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Benny Powell Salutes Count Basie
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Benny Powell Salutes Count Basie

- Jazz and Cabaret Corner

Jazz and Cabaret Performance Reviews

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Benny Powell Salutes Count Basie
At Lenox Lounge
288 Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY
212.427.0253
www.lenoxlounge.com
Al Reed, Sr., Owner
Al Reed, Jr., Manager

Featuring: Benny Powell on Trombone
Talib Kibwe (TK Blue) on Saxophone and Flute
Sayuri Goto on Piano
Vinny Johnson on Drums
Clovis Nicolas on Bass
Hilliard Greene, Guest Bass

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 28, 2004

I recently had the honor of interviewing Benny Powell for Hot House, a jazz magazine, February 2004 issue, about his background with the Count Basie Orchestra and his decision to create a Jazz Quintet for this Lenox Lounge engagement to mark three special events: Benny's 74th Birthday, the Count Basie Centennial, and the release of Benny's CD on Faith Records, The Gift of Love (See Powell CD Review). Tonight's concert was special for me for several reasons, as well: as Benny was a new friend, and I had been drawn into the original concept for this event; as my friend and escort, Hilliard Greene, was invited to stand in on bass; as this was my first experience at a Harlem jazz club, and Lenox Lounge is so historical and unique; and as I found myself covering several Count Basie events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Basie's birth.

Lenox Lounge is truly a warm and inviting Club, with the Zebra Room decorated in zebra-striped wallpaper and dark, wooden booths and tables. There's a special seat that was always reserved for Billy Holiday, and the entire Club, bar, and lounge are designed in Art Deco, with glass, silver, and other period decorations. There are photos of the Cotton Club and a variety of Harlem jazz venues and personalities. Al Reed, Sr. and his son, Al Reed, Jr., are gracious and quite informative of local jazz history and the prominent significance of Lenox Lounge to the NY jazz scene. The lounge and bar areas also serve complete dinners and luscious, generous drinks to their dynamic crowds.

Between birthday cakes, Benny and his Quartet played three sets, (this review is about the second and third sets) with the third expanding into tributes and vocals. The second set started with a nice, smooth lead by TK Blue on Sax (See TK Blue CD Review), followed by Benny on trombone in a fusion of jazz and swing. Akiha, by Sayuri Goto, was intellectual and vibrant, interconnected, balanced, and strong on percussion. Go Darling, by Basie, had dynamic swing dance rhythms. Benny created a great improvised ending, perhaps reminiscent of his days with Basie's Orchestra.

Another Blue added a trombone riff after a bluesy, melancholy lead. It had lovely harmonies, and TK's sax shifted with Benny's trombone in conversational riffs. TK Blue was hot tonight, and he played wild and winding improvisations with breathless abandon. The piano solos, combined with TK's sax solos, took the Club audience on a roller coaster of sensational sound. Clovis Nicolas took a short bass solo on his fascinating German bass, with its ultra-rich tones, and Benny created a mellow finale that emerged into an evocative rendition of Summertime, in the midst of an icy cold Saturday night.

Pow-Wee, by Benny, opened with Vinny's powerful drums. This was a loose, atmospheric piece, with great sax trills by TK and a persuasive and poised piano performance by Sayuri, all followed by Benny's seasoned and exceptional trombone creations, and closing with Vinny's solo percussion, which took this work to extraordinary, electric energy.

The third set opened, like the second, with a homemade birthday cake for Benny, and this one fed the entire Club. Al Reed, Sr. and TK Blue both paid homage to Benny Powell on this occasion of his 74th birthday, and Lenox Lounge embraced this renowned and world-traveled trombonist, composer, vocalist, and raconteur. For the first piece, Blue Concert, by GG Grice, Hilliard Greene stood in on bass and played Clovis Nicolas' very rare and richly toned bass. Hilliard is a strong musician and was offered a bass-trombone-sax conversation that resonated throughout the Zebra Room. This piece ended in a five-instrument flourish.

Benny next sang The Gift of Love, his CD title song. It's a lovely ballad, composed by Powell. Benny has a flawless voice and sings in an impassioned and interesting style. Flash Back, by Sayuri, was presented with its interesting, repetitive theme. TK's throaty soprano sax joined Sayuri's undulating piano passages to generate off-the-charts, surround-sound. Sayuri's Night Never End found TK on long flute riffs, sweet and melancholy, with muffled drums and steady, scintillating keyboard creations. One of my all-time favorite songs, Days of Wine and Roses, was Benny's chosen finale, and tonight this bittersweet ballad was upbeat, singable, and irresistible. TK's alto sax took this well-known melody to a new level of depth and dynamism.

Happy Birthday, Benny Powell, and kudos to Benny's Quintet and to Al Reed, Sr.'s historic Lenox Lounge. I look forward to another trip to Harlem and another exciting jazz event in the Art Deco Zebra Room.


Happy Birthday, Benny Powell
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue, Benny Powell, and Friends
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Hilliard Greene and TK Blue
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Powell on Trombone
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Vinny Johnson on Drums
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Vinny Johnson on Drums
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Powell on Trombone
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Powell on Trombone
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Clovis Nicolas on Bass
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Sayuri Goto on Piano
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Powell on Trombone
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Clovis Nicolas on Bass
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Clovis Nicolas on Bass
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Clovis Nicolas on Bass
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Vinny Johnson on Drums
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Al Reed, Sr., Host, Honors Benny Powell
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Al Reed, Sr., Host, Honors Benny Powell
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Al and Benny
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




One More Cake
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue Honors Benny
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Happy Birthday, Benny Powell
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny and His Cake
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Al Reed, Jr., Benny, Al Reed, Sr.
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Sayuri Goto's Table
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Sayuri Goto on Piano
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Sayuri Goto on Piano
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Sayuri and Friend
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Hilliard Greene and TK Blue
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Powell on Trombone
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Hilliard Greene on Bass as Guest
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Hilliard Greene on Bass as Guest
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Hilliard Greene on Bass as Guest
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Sings
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Sings
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Sings
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Powell on Trombone
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Benny Powell on Trombone
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Zebra Room
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Zebra Room
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Zebra Room
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Vinny Johnson on Drums
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Clovis Nicolas on Bass
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Flute
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Flute
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Flute
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Flute
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




TK Blue on Sax
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Al Reed, Sr.
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Lenox Lounge
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower




Lenox Lounge
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower



For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net