Corner Concerts and Knight Foundation bring quality jazz music to Macon

It’s not often that you get to experience really great jazz in downtown Macon. While we have a wealth of talented musicians in our community, expertly executed jazz music tends to be somewhat of a rarity. Thanks to Corner Concerts, the Macon Pops Jazz Quartet, the Keith Fitzgerald Quintet and philanthropic organizations like the Knight Foundation, however, the Macon area was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hear two stellar jazz performances by top-notch musicians within a little over a week of one another.
At the first event put on by Corner Concerts in the historic Brownstone building, the general atmosphere was that of a college-house-party-meets-New-Orleans-speakeasy. The venue, built in 1858, was designed by architect T. Thomas and Son and still managed to maintain some of its former elegance with its high ceilings equipped with chandeliers and murals on the walls, while also possessing a sort of grungy and gritty vibe that was well-suited to the evening.
The Macon Pops Jazz Quartet was made up of Matt Catingub on piano and vocals, Steve Moretti on drums, Billy Thornton on bass and Joe Gransden on trumpet and vocals. They riffed on such classics as “Star Eyes,” “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” “Tristesse” and “Fly Me to the Moon” in a way that made them simultaneously familiar and new.
Each member was completely invested in his own individual part, while at the same time in sync with the one another. Moretti’s drumming was both precise and playful, Catingub’s fingers glided up and down the keyboard with remarkable ease, Thornton’s solos had a transfixing complexity and Gransden’s stylings were unbelievably smooth.
At the Hay House’s “Jazz: A Multisensory Experience,” the ambiance was somewhat in the same vein as the Corner Concerts event, but geared towards a slightly older demographic. It was also structured as more of a concert-style performance, as opposed to that of a more informal listening party. The Hay House, also designed by T. Thomas and Son, featured some of the same elements as the Brownstone building, but on an even grander and more elaborate scale.
Seated in the beautifully ornate gallery area, listeners were transported back to the turn of the century as the Keith Fitzgerald Quintet broke out into renditions of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Stardust,” “Autumn Leaves,” All the Things You Are,” and “Freddie the Freeloader.”
The quintet, comprised of Keith Fitzgerald on trombone, Matt Miller on tenor saxophone, Danny Smith on guitar, Gary Land on bass and Dr. Marcus Reddick on drums, would take turns having a go at a particular part of the melody, each demonstrating effortless virtuosity and skill. There were even some musical quotes present from Kismet’s “Stranger in Paradise” and Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C# Minor,” that added even further intricacy and depth to their variations. Between songs, Fitzgerald would share stories and tidbits of historical information about the selections and the Hays that served to enrich my understanding and appreciation of the jazz age even more.
Although the Keith Fitzgerald Quintet and the Macon Pops Jazz Quartet do not appear to be having any concerts coming up in the near future, the Macon Pops Jazz Orchestra will be performing in downtown Macon on April 11 at the Cox Capitol Theater in celebration of Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday. If these two events are any indication of the caliber of talent in the Macon area, this event will definitely not disappoint.