Despite the jazz tradition of 'sitting in', it's remarkable how seldom I've actually seen someone appear unannounced with a headline act and get the feeling that I'm witnessing something unrehearsed and fully in the moment.
I was having mixed feelings at last night's concert by The Mingus Dynasty at the Quebec City jazz festival—aside from a spirited take of "Ysabel's Table Dance," the band had seemed a bit listless, with a high number of onstage conferences and on-the-fly arrangement coaching. Then, in the second half of the show, leader Craig Handy introduced special guest Kurt Elling—who headlines the festival tonight.
Wearing jeans instead of his de rigueur slick suit, Elling blew the room apart with his version of Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," encouraging tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake to roll out the kind of multi-tiered, lyrical solo that made me fall for his playing when I first heard him in the early '90s. Elling was sweating, Blake was burning, the whole band playing like Mingus himself was kicking their behinds.
It was one of those moments when all you can do is tell your friends, You had to be there.