An Update on the 2nd Annual "Bob" Concert

A report from Jane Drake on the 2nd Annual Bob Richardson Memorial Jazz Concert, which took place on April 30, 2006:

I’m happy to report that the concert went well, in fact, very well. With Atlanta’s own Rick Bell as our guest artist, everyone would expect such glowing remarks. And Rick was certainly up to his usual standards. Yes, I did say standards. Rick wanted to play standards that he had played with Bob and that worked out great. He did a fine job of keeping Bob’s memory out front as he announced each tune. And he wowed the audience, as usual, and won some new fans. We had several young high schoolers in attendance, which delighted all ous. They certainly attended “class” listening to Rick and, for that matter, the rest of the guys.

About the rhythm section: They were all wonderful, but I’ll start with the piano player. J. Hatch was his usual charismatic self on stage. I had several people ask me about him and I heard repeated remarks that he was “fun” to watch as well as listen to. He quips that it’s only because he looks like he’s dying while he’s playing. I think he exaggerates… a bit. (I know him well. I can kid with him like that.) Hatch, as most of you know, now lives in Germany. He used this trip to the states not only to play this concert, but to work on his own CD of original tunes at Polymusic Studios in B’ham. Believe me, Folks, it’s sounding mighty good and will be available to purchase in a few months. We’ll be sure to let you know about that. And as soon as we can, we’ll get him over again in the guest artist spot for a show featuring him and his original compositions.

This concert was a first for Robert Dickson. Robert is currently living and working in Atlanta since he became a Hurricane Katrina victim. He comes with a very strong reputation for excellence in bass playing and for possessing a prized bass. He hates to leave it out of his sight for long, and I don’t blame him. It’s hard to find the right instrument for yourself most of the time. Robert has found it and he doesn’t want to lose it. If you have dinner with Robert, he’s going to leave the table at least once to check on his baby. I was amazed at how many Auburn Knights friends had played with Robert, or “Dig” as he is also known. I was asked to deliver hellos from several people. I told him on stage that we’re adopting him… he’s just that good. And he has a special relationship with Sonny Harris whom he worked with in B’ham for many years before going to New Orleans.

Sonny Harris awed the crowd. Sonny is well deserving of the reputation as the first call drummer in Birmingham and points North, South, East and West. He is well known in many directions. And he is “getting around” these days more than ever… playing a lot. We couldn’t have asked for a finer drummer. He is sensitive when he’s supposed to be and dynamic when necessary. And Sonny got plenty of solo room on one of Rick’s selections where he transfixed the crowd. He is amazing… but we all knew that.

A surprise or three: Rick gave Robert a rather unique solo opportunity as well. J. and Sonny left the two of them on stage for a sax and bass number appropriately titled “Alone Together.” It was a nice change of pace for the show.

Rick gave the audience another surprise by calling Bill Van Dyke, another Atlanta musician, out of the audience to do a couple of sax duets with him. It turned out to be only one. Bill played while Rick had to seek some help off stage repairing his horn. But that was, thankfully, a temporary glitch and Rick came back for a rousing duo version with Bill of “Tenor Madness” to end our first set. But, to be accurate, it was Tenor/Alto Madness. Bill started off studying with Bob Richardson and later studied with Rick and others. He now has one of the longest running gigs in Atlanta with his own group at Five Seasons Restaurant and Brewing. You ought to check him out on the patio there during the summer and fall if you’re in Atlanta on a Sunday afternoon. And now you can also find him on Wednesday nights at Shillings on the Square in Marietta.

Another wonderful surprise was having Ms. Kate Higgins, former Knights vocalist and “Bob” student, in the audience. She just happened to be in town to visit her family. I tried to get her up on stage, however she preferred to just listen this time. But I promise, I will get her back here to be a guest artist on her own as soon as humanly possible. Kate has resided in LA since she graduated from Auburn. She writes her own songs, works with a fine jazz influenced group called Upper Structure and does a lot of voice over studio work.

Alphonso Thomas, one of Bob’s lab band saxophonists also surprised by driving over from Warner Robbins where he is stationed in the Air Force. We also had people who drove from Anniston, Atlanta, and Birmingham to be there for the show despite the threat of bad weather that day. We are grateful for their efforts to be there with us.

Jane was emcee: I couldn’t let the occasion pass without singing a few with this stellar group of musicians. I did a couple of numbers at the first of the show which also served to introduce the trio and to bring Rick on stage with the appropriate show biz flourish. I came back sporadically through the show and closed it out with the trio and Rick on “I’ll Remember April. I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in a long time. What a pleasure to be on stage with these wonderful musicians. The audience gave us two standing ovations and we enjoyed performing a couple of encore numbers for them: “Angel Eyes” and “Teach Me Tonight.”

Just about perfect, but not quite: All and all, this was just about perfect for a jazz event. The only down side is that when everyone was leaving the Recital Hall (AU Goodwin Music Building) Sonny’s wife Ann accidentally tripped and fell backwards on the stairs. She landed so hard she broke a bone that goes into her shoulder socket. It had to be extremely painful. An ambulance came and the medics working on her were “exceptionally good,” so Dr. Bob Greenleaf of the music department faculty told me. They worked to carefully stabilize her for about 45 minutes so she could be moved to the East Alabama Medical Center emergency room. Later I learned that Sonny and Ann wanted their surgeon in B’ham to work on Ann if she needed surgery. So the emergency room doctors gave Ann some pain meds, stabilized her arm in a sling and wrapped foam around her shoulders so she could endure the ride home in their car. Sonny said they just took it easy so she wouldn’t be jolted unnecessarily. Still I don’t know how she did it. They finally arrived home around 3 a.m. When they went to see Ann’s doctor in B’ham the next day, he confirmed it was a very bad break and surgery would be required. The good news is that the operation went well and Ann should be home by the time you read this. I know everyone wishes her a quick recovery, as all of us concert performers do, but it will probably seem very long to her. However both Ann and Sonny kept such positive attitudes during this whole ordeal. They were remarkable.

I know many of you will want to send your best wishes. You can send a card or letter to:

Sonny and Ann Harris
597 Oakline Dr.
Birmingham, AL 35226

Many thanks to all who contributed to the concert this year. In no certain order, these are our contributors:
  • Dick and Harriet Bishop of Maryland
  • Jim Shands of Birmingham, AL
  • Sandra Moody Sullivan of Franklin, TN
  • Dr. Dick Johnson of Atlanta, GA
  • Riner Scivally of California
  • Keith McPheeters of Auburn
  • Charlie Dennard, traveling somewhere in Europe
Without such generous support, this event would not have taken place. And I have to say a grateful word to all those who came out on a Sunday night to support these wonderful players and to support live jazz. There’s nothing like it. Those ticket sales also support the cause. We had about 65 people who attended this year. And I was surprised and delighted that we collected over $300 in donations to the “Bob” fund outside of ticket sales. I didn’t expect that, but I deeply appreciate those contributions and every one who contributed in any way. With your continued support, we can bring more fine Auburn Jazz players back home for these special concerts. In my mind, that’s a project worth doing.

P.S. Most of you know there are “Bob” charts all over the place and “Bob” stories galore, it seems. So now I’m going to affectionately use a short cut in calling this the “Bob” concert and the “Bob” fund when appropriate, just FYI. I don’t think he would mind.
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