The missing tooth in the Lesher Center’s dazzling smile has at last been filled, with a rousing, oh-say-it-ain’t-over performance by Cuba’s answer to Dizzy Gillespie — master trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.
Backed by a band exploding with talent, Sandoval bowled over the near-sellout 5 p.m. audience at
“It’s so nice you are here,” Sandoval crooned, after extended, welcoming applause.
For the next 90 minutes, there was no better place to be than in a cool temp, hot, tune seat in the intimate Margaret Lesher Theater.
Opening with a bittersweet blast before cascading into the wafty, dusty passages of his first solo, Sandoval set the six-month-old son of Lisa and Olexandre Minaiev into a visceral, instinctive wail of response.
The child’s cry spoke for us all; the trumpet, in the hands of “the Cuban god of the instrument” (flutist Lisa Minaiev’s definition of Sandoval) awakened every shade of joy, grief, longing and exultation.
Riding on the coattails of such sentiments was humor, much of it provided by Sandoval’s dry, casual chatter about immigrating to Miami, the water in his trumpet (“Too much Diet Coke,” he quipped, as he emptied it onto the floor), and the acoustics (“You can hear me, yes?” he asked the all-ears audience).
At 5:08, there was no question about sound, as Sandoval and his fellow players ripped into the first selection.
The collective sound
One of the great joys of a jazz band is hearing the collective sound—a rich, textured blend of bass, keyboard, sax, percussion and trumpet—relinquish itself to solo breaks. Saxophone player Zane Musa and bassist John Belzagy kept pace with Sandoval every step of the way and pianist Mahesh Ballasooyria shone, especially in Birks‘ Work, a Pink Panther smooth piece. (Birks is the middle name of Dizzy Gillespie.)
Johnny Friday, a mesmerizing drummer one might follow straight off a cliff, into a jungle or even out an airplane window, created a soon-to-be-familiar feeling of wanting only more, more, more.
But “more” would have cut into percussionist Samuel Torres’ magical moment with the maracas, a matchless internal dance that rippled from his core into a solo both complex in sound and physically astounding.
With Every Day I Think of You, a tribute to his mentor, Dizzy Gillespie, Sandoval’s gravelly vocals and dark-edged horn cooled the heated after-moments in Torres’ wake and brought the show to its resolution, A Night In Tunisia.
Daniel Levenstein, brought on board by the DRAA to manage the new series, said in an interview several days before the opening that this has been a long-standing dream.
“I am here as a kind of hired gun to get it started,” he began. “I’ve been delighted with the reception our classical concerts have had. [Levenstein directs the Chamber Music San Francisco satellite productions presented at the Lesher each season.] I’ve been grateful for their support and last fall, in thanks, I said I’d be happy to help structure the jazz series and put it on its feet.”
The series, priced at $35 for individual tickets and a heart-stopping (but in a good way) $99 for subscriptions to four concerts, landed the series not only on its feet, but on a marketing pedestal.
“The 8 p.m. show sold out within two weeks,” Levenstein boasted. “Because the price was so low, people bought groups of four, six, eight tickets at a time.”
At the opening, DRAA Executive Director Peggy White could only grin, saying, “We’re on top of the world! It’s a wonderful thing when you have an idea and it takes off.”
White and Levenstein credit Program Chair Tom Donohoe for providing the visionary idea, and the East Bay community for embracing the series.
As evidence, Pittsburg resident Ernesto Grijalva, introducing himself as “a salsa Latin percussionist,” said it was the first time he’d been to the Lesher.
“I’m here because Sandoval’s a great musician,” he exclaimed. “Sure, I’ll dissect every moment, but with cats of this caliber, I’ll let it wash over me too.”
“There is an authentic need that we are filling,” Levenstein says, in response. “That’s the big news, from my perspective.”