■ Anna Pechanec Ancheta / Contributed
Jazz starts with our earliest memories of a heartbeat or pulse. Sunday night’s concert at Diamond Valley Arts Center with Hawkins’ Modern Jazz Seahawk orchestra offered a history of our Afro American jazz heritage through vivid illustrations of drumming, dancing and song.
Marshall Hawkins, director of jazz studies at Idyllwild Arts Academy, presented Najite Agindotan drumming to open the concert and followed up with a bass soliloquy. When he finished his soulful piece, Marshall asked the audience to interpret all the meanings of the music in words.
Hawkins is a consummate teacher and the synergy of his talented company makes jazz and the roots of jazz come alive. Highlights included exuberant dances from Guinea and Cameroon with Diana Kyle in colorful costume and Najite on Djembe. Kyle led members of the audience in a short tutorial.
Marshall on bass with the artistry of Bob Boss on guitar, Charles Owens on tenor sax, Brett Sanders beating the skins and Roy Gonzalez on congas joined Sherry Williams for a short set before intermission. Williams came out singing “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” a rather tongue-in-cheek commentary for someone who was singing her third gig in 24 hours!
With the spotlight on his gloved hands, Rural Barber opened the second half with the magical body percussion he calls “slap jazz.” Rural was joined by Leland “Spoonful” Collins, a master of spoon percussion and dance. Each time I see these consummate performers I am reminded of the resilience and creative ingenuity of slave culture denied the basics of musical instruments. Rural plays Jew’s harp (also called mouth, juice or Ozark harp) as well and got the full house of DVAC rocking.
Sherry Williams joined the combo for a long set of Ellington, Strayhorn and other jazz standards. She delivers repertoire with skilled drama, a melting smile and can make every word heard, even in the double-timed chorus of “How High the Moon” with Bob Boss.
The audience did not want to let the performers go. This was an extraordinary offering here in Hemet. Diamond Valley Arts Council produced the show thanks to the generosity of Tammy Wilhelm, who helped sponsor this group. Don’t miss this concert when it comes round again!