Ira Sullivan at Luckett's

By John Goodin

Ira Sullivan flew up from the South to play real jazz for the Louisville Jazz Society on April 13. The setting was Luckett's Downstairs at Actor's Theatre, as friendly a room for serious improvisational music as you can find anywhere in New York. Free snacks were provided, no obnoxious drink minimum was required and no smoking was allowed.

The players were: Mr. Sullivan on many instruments;Phil DeGreg on piano;Tyrone Wheeler on bass and Charlie Craig on drums. The playing was strong and confident, especially considering that Ira's plane arrived at 5:00 and the show began around 6:00. The first set was announced as a rehearsal but sounded, as it should, like four true musicians getting acquainted and having a good time.

Mr. Sullivan is consistently labelled "legendary," largely because he doesn't fit the mold. He plays many instruments and is one of the few people in jazz history to play both trumpet and saxophone with virtuosity. He is not a New York or Los Angeles jazzman and has followed his own muse rather than the dictates of the music business. He has a spiritual quality that is hard to pin down but it comes across on the bandstand and on recordings. For instance, he closed the first set with a bluesy, heartfelt solo flute rendition of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" after saying that sometimes simple tunes were fun to play and that this one has a "good message."

During the course of the first set (I could only stay for one) Ira played six tunes. On four of them he soloed on more than one instrument, either flute, trumpet, flugelhorn or saxophone. On the fourth tune of the set, a mid-tempo bossa nova, he opened with a flugelhorn solo, played percussion during other solos, then took a solo on muted trumpet and finished the tune on flute.

The trio functioned as much more than a rhythm section, being alternately challenged and praised by the leader. All three were given ample solo time. Ira would concoct arrangements while the tune was in progress, pointing to one man or another to solo or lay out, creating different textures in the sound. During his bandmates' solos, Ira would watch and listen intently from the side of the stage, clearly immersed in the unfolding music.

I was sorry to leave after the "rehearsal" set, knowing that I was going to miss a burning second set and a very promising jam session that would follow. The Louisville Jazz Society deserves a round of applause for their classs presentation of Florida's best-kept jazz secret. I look forward to his return.