Review by Marilyn Lester


Baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley is a man who nullifies the overuse of the term “legendary.” Temperley represents an unbroken chain of baritone sax excellence, from 1927 with Duke Ellington anchor, Harry Carney, to the present. Temperley replaced Carney in 1974 in the Ellington Orchestra and in 1988 moved to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO), a direct descendent of Duke’s band.

Now 85 years of age and still blowing, this native Scotsman was paid tribute by his JLCO fellows through their compositions and arrangements, and in the premiere of “Joe’s Concerto,” a three-movement piece written for the occasion by Winton Marsalis. In the jazz tradition of call-and-response, each piece was introduced by Temperley’s colleague with a spoken tribute, followed by Joe’s reply of thanks and mutual admiration.

First on the roster was Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call,” arranged by JLCO tenor saxophonist, Victor Goines. In this iteration, the melody was beautifully played by Goines, Temperley and Paul Nedzela on bass clarinets. Temperley has said his approach to playing is “vocal” ­– clearly and hauntingly demonstrated in this tune, originally written as a showcase for soprano Adelaide Hall in 1928. (The music of Duke Ellington bookended the evening with the closing tune, “Symphonette,” much underplayed in the Ellington-Strayhorn canon, but one of their greatest works, according to Marsalis.)

Reed players dominated the evening, but trombones were represented by a composition from Christopher Crenshaw with the lively “Noah Built The Ark (From God’s Trombones),” with Temperley sitting out. This evocative piece, (and others to come in the program) is highly representative of the Marsalis ethic; the JLCO members are encouraged to compose and arrange. The result is a tightly knit and egalitarian orchestra that performs at the highest level of excellence, with a tremendous amount of richness, energy and soul. The quality of soul is one that surfaced repeatedly during the tribute. Soul is at the heart of Temperley’s playing. His sound is consistently identifiable in its warm, deep soulfulness, perfectly demonstrated in his signature pieces, such as Ellington’s “Single Petal Of A Rose.”

JLCO alto saxophonist Sherman Irby prepared two pieces: his own “The Shores of Mount Purgatory” (from “Inferno”) and the Davis/ Duvivier “Very Saxy,” written for four baritones and one tenor sax (Temperley was a happy spectator for this number). Irby also arranged Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low,” which featured Temperley. Alto sax player, Ted Nash, arranged the lyrical Arlen/Mercer “This Time The Dream’s on Me,” and tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding arranged Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism,” which featured himself with Temperley side by side, a fitting metaphor for the close relationship the two have shared over the years in the JLCO.

The highlight of this glorious tribute was Wynton Marsalis (representing the trumpets) with his “Joe’s Concerto,” written as an ode to the many extraordinary facets of Temperley’s personality. Marsalis is on record as calling Temperley “the heart and soul of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.” He has also said of him that “there is no greater sound on earth.” The joy and integrity of “Joe’s Concerto” perfectly evokes the musical magic consistently spun by Joe Temperley.

Clearly, this evening, dedicated to Joe Temperley, was a love-fest, and with good reason. The living legend was feted with spoken and musical eloquence, good humor and much respect, love and camaraderie. Perhaps the most telling tribute came from young fellow baritone sax man Paul Nedzela – watching him watching Joe spoke to pure adoration, love and awe.


Celebrating Joe Temperley, April 16 – 18 at 8 PM

Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater, Broadway at 60th St., 212-721-6500, www.jazz.org