A few weeks ago a friend told me he had learned Bruce was going to be making a surprise guest appearance at Max Weinberg’s Big Band concert on June 11 at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
If you told me Bruce was going to be somewhere buying a newspaper I would show up, never mind a “secret” performance. So I sprang for tickets and we made plans for a big evening.
My first companion had to cancel. My second companion had to cancel. At 8:30 the night before, I invited a third person (I know, I am sounding more and more popular), dangling the prospect of Bruce like a carrot. Max was incidental. They agreed, although it meant a tiresome trip to Red Bank from NYC. Such a good sport!
When we got to Count Basie, all I could consider was when would Bruce show up, how would he be introduced, what would he play. I am thinking that is what other people had on their minds too, as they were quite possibly the rudest non-audience I ever encountered. At least we were sitting in our seats. By far 30% of the attendees stood in the lobby throughout the evening, making enough noise to drown out jets landing at Newark Airport.
In articles I read before the concert, Max indicated his swing band was something he had wanted to experiment with for a long time, a concept I think is incredibly cool for a person who could easily rest on his laurels for the remainder of his life.
Nicely fortified with pre-concert drinks, here we were, hundreds of people in the lobby ignoring the fact they were in a theatre and the rest of us waiting for Bruce. And then a funny thing happened.
The band started to play. And proceeded to Knock. Our. Socks. Off.
I was expecting pleasant little renditions of Big Band era chestnuts. Which would have been fine until Bruce showed up and the real fun began. But the true surprise was the outstanding musicianship of each of the 11 band members and the wild, noir sound they created as they played numbers not from the forties, but from the 50’s and 60’s, a period I never had much appreciation for. Until last night.
With each song, the spectre of Bruce retreated. After about a half an hour, I wondered how on earth they would fit him into the show. After 45 minutes, I thought bringing out Bruce would alter the entire dynamic of the amazing music the band was playing, not for the better. Max was stiff as an MC, but dazzling as a 59 year old drummer, playing homage to his heroes, among them, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra and, naturally, Count Basie. The rest of the band, each of them singled out during the evening at different times, was spectacular. By the final numbers I was approaching: “Bruce who?”.
(I forgot my camera, so I present one of my famous, sought after, Life Drawings of the scene.)
A surprise guest was Charles Giordano from the E Street band and they covered “Kitty’s Back” in the same vibrant, enthusiastic jazz style they had packed the rest of the evening with.
To his credit, Bruce never did appear. Wise decision. The audience was on their feet for these extraordinary performers and them alone.
Those inconsiderate losers in the lobby? They’ll never know what they missed.