"This is a very special feeling. It's like going to church, in a way," said blues singer Nap Turner, looking around at the two dozen or so musicians who turned out at Mr. Y's Friday night to honor one of their "angels."
From 10 p.m. until closing time, the small club in Northeast was packed with musicians waiting to play a little something for Naomi Brock, a retired Montgomery County schoolteacher and longtime supporter of local jazz.
The guest of honor, unfortunately, couldn't attend because of illness, so Friday's performances were recorded for her to enjoy later.
The tapes rolled on and on. When her friends weren't busy playing tribute to Brock on the small, crowded bandstand, many of them spent time recalling her contributions to the local jazz scene.
"She's a person who truly loves jazz and gospel," said vocalist Clea Bradford. "She has become what we call in the business something of an angel for musicians, especially younger ones. She's always encouraging them. If they'd get burned out, or need instruments or instruction, she'd organize the benefit. She'd recruit me and anyone else that was willing to help out. She's just one of those people who gives and gives and gives."
"A real patron of jazz," added club owner James Yancy, who said all the proceeds from the evening would go to cancer research. The tribute drew not only Bradford Turner and other well-known Washington musicians, such as Big Nick Nicholas, but plenty of promising young talent as well -- talent that Brock has helped nurture as president of Lettumplay, a nonprofit organization that books and promotes local jazz artists.
Of course, impromptu jam sessions often produce uneven results, and this one was no different. The sound quality, too, could have been better but, as Turner pointed out, the feeling and affection for Brock was inspiring. The playing was at its most convincing and cohesive when the Julia Moore-Turner Quartet was performing. At one point, the group dedicated a spirited tune called "Lettumplay" to Brock. The composition was apparently written by a Lorton inmate.
"I know when Naomi hears that one," said a musician, unpacking his instrument, "she'll turn it up nice and loud."