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Chris Byars Quintet in a Lucky Thompson Tribute at Smalls
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Chris Byars Quintet in a Lucky Thompson Tribute at Smalls

- Jazz and Cabaret Corner

Tribute to Lucky Thompson
Chris Byars Quintet
(Byars Website)
Chris Byars on Tenor and Soprano Sax
John Mosca on Trombone
Sacha Perry on Piano
Ari Roland on Bass
Andy Watson on Drums
Guest: Larry Ham on Piano
183 West 10th Street
New York, NY

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 24, 2006

Over the course of four nights, saxophonist and Smalls recording artist, Chris Byars, assembled four jazz ensembles to celebrate over sixty compositions of Lucky Thompson, who recorded on saxophone with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Count Basie. Thompson not only led bands, but also composed over 150 pieces. According to Byars, “Every harmonic turn is an excuse for him to veer off and explore new areas..…He keeps current with the trends of the day, incorporating a "cool" element in the fifties, up tempo jazz waltzes in sixties, and funk beats in the seventies.” Lucky mostly disappeared in the 1970’s and subsequently made only rare appearances. With little attention to his career (Lucky died in 2005), Byars was inspired to take on the charge of studying and presenting Lucky Thompson’s jazz compositions. According to Byars, tonight’s ensemble, called Across 7th Street, including John Mosca on trombone, “recreates the great music from Lucky’s recordings with trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, along with Lucky Thompson originals newly arranged for quintet”.

Smalls lives up to its name, a closely packed, brick-walled, very dark room. The bar is close to the rows of bridge chairs, but the space is a cool jazz venue with good sight lines. There’s even room for a baby grand. For tonight’s late second set, second night into the series, Byars chose works composed between 1956-1972, with the first set mixed in dates and the last set focusing solely on 1956. N. R. #1 (1956) began with Byars’ smooth sax overtones, leading John Mosca’s trombone into a singular swing rhythm. Sacha Perry’s piano riff was melodic, over Andy Watson’s steady percussion, and Ari Roland generously used his bass bow for richer effects. Sky High (1961) included syncopated staccatos, followed by contrasting bass and piano. Both bass and drums had solo riffs, and the music was truly upbeat. Velvet Rain (1956) began and ended with a rumba, but fully fused to jazz swing in between. Mosca’s trombone was featured with abstract interludes, followed by a deep, buoyant bass and echoing sax.

I Remember When (1961) brought guest pianist, Larry Ham, to the stage. Ham has presence and improvisational talent, even with amplification issues throughout the evening. Larry Ham surmounted the sound barrier and his riffs were persuasive. Translation (1956) showcased Mosca with a cool, classy solo, and Then Soul Walked In (1972) brought waltz and funk elements to the mix. But, it was clearly Chris Byars on tenor and soprano sax who dominated the interest of the evening with unique interpretations, musical versatility, and a well-planned program of not-forgotten works of the prolific musician-composer, Lucky Thompson.

Chris Byars and "Across 7th Street Quintet"
Photo courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Larry Ham, Guest Pianist
Photo courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at