The band was playing music from many of their recordings, including their most recent, American Road. The West Side Story arrangements were killing. What I love about this band is that they have been together for almost 20 years, and the kind of trust and intimacy that comes with this long-term relationship really shows.
Tierney is like family. Her husband, the great trombonist Alan Kaplan, and I have been friends since we played in the Don Ellis Band together, back when we were practically kids (not sure how old Alan was, but I was 17). When my mother passed a couple years ago, Tierney and Alan were among the close friends and family that were at the wake.
I have been reprimanded in the recent past for not bringing my horn down to someone else’s gig (thanks, Wynton!) so I had my alto with me when I walked in the door at Birdland on Saturday. When I saw Tierney she said “Hey, you got a horn with you?” “Of course” I replied, as if I did that every time I went anywhere.
On the 5th tune, Tierney announced: “We are going to do something we have never done in all the years we have played at Birdland - have a horn player sit in with us.” I had no idea we were setting a precedent. I figured it happened all the time. She gave me a very generous introduction and I grabbed my 70s Vito alto and got to the stage just as they began Caravan. The band was killing, and being part of their sound felt as if I had played with them for years.
Toward the end of the set Tierney called me back up to play a ballad of my choice. I said the first song that came to mind: “My One and Only Love,” not even sure how well I knew it. Tierny turned to her pianist, Christian Jacob, and he just kind of shrugged like it should be cool. Tierny just started singing where it felt natural, and then Christian joined in, followed by Kevin Axt (bass) and Ray Brinker (drums). Between phrases Tierney said “Did I pick a stupid key like B, or something?” showing both her sense of humor and easy-going style.
The key really wasn’t important. What was important is that everyone played with such sensitivity and creativity. Particularly Christian, who really knows how to take risks behind Tierney without getting in her way.
Glad I didn’t stay at home.