Tribute concerts often are loaded with good intentions but overloaded with ego-tripping superstars. Sunday at the Proud Bird restaurant on Aviation Boulevard these problems were generally sidestepped when a parade of artists dedicated their time to honor Benny Powell, the great trombonist who for five months has been gravely ill with kidney failure. O. C. Smith, the minister and singer, was a principal organizer.
An estimated thousand fans paid from $10 to as much as $1,000 to help defray Powell's medical expenses. The performances seldom ran too long and the speeches were never too maudlin. At one point, Ken Borgers of KLON played the tape of his phone interview with Powell, who is recuperating in New York.
The dominant musical theme of the event, which ran well over seven hours, was the blues. Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham were on hand with a cut-down version of their blues band, with Marshal Royal in uncommonly funky form on alto sax, and Vi Redd adding her own indigo alto as the set ended to an uproarious ovation.
Even avant gardist James Newton on flute and pianist Horace Tapscott played some jaunty blues. Trumpeter Clora Bryant, after singing an original dedicated to Powell (incomprehensible because of poor miking), was next in line in the vocal blues parade.
Some of the most compelling songs, however, drew from the Hollywood past: Two of the best groups of the day played old movie songs--the puissant Harold Land-Oscar Brashear quintet in "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," and Andy Simpkins in a bass solo with pianist Gerald Wiggins in "My Foolish Heart."
Another old film product, "I'll Remember April," was Lorez Alexandria's choice. Substituting "Sarah" and "Dexter" for "April," she sang her heart out. This was her only number. Unlike her, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland seemed unaware of the need for fast turnover at these benefits as he led a less than inspiring eight piece band, talked too much and played too long, delaying the appearances of singers Ernie Andrews and O. C. Smith. The evening ran almost 90 minutes overtime, ending on a fitting note as Vi Redd sang "Precious Lord."
Billed as "An Afternoon of Music and Love," this marathon affair left no doubt about Benny Powell's following among fans and dozens of creatively gifted colleagues.