Sometime Friday, or more likely Saturday, six jazz musicians will figure out what they're going to play Saturday evening at the Hilton El Conquistador in Oro Valley.
That's just how trombonist John Fedchock and drummer Dennis Mackrel expect it to be. It's jazz, after all.
"The great thing about jazz is you can play with people you've never played with before, and communicate," Fedchock said last week from New York City. "Depending on the collection of people, it's just like in a six-way conversation, you never know how it's going to turn out, so it's exciting."
"If you're with players that are accomplished, you can just trust that everything's going to be fine," he continued. "Every so often, someone takes the lead, someone else takes the lead, and you can make something special of it. In some cases, you don't even speak the English language, but you can still make music."
"Everybody is respectful of each other," Mackrel said. "It's not like one individual is going to come in with their book, and say 'play my music.' It's like operating with another doctor, they all are experts in their field."
"We'll get together and see how everything works out," Fedchock said.
Mackrel has come to dislike the complications of travel, but he still loves to "get there," and "get to work with great musicians. Everyone who's coming, musicians of this caliber, they're there because not only have they achieved a level of greatness in their music, but also socially. They're gentlemen. It's good working with the best of the best."
The best of the best for the 2009 Jazz Legends concert, a fund-raiser for the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance, includes returnees Byron Stripling on trumpet and vocals, and Bobby Floyd on the piano. They're joined by Fedchock, Mackrel, saxophone master Houston Person and upright bass player Jay Leonhart.
The players know each other, or of each other. "In this business, and in all others, you develop long friendships and long relationships over the years," Mackrel said. He and Stripling played in the Count Basie Band when they were in their 20s. "I've known Byron since when we were, for the most part, kids," Mackrel said. He met Jay Leonhart not long after moving to New York.
Mackrel is not sure he's played with Houston Person, though "I definitely know who he his, he's an established master.
Fedchock has played with "some of them individually, but never collectively." He and Stripling were on the road together with the Woody Herman orchestra. He's played with Mackrel in "a variety of situations in New York." He's known Floyd "30 years or more," going back to Columbus, Ohio, where Fedchock studied music at Ohio State University and where Floyd is the premier jazz pianist.
They'll venture to the University of Arizona during the day Saturday for workshops with students. Mackrel "especially" likes that interaction.
"In a way, the older I get, I find I like that more and more," he said. "When you're dealing with younger people, you still see that, for lack of a better phrase, that twinkle in their eye. The music you've taken for granted, or experiences where you don't recognize how wonderful they are, still resonates with younger people. Every note is still real special for them. When you get a chance to share something with younger musicians, to see they really benefit from it, it kind of renews you in a way."
Fedchock writes music, and much of his work for big bands is published. He encounters it in school settings, and "it's always fun to work with them, and give them first-hand knowledge of what the composer is looking for."
Fedchock was at the University of Arizona about a year ago. "It seems the area has a real healthy appetite for jazz," he said.
Fedchock spends much of his life on the road, traveling as a soloist. He's back from Scandinavia, and Miami. He was playing with musicians at the Blue Note in New York last week. Then he comes to Tucson, and goes to Cincinnati.
"I'm doing what I love to do," Fedchock said.
Mackrel loves it, too, but he has a concern for the arts, and the art of jazz.
"I view it in a way like a lot of things in this country. Sometimes, when you have something over time, you tend to take it for granted and neglect it. Like a relationship with your spouse, or anything – sometimes we forget, we have to take care of things. It's like a tree. Remember, you still have to take care of trees, or else they die."
In America, "we hear music everywhere we go, in the supermarkets, when you put gas in your car. It's not a commodity, it's a gift, and it has to be cared for."
Oro Valley resident Al Cook, who's putting together the 10th Jazz Legends show with his wife Marilyn, "has been very careful," Mackrel said. "I give him the highest praise. He gets it, he understands this is special, and has gone out of his way to make this happen. We need more people like that."
Jazz Legends in Concert, Live 2009
Byron Stripling, trumpet and vocals; Bobby Floyd, piano and organ; Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Jay Leonhart, upright bass; John Fedchock, trombone; Denis Mackrel, drums.
Saturday, Oct. 24
Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Resort, poolside.
To reserve seats, contact Pat Deely at (520) 797-3959, extension 9, or go online to http://www.saaca.org/events-jazzlegends.html