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I reached Hendersonville early Saturday evening, planning to gather my thoughts before the Wendy Jones Quartet began playing. The parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was already filled. Entering the hall, I discovered that we had the wrong time for the Western North Carolina Jazz Society in the CVNC calendar, and I had just missed the first number.
I'm sorry to have done so, for the program was a delightful trip through the land of jazz standards, a repertoire that appealed to the mostly elderly audience of a hundred or so. The evening's fare was "composed jazz," not heavy on improvisation. Dating from the 1920s to the 1950s were songs by Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Jerome Kern, and others, along with five songs by Michael Jefry Stevens, the pianist in the quartet. Wendy Jones placed the pieces in an intelligent order, with a sense of drama that might be expected of someone who is an Actors Equity actress as well as a voice teacher and performer. She has 20 years of experience performing on cruise ships and in venues primarily in Florida and NC and now teaches privately in Hendersonville, having left her college post at Appalachian State University.
At one point in the concert, she said "You're only as good as whom you share the stage with," and she said so with a smile because the instrumentalists who backed her were Rick Dilling, drums, Zack Page, bass, and the veteran Michael Jefry Stevens. These three Asheville-based musicians all have full credentials as jazz performers. Zack Page turned out to be a crowd favorite, with his riffs in "As Long As I Live" (Harold Arlen, 1934) and other works eliciting spontaneous applause.
Michael Jefry Stevens is the composer of over 300 songs and nearly 100 other musical works in a variety of genres. He is an all-round musician, and when he breaks into his riffs, he quotes from many sources. I noticed particularly his use of the front end of "Blue Skies" as a repeated riff during Thelonius Monk's "In Walked Bud." This is most appropriate since the Monk piece uses the chord progression from that Irving Berlin standard. Perhaps my one disappointment of the evening was that we did not get a chance to hear an extended improvisation from this talented pianist.
The fifteen pieces concluded with three that truly capped the evening. First was the more complex Thelonius Monk piece, then a ballad composed by Michael Jefry Stevens, and finally the upbeat "Sister Sadie" in which Jones let loose with some fine scat singing. The audience demanded an encore, and the slow ballad "More than You Know" (Vincent Youmans, with lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu,1929) completed the evening. It was in some ways an unadventurous program but cleverly planned and obviously geared well to the audience. Just as in classical music, so in jazz, there is a much larger audience for the old and comfortable than for the new and startling.