Paul Winter’s first band, back half a century ago when he was a student at Northwestern University was the Paul Winter Sextet. It has a history that is both tragic and uplifting. To mark the 50th Anniversary of his first band, and to capture the group for posterity, Paul Winter returns for two reunion concerts at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on June 6 & 7, at 7:30pm. The concert will be filmed.
The band will include four of the original Sextet members – pianist Warren Bernhardt, drummer Harold Jones, bassist Cecil McBee, and Paul Winter on alto sax – along with trumpeter Marvin Stamm and baritone saxist Howard Johnson.
The Paul Winter Sextet’s History is a Tale of Triumph and of Tears
The Sextet emerged in Chicago during Paul’s years at Northwestern University. After winning the 1961 Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, the band was signed to Columbia Records by legendary producer John Hammond. In 1962 the Sextet recorded its first three albums, and, on recommendation from Festival judges Dizzy Gillespie and Hammond, was sent by the State Department on a six-month tour of 23 countries of Latin America.
The White House
The success of this tour led to an invitation from First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to play at the White House. The Sextet’s performance in the East Room on November 19, 1962, happened to be the first-ever jazz concert in the White House. The group continued to tour and record throughout 1963, and made their final album during the week of President Kennedy’s ill-fated trip to Dallas.
Then, numbed by the tragedy of President Kennedy’s assassination, and discouraged by what they felt was the end of that optimistic era, the Sextet disbanded and the players went on to other pursuits – the drummer eventually to Count Basie’s band, the bassist to Ahmad Jamal’s trio, the trumpet player to medical school, the baritone saxist to teach at Michigan State, and Paul to Brazil, to resume his exploration of the world’s music.
The Mahaiwe Concerts will be historic – and filmed for posterity
These Mahaiwe concerts will be a one-time event to be filmed for a DVD that will be part of the forthcoming box set Early Winter, with all the Sextet’s Columbia albums, live recordings from their Latin America tour, and also the unreleased recordings from their historic White House concert.
Paul Winter Reflects
“The Sextet was conceived as a kind of little ‘big band,’” says Paul, “and with our instrumentation of three horns and rhythm, it has quite a different sound from that of the Paul Winter Consort, which people have known me for during the last several decades. But on a primary level, it’s all the same lineage: a spirit of celebration, in the democracy of ensemble, aspiring toward a balance between the improvised and the composed.”
Pianist Warren Bernhardt has had an illustrious career playing with a wide variety of ensembles and singers, including Gerry Mulligan, Clark Terry, Jack DeJohnette, Steely Dan, James Brown, Linda Ronstadt, and Simon and Garfunkel.
Drummer Harold Jones now plays with Tony Bennett, after long stints with the Count Basie Band, Sarah Vaughan, and Natalie Cole.
Bassist Cecil McBee has been with the bands of Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Chet Baker, and Yusuf Lateef.
Of trumpeter Marvin Stamm, Paul says: “Marvin was our contemporary in the college jazz festivals of 1960 and 1961, featured with the renowned North Texas State Lab Band; they were kind of the New York Yankees of the college big bands, and Marvin was their Mickey Mantle. He then joined the Stan Kenton band, and over the years played with many of the famed big bands before becoming a fabled free-lance recording artist in New York.”
Howard Johnson, who happened to have known the Sextet’s original baritone saxist, Les Rout, in Chicago in the early ‘60s, is revered as a player of both tuba and baritone sax, and has played with a raft of bands, including those of Gil Evans, Jimmy Heath, Hank Crawford, and Gerald Wilson.
Of having chosen the Mahaiwe for these concerts, Paul says: “The Consort and I played for the first time in the magnificent Mahaiwe this past February, and we loved the acoustics and the experience. I feel it’s the perfect place for our Sextet reunion.”
Performance and Ticket Information
Wednesday June 6 & Thursday June 7 at 7:30pm
For tickets and information, visit mahaiwe.org, or call 413.528.0100.
Tickets are $20, with $50 preferred seating available, which includes a post-show reception with the artists. The Mahaiwe is located at 14 Castle Street in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Box office hours: Wednesday to Saturday from noon-6pm.