The Bill Mays Trio. Photo courtesy of MVCMS
The Bill Mays Trio. Photo courtesy of MVCMS

Jazz plus chamber equals inventive pairing

By Mary-Jean Miner - August 17, 2006

The fourth concert in the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society's summer series featured a jazz ensemble. For the very first time, the society, under the direction of Delores Stevens, presented the Bill Mays Trio with a wonderfully entertaining and challenging program.

Mr. Mays, a highly accomplished jazz pianist, along with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson, explored works from popular classics to jazz classics to classical classics. The group, using traditional jazz technique (Matt Wilson did quite well, thank you, with a simple drum kit, unlike some contemporary drummers who seem to think it necessary to employ elevated cymbals and at least 10 drums to achieve an entirely huge sound), displayed a wide variety of techniques and skills, not to mention an unusual variety of musical views.

Opening with a Harry Warren piece, "Summer Night," the trio, with an interesting syncopation, caught the attention of the audience, and held it for the entire evening. Joined by Sheridon Stokes on flute, they played "Euterpe," a chart arrangement of a work composed by Mr. Mays. Mr. Stokes, who has considerable experience in films, television, and recordings, is highly versatile and skilled -and right at home with the trio.

In a swinging arrangement of Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," Mr. Wind's bass solo with piano obbligato was accompanied by a swish touch on the drums, as Mr. Wilson employed a gentle technique with brushes. Following a full-blown chorus, they went all out in unison, with an animated drum solo accompaniment.

Bill Mays is most skillful at mixing classical Chopin with the popular John Green's "Body and Soul", cross-pollinating the song with Chopin's D-flat Major Etude. Switching Mr. Green's melody between the left and right hands, he created a perfect jazz/classical fusion. This solo performance was followed closely by a combination of J.S. Bach and Charlie Parker, in a Two Part Invention adventure in counterpoint. Mr. Mays called it "Bach meets Bird." The old classic "Tangerine" even showed up in a brief phrase!

The group displayed just how to get the most out of a double bass and a set of drums on sections of another Mays composition, again joined by Mr. Stokes, "Suite for Flute and Piano."

After the intermission, pianist Delores Stevens joined Mr. Stokes for Samuel Barber's "Souvenirs," which presented a series of danceable themes displayed in a fun, playful mood. The work is highly challenging for both pianist and flautist, a tour de force for each.

The Bill Mays Trio closed the concert with several more jazz works, with sizzling performances by all three musicians. During Mr. Mays's composition, "Judy," Matt Wilson soloed, with all drums tuned to tom-tom, playing manually, then the piano and bass joined in. With only a hi-hat, sizzler, and ride cymbals, Mr. Wilson absolutely got the most out of a set of drums!

Returning to the jazz/classical fusion mode, the group ended with a highly plaintive presentation of Dvorak's "Going Home" theme from the New World Symphony.

Mr. Wilson had great insight into Mr. Mays's skill on piano. "He manages to cover jazz tunes, classical themes, and his own insights, all with such great skill." Indeed.

Mary-Jean Miner is a freelance writer who lives in Tisbury. She frequently writes about classical music and art for The Times.