Jazz at the Lincoln: Tenor Titans of the Capital City

The new Jazz Arts Group series “Jazz at the Lincoln” is kicking off next week with a concert for the ages. “Jazz at the Lincoln: Tenor Titans of the Capital City” will take place at the Lincoln Theatre on Saturday, September 22nd at 8pm. Tickets and more info are available here. The program will “celebrate the rich tradition of the tenor saxophone in Columbus – while paying homage to saxophonists Gene Walker, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Rusty Bryant,” with a cast of nine saxophonists and two rhythm sections – see below for the full cast. To prepare and excite the Columbus jazz audience, there is a Tenor Titans Listening Party at the Jazz Academy, fourth floor of the Lincoln Theatre, on Thursday, September 13th at 7pmmore info on this free event here. Series organizer Pete Mills was kind enough to share exciting details on everything about this concert and the new series – keep reading to learn more and come on down to the Lincoln on the 22nd!

Origin of Jazz at the Lincoln

Pete Mills (PM): This series had a few different places we were putting concerts in, and when I took the series over three seasons ago, it was “Inside Track,” then we renamed it to “JAG (Jazz Arts Group) Presents.” We were exploring different opportunities to present shows in different places, and we came to the realization that we really wanted to have a permanent home for the series. The Lincoln is the perfect place because there are lots of possibilities and ways we can do things in that theater. Plus, it’s super important for us to be in that part of town, because the music has such history there on the East Side. And this theater does too. That’s why the series is now called “Jazz at the Lincoln.”

Origin of Tenor Titans

PM: So we were chatting about the different options for different programs. We did “Ladies Sing The Blues” two years ago at the Lincoln where we did a “homegrown” production. It was terrific. [This season, during] the city’s celebration of “The Harlem Renaissance at 100,” we decided it would be great to redo that show. Not just the same, but we’ll have exciting twists and turns [stay tuned for future info on this show]. Then we talked about how it was successful as a homegrown thing – What are some other things that we could do that had a little bit of a Columbus slant to them, but also thinking big?

It was pretty simple, because we were in the office, looking across the road at the Theatre, and we realized the Walk of Fame has incredible history. Being a saxophonist, I thought to myself: “Here’s a great idea – Let’s celebrate the saxophone, let’s celebrate the tenor, and let’s celebrate its voice here in Columbus. But let’s not just do a period piece, let’s do a celebration of the tenor saxophone in jazz in Columbus past, present and looking towards our future.” Out of that idea came this show.

What it essentially is is that – We’re celebrating on the first half nine of the great saxophone players anywhere, and they just happen to be here in Columbus. We had an expansive list, and we spoke to some people that weren’t available, and we wanted to get a good swath of figures who are important with JAG, important in the community, we have a Youth Jazz kid in there, so that’s part of our future angle – we wanted to make sure that everybody had a voice. I think all nine of these folks have unique voices. The tenor is a unique voice, and there’s so many ways in which people have expressed themselves through that instrument.

Then we thought, “We have to acknowledge the history of that instrument in our city!” And of course, we realized that there are three pillars of “tenorists” that are tremendously important, not only here in Columbus, but to the world jazz and music community. And they are: Gene Walker, Rusty Bryant, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. So how can we do that? How can we incorporate their spirit, their music, and their voice into this production? What we decided to do is that we would commission someone to create a brand-new piece of music that would take the spirit of these guys and showcase it for everyone. We would include the saxophonists who will be featured in the first half of the program in this piece, and then we got to thinking, “If we’re going to do that, we’re going to include people in the rhythm sections that had direct knowledge of and influence from these guys.” It was super easy to find guys who played with Gene and Rusty, and we also realized there are some folks in our community that have fun direct and indirect links to Rahsaan and certainly his music.

Tenor Titans Program

PM: That was the big thesis. And then we started thinking about how we could assemble a program that not only had a historical bent, but was going to be super entertaining. So, we know that Chad Eby is a brilliant writer, through his work writing and arranging for the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, we know our community knows him and loves him, and I know personally that whatever he writes is beautiful, deep, accessible, and swings. So we commissioned Chad to write music, and he’s written what we’re calling “The Titan Suite.” Three sections, one each dedicated to Gene, Rusty and then to Rahsaan. I’m so excited! It’s new music, great music, part of our community – it’s exciting.

We also thought, if we’re going to do this, it’s important that it’s at the Lincoln, and it’s important that we reach out to the families of these guys, many of whom still live here, and see how we can include them. We’re grateful that they’re excited about what we’re doing, and we’re going to honor them during the evening. We have some family members of each of the guys that we’ll be celebrating during the evening. That’s part of our mission – We’re spreading this music, keeping it in a great place, we’re bound to our elders and we’re looking forward.

