On Friday evening, the Yale School of Music presented “Delightfulee Morgan,” a tribute concert that celebrated the late jazz musician Edward Lee Morgan’s 80th birthday and featured the legendary trumpeter’s unrecorded compositions. The program was performed by The Wayne Escoffery Quintet, featuring Jeremy Pelt.
The group — which normally performs as a quartet — and Pelt performed together as part of the YSM’s Ellington Jazz Series, which brings prominent jazz musicians to the university and to New Haven public schools. To open this hallmark performance, the Wayne Escoffery Quintet delivered a rendition of Lee Morgan’s traditional blues-style song, “Yes I Can, No You Can’t,” studded with improvisational solos. The quintet turned Morse Recital Hall into a space of emotion, narrative and remembrance.
“Jazz is a collaborative expression and art form,” said David Brensilver, Communications Officer for the Yale School of Music. “The quintet [put] their own expression into [Morgan’s].”
The Wayne Escoffery Quartet includes Grammy-winning tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, drummer Carl Allen, pianist Bruce Barth and double bassist Yasushi Nakamura. Pelt joined to complete the quintet.
Wayne Escoffery described Lee Morgan’s compositions as a “perfect juxtaposition of blues and R&B to reflect the complex and intricate harmonies of the time.” This inter-genre fluidity was showcased throughout the concert with smooth and swung works like “Get Yourself Together” and “Par Lee,” contrasted with technically demanding numbers like “Search for New Land” and “Temptation Bound.” Morgan’s deeply poignant and emotionally rich ballad, “Anguish,” was strategically placed in the middle of the program, giving audience members time to regain their composure. Bruce Barth’s symphonically rich harmonies on the piano paired with Nakamura’s chord-ground pizzicatos on the double-bass laid the foundation for Pelt’s intuitive and lyrical trumpet solo, leaving the hall brimming with emotion.
Despite being given massive shoes to fill, jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt immersed the audience in his technical riffs and impeccably clear tone.
Sam Hollister ’18, a frequent stage manager for the Yale School of Music, said he particularly liked that “the soloists all got very extended and in-depth opportunities to showcase their talents.”
The performers infused the room with electric energy. The stage was illuminated by color-changing lights, which matched the varying tones of music: for the slow ballad, “Anguish,” the stage and musicians glowed a deep red, while a teal blue coated them during the more upbeat sound of “Infinity.” The spiritedness of the crowd could be felt as audience members bobbed their heads to the beat, while some listened with closed eyes in order to focus entirely on the sound. With each number complimented by its own combination of bright-hued ambient lights, the Wayne Escoffery Quintet brought Morse Recital Hall to life with their infectious energy.
Brensilver said that this performance was very “befitting of the whole Ellington Jazz Series” and commended the group’s ability to “[tap] into Lee Morgan’s vision and artistry” while “representing his lineage.”
When asked about the Yale School of Music’s efforts to incorporate more jazz into their concert cycle and repertoire for students, Brensilver said that while jazz is not the main focus for most School of Music students, he hopes the Jazz Initiative at Yale will “introduce more students to the art form.” Referring to jazz as “a uniquely American art form [that] should be celebrated everywhere,” Brensilver said it is “incumbent on us to not only spread jazz across the university, but [to] local audiences.”
A couple living in the New Haven area, Natalie and Richard, said they frequently attend concerts at Morse Recital Hall and were particularly moved by the performance.
“For me [jazz] is like a spiritual experience,” Natalie said. “When I listen to jazz music, it takes me somewhere else. It comes from a place that — if you have that thing in your soul, that spirituality-jazz can bring that out. You can listen to a musician that has a great technique, but it’s not going to move you. When a performance moves you — that’s different.”
Her husband, Richard, said that when he closed his eyes during “Anguish,” he “could hear the journey that [Wayne] was taking me on as they slowed down the whole tempo of the song.”
Featured trumpeter Jeremy Pelt is currently touring throughout the United States and Europe to promote his latest album, “Make Noise!”
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Editor’s note: Due to a technical error, the previous version of this article did not the appropriate edits. This version has been updated to reflect all changes.