Charleston Jazz Orchestra
Charleston Music Hall
Oct. 23

The Charleston Jazz Orchestra delivered two fantastic sets of standards and faves at the Charleston Music Hall. Trombonist Fred Wesley nearly stole the show.

The ensemble showed off its soul in the first set with two Earth, Wind & Fire tracks, followed by the gorgeous “Georgia on My Mind,” featuring a fantastic alto saxophone solo from Robert Lewis. Ravishing vocalist Amanda Hudson did a solid three-song run before the band let loose on the last and best song of the first set, drummer Quentin Baxter’s up-tempo arrangement of another Earth, Wind & Fire cut, “Getaway.”

The familiar “Thriller” bass line was a kicked off the second set. It’s not every day you hear Michael Jackson with a full horn section. It was great, but the real fun came as conductor Charlton Singleton introduced Wesley. “Fred is just one of the nicest guys,” Singleton said. “I was real nervous before a show at the Hymns and Spirituals concert at Lightsey Chapel on the campus of Charleston Southern University. We’re all in suits, and I saw Fred sitting there in his silver tennis shoes, and he smiled and said, ‘Hey Charlton, how you doing?’ and it calmed me right down.”

On cue, Wesley strolled onto the stage wearing a black suit and silver Nikes and proceeded to kill it with his immense skill and jovial personality. On two of his originals, “La Bossa” and “In Love in L.A.,” his tone was so clear I almost forgot I was hearing a musical instrument. It sounded effortless. And as impressive as his technical wizardry was, you could feel his love of the music.

Wesley introduced a fast-paced original, “For the Elders,” dedicating the tune to “all those guys who played this music so we could play for you today, and particularly the great trombone player J.J. Johnson.” After his solos, Wesley put down his horn and sat on his stool. Even as he took a back seat to the band, he continued to feel the music, tapping those Nikes, bopping his head, and swinging his arms.

The rapport between Singleton and Wesley was classic, each massively appreciating the other and finding such joy in the place they were born to be: on stage at a jazz concert. On the funky Average White Band classic “Pick up the Pieces,” Wesley showed off his versatility, plunging into a New Orleans style before easing back to his beautiful, cleaner-than-a-car wash tone on “Human Nature.”

After Wesley returned for a curtain call, Singleton, who was a bopping, smiling ball of joy all night, showed off his perfectly toned human pipes with the feel-good classic, “It’s Not Unusual.” And maybe the hardest-working member of the band, bassist Kevin Hamilton, owned the last song, Tower of Power’s quick-paced “What is Hip?,” with perhaps the most badass bass line I’ve ever heard.

I walked out of the concert with an appreciation of so many things: the weeks of hard work that went into getting every second of timing correct, the talent to execute it to perfection, the leadership of Singleton in bringing it all together, the soul that can pour through an instrument, and of course, those silver Nikes and the cleanest tone in the world.