Big Sky Country
When I was a little girl my mother put the fear of God into me when it came to thunder and lightning. Alice was a cousin I would never meet. According to my West Indian mom, during a rainstorm Alice was standing near a curtain looking out the window and was struck by lightening and died. Since then I've been afraid of lightning. Thunder I could take since it was just clouds bumping into each other -- but lightening is electricity and deadly. Whenever we had a storm I thought of my cousin Alice standing near the window holding onto the curtains looking at a lightening storm as she was struck.
Recently I was on a flight to Missoula, Montana, and there was a little turbulence as we were about to land. My seat mate asked me is that lightning? I replied, no it's the lights on the wings and it looks like a Twilight Zone episode. Turns out it was lightning but I was not afraid for some odd reason for the first time in my life.
The following day I went to DalyJazz, a private venue on a tree-lined street of Colonial Revival homes. I had just left a heat wave in Southern California that week and apparently it followed me to Montana. I was standing outside a darkening sky as black clouds began to roll in. Yet again I had no fear.
It was time to go inside and although it was beautiful, the raindrops were getting bigger, the clouds darker and the wind was closing the doors and picturesque windows on the architecture that grace Daly Avenue. But it was time to sit down for the reason that brought me, and world class saxophonist Azar Lawrence to Missoula. Bruce Anderson of DalyJazz had put in a request for Azar to perform at the venue. He asked me to recommend a piano player and naturally I suggested Azar's pianist of choice, Venezulan-born Benito Gonzalez.
People began to assemble and sit down. Bruce made the introduction as the room became quiet. Azar began one of his customary solos to warm up the crowd in readiness for the journey. There was appreciative applause as the rhythm section began to kick in. Time to swing. Azar surrendered the floor as he walked off to take a breather and the crowd went wild. People gasped.
When Azar resumed the journey with the sidemen audience members shook their heads in amazement and some were reduced to tears when the band played Body and Soul. Bodies were swaying, heads were bopping and teenage musicians were awestruck, holding tightly to their posters and CDs in anticipation of meeting the great tenor sax player.
Benito Gonzalez played the keys as if the drops of the rain outside inspired him. His mighty fingering created a deluge of sound, which was met by uproarious approval.
Craig Hall, a bassist from Bozeman, was swinging in delight as he followed Benito's lead. He played the strings with total abandon as he swung his bass back and forth and his head was moving side to side as he played with a great young drummer.
Sam McKenzie, a drummer from Missoula, looked to be in his late teens and kept time as if Elvin Jones were sitting next to him. He knew every change and beat as if the the great elders, John Coltrane and Elvin were smiling down from their celestial perches.
Azar played for two nights. Mention needs to be made of Richard Ostheimer also, as he took Sam's place the second night. Richard mesmerized the audience as he interpreted Coltrane's music.
The music was thick; Azar on bended knees soloed and had the rhythm section shaking their heads. He walked away to take in some fresh Montana air after blowing hundreds of notes with barely a breath, Benito playfully tossed a piece of sheet music at his head as if to say "Man, you are in the zone and we're gonna need some church fans in here pretty soon."
Nightfall moved in. I was back outside listening to the sweet sound of Azar Lawrence playing My Favorite Things on soprano. I was standing under huge maple and spruce trees in the dark as lightening started up. The soprano burned my stomach. I was not afraid standing under those century-old trees as lightening struck under the Big Sky that is Montana.
When the musicians were done, the air was cooler as the stars came back, bigger as the Azar Lawrence Quartet performed another smoking stormy set.
End of a Montana weekend.
By Linda G.