Herb Pomeroy, who passed away last year at age 77, was one of Boston's most beloved musicians. A wonderful trumpeter, accomplished arranger, and superb band leader, Pomeroy's greatest legacy may well be the several generations of students he taught in his 40 years at the Berklee College of Music.
Tuesday night, at the Berklee Performance Center, the college presented a resounding tribute to Pomeroy, featuring the 19-piece Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra, a student ensemble inaugurated by Pomeroy in his early days at the school and now directed by trumpeter Greg Hopkins. For this concert, special guests joined the orchestra, including former students who are now renowned, such as pianist Hal Galper, trumpeter Jack Walrath, and saxophonist Joe Lovano.
The concert opener, Michael Gibbs's "The Time Has Come, the Walrus Said," showed the orchestra's skills, with intricate layers of riffs intertwined over a Latin-inspired pulse, boldly and crisply articulated by the band, energetically conducted by Hopkins.
An early highlight was Ted Pease's "Five Flats for Herb," a simple blues showcasing the orchestra's trumpet players, each representing an aspect of Pomeroy's musical personality. Three trumpeters stood at the front of the stage, soloing in turn, backed by creamy reeds. Niv Toar played the growling, plunger-muted trumpet role; Max Miller-Loran used a Harmon mute for the buzzing part; and Jeremy Sinclair manned the mellow flugelhorn. The three voices began to converge, trading successively shorter phrases.
Then, suddenly, from the highest riser at the rear of the stage, the soaring lead trumpet of Casey Brefka took over. The tune ended with the first three voices once more merged.
Throughout the evening, tapes were played of Pomeroy reminiscing ebulliently. One of Pomeroy's fondest memories was playing in the orchestra of his idol, Duke Ellington, when in the band's latter days he occasionally substituted for the trumpeter Cootie Williams. Fittingly, Ellington loomed large during the concert, both as an influence on several arrangements and as composer.
Indeed, a medley of Ellingtonia ended the evening, including the beguiling ballad "Isfahan," by Ellington's alter ego Billy Strayhorn, with alto saxophonist Mark Pinto stepping into Johnny Hodges's shoes. Pomeroy's arrangement of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" featured student baritone saxophonist Davindar Singh, who made the big, beastly horn purr.
The suitably celebratory closer was a Phil Wilson arrangement of Ellington's imperishable swinger "Rockin' in Rhythm," which gave seemingly everyone a chance to solo, as an animated Hopkins shuttled back and forth spontaneously orchestrating them.
The final massing of forces for the big finish provided a suitably reverberant shout-out to a man whom Berklee and Boston will not soon forget.