Many standing o’s at Wolf Trap last night

Herbie Hancock is a standing ovation performer. He walks on stage, you give him a standing ovation. That’s the kind of recognition you earn from 60 years in the music business. “Legend,” “icon,” “luminary,” etc. There’s a status reserved for a select few folks who’ve walked this earth and picked up an instrument. Herbie Hancock is one.

Saxophonist Kamasi Washington was born in 1981. He’s an old man by pop standards, but a kid in the jazz world. Last night at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts new legend met old legend, backed by a host of young stars and veteran stars, and the performances were, well, worthy of a standing ovation.

There aren’t many “jazz” acts that’ll fill an amphitheater, let alone an amphitheater and a thousand people sitting on the lawn. Whoever’s idea it was to put a jazz icon (at a point you just run out of superlatives) on the bill with the up and coming jazz star: good one. Last night’s crowd was an interesting mix of young folks and old folks, sandals and boat shoes, ties and tee shirts, head bangers and head nodders… people who clap on one and three and people who clap on two and four. This was the political message too: no matter what any of us look like or where we come from, we’re all hip and we’re all here to experience something beautiful.

I’ll admit that at times the music got a little weird. Both Kamasi and Herbie got a little “out there” in their sets, and yeah, it was a little more than funky. I was especially impressed, though, with the way the young Jedi was able to rein in his band of thirtysomething all-stars, then stretch out again into something you’d expect more from the Grateful Dead than guys who play “jazz.” What I experienced last night I wouldn’t call jazz at all. Charlie Parker would have been just as confused as an 11th-century monk versed in Gregorian chants. Bird died in 1955, a few years before a young piano player named Herbie Hancock came on the scene and spent the next few decades breaking all manners of musical boundaries. Fusion, funk, ambient, free… Herbie Hancock was and is sort of the O.G. of this wave of straight-eighth “jazz,” and last night it was in full display.

The night closed, of course, with what you wanted to hear: the familiar opening riff of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon,” brought to you by the master himself on… wait for it… keytar. Yeah, Herbie brought the keytar, and wailed like Hendrix before a crowd that did not leave its feet. Did I mention Herbie’s 79 years old? Yeah, he can still bring it. Kamasi came out to jam with Herbie’s band, a moment of musical kismet Ed Sullivan or Dick Clark could only dream of producing.

It was worthy of a standing ovation.

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About moc

My name is Mike O'Connell. I am 40 years old and live in Northern Virginia. I am a teacher, a musician, and an enthusiast of all things American.

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