When I was younger I was lucky enough to have two older brothers who were in both marching and jazz bands which has led to the great appreciation I have for jazz music. So when I saw Lillian Kaye and the Border City Quintet at the Greenbean Café on Tuesday night, it was like a blast from the past as I found myself reimbursed in the jazz world.
The band opened their set with an upbeat and catchy swing tune which had all heads bobbing and every single foot in the café tapping to the beat. The singer, Lillian Kaye, proved to have a wide vocal range and probably did not even need a mic to be heard. The song also featured solos from the bands trumpet player Matthew Lepain, who played with a muffler in his trumpet which gave the solo a classic and unique feeling, while saxophonist Caterina Augimeri followed suite after with a stylized solo of her own. After the last note was played, the band introduced themselves to the steadily increasing crowd, I can’t remember seeing the little coffee shop as packed as it was. Their second number was a Latin song, and Kaye proved that she not only had wide vocal range but could also sing in other languages, so well in fact that one would assume it was her first language.
Kaye then took a break from the stage and let her band mates belt out some purely instrumental jazz for the next couple songs. I myself prefer the purely instrumental jazz on its own, but Kayes bubbly presence on stage was certainly missed. While the quintet played their pieces, Kaye took the time to walk around the coffee shop to talk with members of the audience about their group and everything in between. I think choosing a coffee shop as their venue was the perfect choice for the band as it allowed for a more personal interaction with the audience that one cannot get in a larger venue, where anonymity is more commonplace. It made the entire experience all the more enjoyable as I heard first hand from the singer the passion that all the musicians have for jazz music a passion which certainly did not go unnoticed as the night progressed.
As it was a quintet, it was not a jazz concert as I had previously known with six or more players of each instrument on stage. It was significantly more quiet as one would expect, but this played into the atmosphere of the venue perfectly. The band was not so loud that you couldn’t have a conversation with the person next to you, but they held just the right volume to provide ambiance to the cozy little coffee shop.
Kaye then rejoined her band mates on stage to close out the first set, ending it with a classic blues number. It was as slower piece, and my interpretation of the lyrics suggested a melancholic subject, but the arrangement of the musicians and Kaye’s voice added a certain serenity and beauty to the entirety of the number. Closing the first half of their show with such a powerful piece really demonstrated how passionate these musicians are about their craft and showed the audience that there was a lot more in store for the second half of their show. Following Kaye’s approach, the band members dispersed into the audience, with some of them talking with friends and family or others grabbing a quick cup of coffee before the next set started. At this point, the band had drawn quite the audience into the café, so much so that it became a ‘standing room only’ event.
The band continued to be full of surprises when they announced that the second half of their show was more involved with the audience then the first, as Kaye suggested that “anyone who brought an instrument and wants to come play, come up and join us!” Sure enough, several members of the audience pulled out brass instruments from their bags and joined the quintet on stage for the second part of the show. Now this was jazz that I was more familiar with! The addition of another trumpet player or saxophonist really added dimension and depth to the already talented cast of musicians on stage. It seems like the band also saved their bigger and more exciting numbers for the second half, as they consecutively pleased the audience with hit after hit of jazz classics. In my opinion, jazz is always better when you multiple musicians on the same instrument dueling it out on stage as it adds a whole other level to the music and really makes it seem dynamic.
Between the venue, the music, and the audience interaction, I would say I’m pretty impressed with bands performance as a whole. If you’ve only listened to jazz on cds or records, then you haven’t really listened to jazz. Jazz is one of those genres where it has to be seen live for one to really feel the music and appreciate the talent of the musicians behind it and Lillian Kaye and the Border City Quintet definitely embody the soul and spirit that makes jazz so special.