This is a good week to listen to the trumpet. With Ted Curson at The Cellar Door through tonight and Dizzy Gillespie booked at Blues Alley through Saturday, Washington jazz lovers have a rare opportunity to see and compare two fine horn players -- one world ramous, the other almost unknown.
Curson, who was making his Washington debut last night, is, of course, the lesser-known one -- and for one very good reason. He spent most of, the '60s and the first half of the '70s working in Europe. Trumpet fanciers here had to content themselves with the occasional import album and with memories of Curson's days with Cecil Taylor, Charlie Mingus and Eric Dolphy.
With a little imagination, one can still hear echos of those days in Curson's playing. "Tears for Dolphy," the tender ballad Curson wrote when he arived in Europe only to find that his colleague had died, was included in the set, and on it, Curson played a thoughtful, inspired flugelhorn solo.
For "Graft and Corruption" he switched to piccolo trumpet, a smaller version of the trumpet that is further distinguished by its slightly different fingering system. In Curson's hands, the instrument is used to hit the high notes that most trumpeters don't even attempt to reach, and it is quite impresive.
Down at Blues Alley, meanwhile, one of the most celebrated performers in the history of jazz was in top form. Dizzy Gillespie, soon to turn 60, was in a playful mood last night, jiving with the standing-room only audience he drew, kidding with some of his younger sidemen, skatting his way through "Summertime," and pounding away on congas during a flunkified version of his classic "A Night in Tunisia."
But what is most important is that Gillespie's tone and phrasing still retain their magical quality.