|The Montpelier Cultural Arts Center, a mecca for visual arts education and
expression, is a haven located on the historic grounds of the famed
Montpelier Mansion in Laurel, Md. The Center is testimony to some of the
major benefits to residing in this area -- there is a tremendous array of
cultures and forums for experiencing them in this mixing bowl we call the
metropolitan Washington, DC. In the midst of the world movers and shakers,
bottled up roadways and millionaire helmet gods in burgundy and gold, there
are plenty of enriching and enjoyable cultural venues.
The Montpelier Cultural Arts Center is one of the area's finest. It provides
artists a vehicle to learn and to hone skills, rent studio space and showcase
their work to the public. The main gallery exhibits major programs like the
recent showing of the animated films of Frederick Back. The library gallery
is space reserved for local artists while the Resident Artist's Gallery
exhibits local artists who have studio space at the center as well as special
community interest shows. Art, of course comes in many genres, so the center
even features a literary program for area writers and students of writing.
Another integral facet of the Center is music. With the creation of the label
Jazzmont Records in 1999, the Center stepped forward and produced it's first
CD, "Royal Essence, An Evening of Duke Ellington." The live recording
featured performances by the likes of Sir Roland Hanna and Davey Yarborough.
The recording program has been developed to do, among other things, act as a
source, depository, and long term distributor of major live recordings for
the benefit of musicians, historians, and the public.
All in question will no doubt benefit from the label's release "Uh-Huh! Buck
Hill Live at Montpelier." This sophomore recording comes from one of the
Washington area's greatest musical treasures, Roger "Buck" Hill. "Buck is the
anchor of our jazz program," said Richard Zandler, Director of the Center.
"Our focus is to provide a venue for local jazz musicians. We are blessed in
this area with some of the greatest jazz musicians and there are very few
outlets for them," Zandler said.
Metro Connection caught up with the "Pulsating Postman" (retired postman now)
and asked how he was able to maintain the rigors of postal work while
creating and playing music that most can only dream about. Buck just chuckled
and said with modesty, "When you just love the music and you can't stop you
just keep going somehow." To say Buck has kept going is an understatement.
His manipulations of the saxophone and clarinet elevate him to heights
reserved for legends, some of whom influenced his music -- Benny Carter,
Lester Young and Charlie Parker. "I heard Benny as a teenager, then Lester
wiped me out, afterwards Parker destroyed me," said the 73-year-old DC native.
Buck may have been "destroyed" by these jazz icons but it didn't stop his
creativity and his own career has prospered for over 50 years. Oh what sweet
destruction to have shared the stage with the likes of Shirley Horn, Count
Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Byrd among others.
"Uh-Huh Buck Hill Live at Montpelier" was recorded in September of 1999 and
is now available. "We invested in good quality small recording equipment and
we're recording just about all of our concerts and some of the performers
created their own CDs. Perhaps once a year we will actually produce our own
CD and that's what we have done with Buck," Zandler said.
When I initially listened to the first track, "You Don't Know Me Like You
Think You Do," I thought it was a take on "You Don't Know What Love Is"
covered by the likes of Billy Eckstine. But Buck set me straight. "That's not
what I was thinking. Initially the words just rhymed with the melody." Buck
really gives his quartet of Jon Ozment on piano, Cheyney Thomas on bass and
Jerry Jones on drums, a chance to stretch out on the easy feel of this track.
Buck, who composed all eight tracks on the CD, said he was happy with the
team's interplay. The quartet is clearly comfortable with each other's
ability to flow with the musical energy in fact Buck has played with Ozment
for 17 years. "It came out pretty well for a live recording because with a
live recording you don't get a chance to go back and do anything over again."
The track "Blue Five," I'll describe as cool, swinging soulful Buck, just
what we have come to know and love. Cheyney walks a mean bass groove
underneath before his crowd pleasing solo.
One great aspect of a live recording is that it gets to capture the moment.
The title track, "Huh? Unh-uh. Uh Huh!" Buck said, "fit into the phrase of
the tune." And after Buck's introduction the Montpelier audience had no
problem dropping in the "Huh's" and so forth right on time. Such audience
participation is part of what makes live jazz so special.
And music lovers have been coming from all around to enjoy the live musical
fare that Montpelier has to offer. Zandler happily reported, "We get a
cross-section of people primarily from Prince George's County but because of
the caliber of the shows we have we get people from as far away as New
Jersey." Located minutes off of the Baltimore Washington Parkway, the Center
avoids some of the hassles associated with other venues. "People really enjoy
someplace where you just pull into the parking lot and come right in,"
Zandler said. "There is no smoking or drinking and that is good for the
players who have had to play in smoke filled rooms for years."
The Buck Hill Quartet will inaugurate the 2001 edition of the Montpelier Jazz
Series on Sept. 14, 8 p.m. For information on the CD, the Jazz Series and the
classes and programs available at Montpelier, call 301-953-1993.
Fall Jazz Concert Series
Except where noted otherwise, all shows begin at 8 PM and cost $15 each