on Sunday, Pearl is remembered primarily for his work as a journalist — but what fewer people know is that he was an avid violinist, and sought out musicians to play alongside whenever he traveled to a new locale. Jonathan will play the Pearl violin for the next year, part of the Daniel Pearl Foundation’s mission to “promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music, and innovative communications.”
I’m still something of an idiot when it comes to jazz, but even this uncultured reporter can say that Sunday’s performance was a delight. Among the early highlights were the world premiere of “Danny’s Tune,” a song Jonathan composed in memory of Danny Pearl, and the ensemble’s rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” Jonathan “Jazz” Russell was just as remarkable as I’d been told, and the members of the Bud Leeds Ensemble — Leeds on the clarinet, Paul Asbell on guitar, Rob Guerrina on keyboard, drummer Nick Aloi, Peter Williams on bass, Glendon Ingalls on trumpet and the double bass, and Bill Brislin on the trombone — were similarly talented (if not quite so precocious).
(I have to take all the blame for the amateur videography, but special thanks go out to Andrea Suozzo — Addison Independent intern-turned-reporter — who edited the footage and put these on YouTube.)