On the weekend of June 11-12, 2021, the Jazz Forum nightclub in Tarrytown, New York presented the Christian Sands Trio. This was the third weekend since the grand re-opening of the club, after more than a year-long closure due to the pandemic. For jazz lovers in the Westchester County and New York tri-state area, this re-opening has been like a gushing spring after a long drought. Since the club re-opened on May 28, people have turned out in droves! The Helio Alves Trio and the Monty Alexander Trio played on the previous two weeks to near-capacity or sold-out sets, and the same was true of the Christian Sands Trio. The intimate atmosphere of the art-filled club is an integral part of what makes Jazz Forum such a perfectly creative backdrop for the many talented musicians who perform there.
Founder and Executive Director of Jazz Forum, Mark Morganelli, said of the re-opening, “Fifteen months, and boom, we’re back in it!” Then, Morganelli welcomed the crows, and spoke about the long shutdown. “The virtual stuff is okay,” he said, “but there’s nothing like live jazz!” Mark also thanked Montefiore Einstein Hospital for their continuing support, then introduced the Christian Sands Trio. Morganelli said that he was proud to say that he first introduced Sands at a festival 13 years ago. Christian Sands started playing at a very young age, and he was mentored by Dr. Billy Taylor. He has worked a great deal as both a leader and a sought-after sideman, including collaborations with Gregory Porter, Bobby Sanabria, Ulysses Owens, Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, and bassist Christian McBride’s group, Inside Straight.
Pianist Christian Sands introduced his bandmates, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and Christian’s brother, drummer Ryan Sands. Before they started the first song, Sands said, “I’m not going to tell you what this is, we’ll see if you can guess.” It turned out to be a rollicking, rousing version of “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” where the trio really gave it their all. Christian was particularly expressive during the song. He put his whole body into his piano playing, and the crowd reacted with thunderous applause. Next came Christian’s composition “Be Water, Part 1” from the CD Be Water, and it was a percussive, driving number that showed off all the musicians to their best advantage, with excellent extended solos by each one. About water as his inspiration for this CD, it says on Sands’ website:
“It can be overwhelming to realize how much water surrounds us, affects us and impacts our lives. It’s an element vital to survival yet can be utterly devastating; it can be placid and beautiful or torrential and violent. It’s ubiquitous – flowing at the turn of a faucet, comprising 70% of our own bodies – yet somehow intangible, able to change form or assume the shape of its surroundings.”
Christian is also quoted on his site, saying the following:
“I was trying to practice being more open, more free, more flexible than I usually am,” Sands explains. “Through that I started to have this awareness of just how much water was all around me. As I was touring it seemed to be raining every day; I actually had to change a few dates because of a hurricane. I even started seeing a new doctor who told me I needed to drink more water [laughs]. It seemed to be some kind of a divine message to pay attention to water.”
At one point during the show, Sands encouraged the audience, “If you’re having a good time, say yeah!” He said that it is always a pleasure to play with Yasushi and Ryan, since you never know what’s going to happen, and joked, “We have no idea what we’re doing.” More seriously, he added that his fellow musicians are so creative, and he really appreciates them.
From Sands’ CD Reach, they performed “Reaching for the Sun,” a gorgeous ballad that started out so mellow, that it brought to mind glorious sunsets, winter nights by the fireplace, or other relaxing times. Although the pace quickened later, it ended with a delicately lovely piano solo. Next came another beautiful minor-key ballad, “In a Sentimental Mood” where Yasushi really put his bass skills on display.
Throughout the set, Christian had an expression of joy on his face, as though he was transported by the music, just as the audience was. During an interlude, Sands did a swift, loud run across the piano keys, which elicited surprised chuckles from the audience. It was an unexpected, but delightful moment.
Bassist John Patitucci was in the audience, and Christian said, “I hear we have a legend here tonight.” Sands said that he and John have done interviews together, and even played a bit together, but never in a venue like Jazz Forum. Patitucci sat in, and the band played a sparkling, swinging rendition of “There Will Never Be Another You,” where John really lived up to the praise that Christian had lavished on him. Like Sands, John put his entire body into his bass playing, and Christian looked utterly delighted with the bass man’s riffs. Even the more reserved drummer Ryan Sands often broke into smiles, and the group looked like they were having the time of their lives! The crowd certainly was!
The musicians next played Steve Winwood’s classic “Can’t Find My Way Home” released by Polydor in 1969, when Winwood was a member of the supergroup Blind Faith on the album of the same name. The song was a request Sands got during the earlier set. The trio’s version was riveting throughout, with the audience absorbing every nuance right through the explosive crescendo at the end. This would have been a great finale by itself, but the crowd loudly called for an encore, and the trio obliged with a charming redux rendition of “Bye, Bye Blackbird” that they had played at the start of the show.
Although most musicians love what they do, not many of them are as visibly thrilled to perform as Christian Sands, and it was equally thrilling for the crowd to see! At the end of the set, the club’s Associate Director, Ellen Prior, came to the stage area and said, “We love you all! We’re really grateful that you’re here!”
In the coming weeks, Jazz Forum will present the Jimmy Greene Quartet, Maucha Adnet featuring Helio Alves & Guilherme Monteiro, the Julius Rodriguez Quintet, Samara Joy featuring the Pasquale Grasso Trio, the T.S. Monk Sextet, and the John Pizzarelli Trio. For more information about upcoming shows, ticket information, the Jazz Forum art gallery, and free outdoor summer concerts, go to: www.jazzforumarts.org.