Minutes before curtain time Saturday night, trumpeter Jeff Lofton was adamant: “The reason Miles Davis is so important is because he influenced so much popular music.”
Lofton spoke of the jazz icon in the present tense, which was appropriate, since Saturday evening’s show at Temple’s Cultural Activities Center was billed as a 1950s Miles Davis tribute, and Lofton and his band were the keepers of the original cool jazz flame.
Jazz perennial “Bye, Bye Blackbird” launched the performance in the Mayborn Auditorium and the Austin-based musicians turned back the clock, successfully recreating some of Davis’ landmark recordings.
“I went to junior and senior high school in Columbia, South Carolina,” Lofton said. “When I was 18, a jazz trumpet player named Al McLean played Miles’ recording of ‘My Funny Valentine’ for me and it was a revelation — it really did change my life.”
The Rogers and Hart song was an important part of the Davis canon, Lofton said. “It’s not just that he recorded it, he completely changed the nature of the music.”
And when Lofton performed “Valentine” halfway into the first set, his connection with the song and Davis’ legacy was palpable. The sparse accompaniment by bass, piano and drums was the perfect foil for the burnished, rich tones of Lofton’s trumpet. His poignant solo was echoed by tenor saxophonist Seth Paynter who essayed an urgent, reflective improvisation.
The audience of about 75 was responsive to the 1950s Miles songbook and applauded warmly to “Walkin’,” “Oleo” and “If I Were A Bell.”
“Miles had an enormous repertoire,” Lofton said. “We’re just scratching the surface tonight. Some people like his later stuff, fusion and rock-influenced music - this concert is about his ’50s era.”
The show has been refined by Lofton for six years, and it’s fair to say that he’s found a rewarding musical niche.
“I’ve moved the tunes around, worked on the set list. Miles Davis music cannot be overemphasized — the importance of it.”