Story and photos by James Walker, Jr., Copyright 2010
Class was in session at the Velvet Lounge on Memorial Day as "Professor" Robert
"Baabe" Irving III was paying homage to his mentor, trumpeter Miles Davis. This
was Irving's 3rd annual tribute to one of America's most influential jazz icons.
Irving was Miles' musical director for five years in the eighties and always
disseminates a wealth of knowledge about the eclectic Davis during these
celebrations. Accompanying "Baabe" was bassist Larry Gray, drummer Perry Wilson,
saxophonist Geof Bradfield and trumpeter Walter "Mr.Cool" Henderson. Henderson,
not a household name in the Chicago jazz scene, was the perfect character to
feel Miles' trumpet role for this set. He's deliberate, patient and thoughtful -
with impeccable touch during his solos.
They opened the set with "Dear Old Stockholm," with all except the leader warming
up with nice extended solos. "Baabe" previously indicated this would be a
challenging set in that all numbers would include new arrangements and not just
the rehashing of Miles's classic tunes.
Baabe chose "Kelo" as the next number. This was a piece written by trombonist
J.J. Johnson and recorded in 1953, but never released. Chicago trombonist Edwin
Velazquez was invited to the bandstand to accompany the band. He displayed a
rich robust sound - blowing fast flourishes during his extended solos. Bassist
Gray had the first of many solid solos during this uptempo number.
A highlight of the first set took place during their playing "Blue in Green," a
Bill Evans composition. Baabe indicated that Evans was Miles' favorite
keyboardist and composer. This number began at a moderate pace by Baabe and
eventually heated up with Henderson changing the tempo, while Gray was working
overtime with deep bass tones.
The first set concluded with the classic "Seven Steps To Heaven." This is a
number that has been recorded by many artists including Baabe on his New Momentum CD. Miles rerecorded this number with perhaps his most influential
group that included Herbie Hancock, Buster Williams, Wayne Shorter and Ron
Carter. This was another opportunity for all to express themselves, especially
The second set included classics like "Stella By Starlight," "ESP," "Footprints"
and "Tout De Suite." "Stella" was perhaps Henderson's finest moment. He was in
a "zone" as he expressed himself. "Mr.Cool" was aggressive and confrontational
as he hit his peak with passionate riffs, shifting into overdrive. Virtuoso Gray
unleashed his staggering bass with reckless abandon as he closed his eyes and
On Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," Bradfield's smooth, soulful tenor was dominant,
while Wilson was "killin" in the background before he went into attack mode on
his drum kit. Baabe also soloed nicely on this number.
They concluded this fine set with a piece from Miles' "electric" era. Miles was
always "pushing the envelope" and looking for new challenges. "Tout De Suite"
was one of those numbers which featured Grey on the electric bass.What a sight
to see these cats jamming away as those in the crowd demonstrated their approval
with foot tapping and head nodding.
Thank you Professor Irving for keeping Miles' music alive with your annual
commemoration of his birthday. Kudos also to Velvet proprietor legendary
saxophonist Fred Anderson for hosting this momentous event. For future Velvet
sets, refer to their website at www.velvetlounge.net.