Then we had to pick a program for the first half, and there’s so much music of course. I decided to try to pick some music that could not only have some tentacles into the second half honoring these guys, but also had depth and possibilities for the guys that will be on the show. We’re going to have multiple saxophonists on each of the tunes, and we’re going to have two rhythm sections setup – one that’s going to be based with an organ with Jon Eshelman, and Dave Powers is going to lead a piano-based rhythm section. Roger Hines is playing bass, and he’ll be in the middle so he can be tied into both [rhythm sections]. We have three drummers – Jim Rupp, who played with Rusty and Gene; Joe Ong, who is on some amazing records of Rusty’s and also played with Gene, and then James Gaiters, who has a fun connection. One of Rusty’s sisters, Candace, was a member of James’ father’s church at one point. Then we have Tom Carroll and Kevin Turner on guitar, and this multitude of saxophones.

So we’re opening with “Three for the Festival,” from [Rahsaan’s] We Free Kings, which is an amazing record with some amazing musicians on it. Rahsaan plays all three [sax] parts – we could have done that, but there’s nine guys, so we’ll have one guy for each part [laughs]. We’re going to play “Canadian Sunset,” which was not written by any of these guys but is a tenor player’s tune. It’s a tune that Rusty played, we love the recording of the tune by Gene Ammons. Then we’re going to do [the title track from] from one of Rusty’s records from 1970 – “Soul Liberation.” Great tune. We’re going to feature our outstanding young Columbus Youth Jazz tenor saxophonist Devin Coons on that. Then we’re going to do a ballad medley and feature Byron Rooker and Chad Eby on the tenor. What’s more “jazz tenor playing” than the ballad medley? And then we’re going to play one of Hank Marr’s tunes that Rusty recorded on, that Bobby Floyd recorded, that Gene Walker played, that we love – a beautiful bebop-ish tune called “Hank’s Idea.” And the end of the first half – there’s no better tune that you could end with to open up great possibilities and smiles – we’re going to pay homage to Rusty’s “Night Train,” from his 1950’s record live at the Carolyn Club.

How the commission will flow musically is that we’ll reset the stage after the two rhythm sections and the saxophonists in the middle [for the first half] to just one rhythm section. Chad has written the music for saxophone ensemble – like the Supersax band. It’s going to be a saxophone section and rhythm section. And then some of the tenor players will be alto players, and a bari player, to make this work sonically really well and exciting for everybody.

Learn More About the Musicians

PM: We also thought about how can we introduce these 17 musicians? Now most people will know them, there will be a program, but there’s a lot that these guys can share. So we’re doing a couple things. One, we spent the summer interviewing all of the tenor players and all of the rhythm section folks, and we videotaped these interviews. We have a lot of wonderful video – Zach [Compston] is my right hand man when producing these shows, he’s amazing. He has edited this great tape down so we not only have edited versions longform of each of the guys that we’ll fly up on YouTube, and then we also are doing really quick hits to put into a reel. So at the very beginning of the first half of the show, you’re going to be introduced to all of the saxophone players in a short snippet of time, and they’re going to talk about something about themselves and their love of the tenor. Second half, we’re going to present the scores of the original music to the family members in a ceremony, then we’re going to show video of the rhythm section folks to introduce them to you again, because you’ll have heard them already. That way we have a little multimedia, we don’t have to have a narrator, and you get to know some new things about these guys.

Listening Party

PM: To get the excitement revved up for the concert, and present a little more about the music and the musicians and perhaps get some other people to share their thoughts about these guys, because all of these guys touched so many people in Columbus, we’re going to have a Listening Party. In conjunction with the show, on the 13th of September at the Jazz Academy. I’ll kind of be moderating, but it’s going to be a free-flow of music and stories. It’s going to be great fun, and our hope also is that it will share a little more stuff to the community and spurn people’s interest in these guys.

Ticket Prices

PM: The other part of this series that we’re excited about is that the price point is incredible! We’re doing these shows with Adult tickets for $20, plus a $1.50 theater charge. So $21.50 gets an adult into these shows. That’s the cheapest ticket in town, and the best value for some amazing music. As always, because we want to grow the next generation of listeners and appreciators of this music, Student Tickets are $10 with your ID at the door. Nothing would make me happier than to see 200 kids there. That would be amazing!

We think that this idea and the historical importance of this has some legs, and as we get deeper in this, we think about how many more things we can do. I’m really proud of how this is shaping up and I just want people to come.

The Players:

Chad Eby
Michael Cox
Shawn “Thunder” Wallace
Byron Rooker
Pete Mills
Eddie Bayard
Bryan Olsheski
Randy Mather
Devin Coons (a member of the Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra): 17 year-old Devin Coons is a senior at Linworth High School. He has played the saxophone since 6th grade and has been involved with the Jazz Arts Group’s Jazz Academy for the past 6 years. He is the lead tenor saxophonist in the Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Mark Donavan.

Dave Powers
Jon Eshelman
Tom Carroll
Kevin Turner
Roger Hines
Jim Rupp
Joe Ong
James Gaiters

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