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Burnside is a large, stately two-story ante-bellum house located at 201 South Cameron Street in Hillsborough, NC. In 1860 it was one of North Carolina's largest plantation holdings consisting of 30,000 acres. Owned by the Cameron family of Raleigh and of Hillsborough, Burnside was recently purchased by owners who are patrons of the arts and who have partnered with the Hillsborough Arts Council (HAC). in presenting three programs in the series each year. It has spacious rooms with high ceilings and large windows, perfect for small chamber music and jazz trio performances, especially given the nine-foot Steinway grand that graces the living room. The audience of approximately 50-plus people were seated very comfortably in a combination of period living room furniture and folding chairs.
Stephen Anderson presented a well-thought-out and very entertaining program of eight compositions: two originals and six re-harmonized standards. He selected music that allowed him to exhibit his prodigious knowledge of the jazz idiom – its history, artists, and styles. The group – his partners were Jason Foureman, bass, and Dan Davis, drums – performed flawlessly, exhibiting an amazing musical sensitivity to the size of the venue and the close proximity of the audience while accomplishing a full range of volume dynamics, rhythmic variations, and complexity, all without becoming too loud or abrasive. Even though Anderson used a microphone and an elevated amplified speaker for the nine-foot Steinway grand piano (with the top raised half stick), the overall group sound was excellent.
"Pig Pickin'" is an exciting, high-energy contemporary jazz original Anderson wrote to memorialize his first gig in North Carolina, which, for him, being from Texas, was quite a culture shock. The piece begins with a kind of march-like drum intro leading to three movements, comprised of both Classical elements and jazz improvisation during which minor seconds abound. At times, there are hints of Thelonius Monk, followed by an interesting drum interlude, and bass solo, before the piece ends.
"Pennies from Heaven" began with the pianist demonstrating his solo “stride“ abilities, à la Fats Waller and Art Tatum, that turned into a 4/4 walking tempo with drummer Davis using excellent brush technique, changing to sticks on the sizzle cymbal (the now forgotten driving sound of the 40s, 50s, and 60s created by the use of grommets attached around the ride cymbal that sustains the sound, adding an effect like bacon frying in the skillet). This added authenticity to the music of the period, while Foureman, during his solo, demonstrated some stellar thumb position technique on bass.
"Forget Not," a contemporary jazz original based on text from Deuteronomy Chapter 8, began with a very interesting rhythm played by the drummer's fingers (reminiscent of the tabla drum) followed by a mellow if sometimes dissonant piano statement with a nod to Herbie Hancock that featured Anderson's blazing right hand speed and full keyboard range. The performance added bass and a very up-tempo free improvisational 4/4 walk that taxed all the musicians' chops.
"Night and Day," an old standard, began in the stride style, again featuring amazing piano right hand and two-handed solo technique and composition. The group improvised the next section before a series of eight-bar solo trade offs between the piano/bass and drums adding increased rhythmic complexity at each turn.
"Amazing Grace," in Steve's re-harmonized arrangement, began with a solo soulful church aura that changed its feel slightly with the entrance of the rhythm section, sprinkled with hints of Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner in the mix.
"But Not For Me," a very familiar song, was re-harmonized to such extent that it was unrecognizable. The pianist challenged the audience to guess the title, even (tongue in cheek) offering a reward of $20 to the first person to recognize the tune. I'm sure there were audience members who didn't guess the title until half the way through the performance when the group by that time played a more recognizable version.
"Danny Boy" began with a very poignant solo rendition that later added bass moving into a slow 4/4 walk and that finished with solo piano. Speaking afterward, Anderson became a little verklempt himself as he recalled his mother's voice singing the song to him as a little boy.
"Puttin' On the Ritz" received a zany, dissonant rendition; the old standard, written by Irving Berlin in 1927 and first published in 1929 was recently reprised in the 1974 American comedy film Young Frankenstein, directed by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder. Perhaps referencing the film, Anderson stretched the melody and harmony to their limits, growing in intensity to the very end. I felt this selection, arrangement, and performance provided the perfect ending to a very exciting and entertaining concert. The audience agreed, and their applause was heartfelt and long.
As I soaked it all in – the music, the ambiance – I was aware of how few venues are available in the Triangle where artists can perform original works not suitable for or permitted in local restaurants or clubs. The result of this deficiency is that we as listeners and patrons do not get to experience the full range of creativity lying dormant in our midst. Creative thought, in general, suffers because of this vacuum. However, it is possible that parlor concerts might be the format that holds the key to a healthier, more vibrant and creative environment, not only in our community but throughout the state. It would do wonders for the jazz idiom.
The next concert in this series will be offered on March 28. Details will be listed in our calendar in due course.