By Lucy Komisar
The Gerald Clayton Sextet suffused the sultry Nice air with cool melodic jazz. Logan Richardson on sax did trills, and Thomas Crane on drums hit cymbals that matched Clayton‘s piano‘s high notes. Joe Sanders‘ bass maintained the mood.
This was classic jazz, a bit of swing, and everything had a resolution. The musicians are sophisticated New Yorkers. There were no screeches or wails to assault the ears or the senses.
Vocalist Gretchen Parlato had an elegant mellow sound and liked to punctuate words with her own invention of soft, low, purring scat.
To say it again, the Gerald Clayton Sextet was superb. The group did jazz standards that will never die.
This was jazz at its best.
We could see palms and pines on all sides of the open air Thé¢tre de Verdure. We were at the Nice Jazz Festival, which has been presented every year since 1948. Its venue moved recently from the north of the city to a space in the center just a few blocks from the Baie des Anges (the Bay of Angels).
We had first stopped at the larger adjacent outdoor Sc¨ne Masséna to see Kellylee Evans. She stood on a high set surrounded by lights. A Canadian, Evans had an ethereal sound and a jazzy Brazilian rhythm. Also perfect French. Then she moved into the street stuff they call rap and hip hop and we went to the Verdure.
She would be followed by John Legend, another pop star. Hundreds of fans mostly in their 20s and 30s packed the large space fronting the stage and applauded them. Can‘t say much about Legend, because we moved to the real jazz place and saw him only briefly on the way out.
The Nice Jazz Festival started in 1948. It goes on for a week, about the second week in July, and the organizers appear smart enough to feature (real) jazz as well as rock, funk and whatever the younger set are doing and listening to these days.
But Sébastien Vidal, artistic director of the Festival, said this is on purpose, that the event is a meeting (a rendez-vous) of generations, with performers and audiences ranging in ages from kids to their grandparents.
While the kids stood at the Masséna, the 40s to 60s+, the jazz generations, filled the semicircular rows of stadium seats facing the Verdure stage! The world-renowned Chuck Corea, who had been a member of the Miles Davis band, played at the Verdure on another day! Do the kids even know who he is?
Jazz has a long history in the South of France. It was introduced to the French Riviera in the 1920s. That‘s when people like novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald brought musician friends there. Fitzgerald lived for three years in nearby Juan les Pins where he wrote “Tender is the Night” about an America couple on the C´te d‘Azur, named for the Riviera’s blue waters. Then it was for the 1%. Now, as you can see at the Nice Jazz Festival, that has changed. This year, there were 38,000 visitors for the five days of performances.