Ron Free and JLP in Winston-Salem, a Review

Last week’s JLP event in Winston-Salem, organized by Winston-Salem State University’s radio station WSNC, the Piedmont Jazz Alliance, Bookmarks, and the Community Arts Cafe, was an inspiring success.  I’m belated in commenting on it here.  I got waylaid by cold/flu this week.

In Winston there was a vital, overflow crowd.  I gave a multi-media talk for about 45 minutes and then Ron Free and I took Q&A for another 30 minutes.  It felt like the group discussion could have gone on for another hour.  Then Ron’s trio with Gary Moran on piano and Bob Bowen on bass played a set, followed by a jam session.  Ron wrote me in an email later:

“The audience was fantastic.  I was delighted to see such a large(ish) and enthusiastic turnout.  And they were knowledgeable, too.  This was revealed by their questions and comments during following your excellent presentation.  We received a lot of very positive feedback which is always gratifying, especially at this stage of a long and not-so-illustrious career.  Bob and Gary seemed to enjoy themselves immensely as well.  I sense a lot of potential in this trio and hope we can find some more work.  Gary’s repertoire amazes me.  He is much too young (at 50) to have been on the scene when I was, yet he knows a lot of fairly obscure old be bop tunes including many by Monk and Bud Powell.  And he plays the shit out of ‘em.  And Bob, who is even younger (30 something) catches on fast with very little preparation.”

Of the post-set jam session, Ron wrote:  “My general impressions of the session are not unlike many other such sessions, not only in the New York lofts, but virtually anywhere that such sessions occur.  Chaotic is a fairly apt description, and understandably so.  It’s always a crapshoot.  I’ve played sessions with top, world-renowned jazz players that really sucked.  The Winston-Salem session excelled by comparison.”

I concur with Ron’s views on the audience.  The attendance was amazing, and the engagement of the audience was unusually strong.  I credit the partners who set up in the event (more on them below) and  I credit the location of the event – downtown Winston – which welcomed a diverse and lively crowd.

One member of the audience was trumpeter Al Neese, a veteran of 821 Sixth Avenue who can be found on Smith’s tapes.  I’ve interviewed Al before – he told a fascinating story about taking Gene Smith to a dentist for an emergency that I probably should have put in the JLP book – and I want to interview him again soon.  Also in the audience was retired TIME magazine photographer Ben Martin, who I had never met.  Ben was a student in the acclaimed photography program at Ohio University in the 1950s (longtime Smith aide Jim Karales also went to OU).  Smith went to OU to speak when Ben was a student and the two of them ended up spending an afternoon at a bar before Ben had to rush Smith to his lecture on campus.  Ben lives in Salisbury, NC now and I hope to make it down there to see him soon.

Finally, I need to send a special shout-out, with deep gratitude, to Monica Melton of WSNC radio and the Piedmont Jazz Alliance who contacted me about this event many months ago and who saw it through with impressive care.  Also, Marguerite Oestreicher of WSNC deserves warm thanks, as does Ginger Hendricks of Bookmarks, a local nonprofit literary organization that sold JLP books at the event and sold them out.  It was a great pleasure to work with this group.

I was inspired by the whole event.  You can read two additional reports HERE and HERE.

-Sam Stephenson

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