On an unseasonably cold February Sunday, Master musicians Toots Thielemans and Kenny Werner warmed the hearts of a nearly sold-out audience at the Margaret Comstock Concert Hall to close U of L’s Jazz Fest. The Belgian-born Thielemans, who turns 88 on April 29, was nattily dressed in a black suit with red accents and a red pocket silk. Werner, 30 years younger than Thielemans, helped the elder musician across the stage before taking his seat at the piano.
Thielemans worked magic with his chromatic harmonicas on Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.” Werner, scheduled to lead a workshop after the concert, gave a lesson in building a solo, methodically transitioning from simple exposition to complex improvisation.
For Gershwin’s venerable “I Loves You, Porgy,” Werner combined orchestral synth and piano, while Thielemans’ evoked Miles Davis on his famed rendition from Porgy & Bess. Although Thielemans’ hand seemed unsteady as he picked up a bottle of water, his hands were firm and thoroughly in command as he picked up his harmonica again. “I Loves You, Porgy” magically morphed into “Summertime.” Werner played the Davis’ “All Blues” over which Thielemans superimposed the timeless melody of “Summertime.” Werner’s solo dove into deep blues territory, with Thielemans enjoying it so much he quietly applauded, before joining in on a chorus of “All Blues” as the song concluded.
The standard “Autumn Leaves” was performed with grace and elegance. On Chick Corea’s “Windows,” one of the songs off their self-titled CD, Toots Thielemans & Kenny Werner CD, the two weaved a tapestry of improvisation, their ability to listen to each other almost telepathic.
Thielemans introduced the closing number with a smile, whispering his own name into the microphone, before launching into his famed “Bluesette.” This song has joined the ranks of jazz standards, having been performed over the years by Jimmy Smith, Ella Fitzgerald with Joe Pass and Tito Puente. Thielemans and Werner began the jaunty piece slow, before breaking in to the more familiar mid-tempo arrangement.
The long, enthusiastic ending ovation affirmed the power of music as a positive life force.