The auditorium of the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, Va., was filled to full capacity during an uplifting 70th birthday concert tribute to hometown pianist Don Pullen. The all-star band was brought together by baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, a former musical partner of Pullen’s, and included James Carter on tenor saxophone and flute, Jason Moran on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. Carter was his usual ebullient self and connected with the audience during his introductions and lively solos.
The enthusiastic crowd included members of Pullen’s family as well as his friends, who all reacted with delight to the two sets of Pullen compositions interpreted with great feeling and energy by all the soloists. Poet Nikki Giovanni read a composition in honor of Pullen, and video excerpts of the pianist in concert were also shown. Pullen’s piece “Big Alice” served as a spirited encore that brought the audience to its feet. At the concert’s close, the musicians gladly expressed their appreciation of Pullen, the audience, music and life in general.