You can't accuse Mickey Roker of taking himself too seriously.
At Ortlieb's Jazzhaus on Saturday night, the septuagenarian drummer shared laughs with the front-table customers and waitstaff. Bassist Mike Boone introduced the band, and when he got to Roker, the drummer began to boo himself.
If Roker is the "dean" of Ortlieb's, as it is said, then Boone is the club's provost, one of the many talents Roker has groomed over the years. With Sid Simmons on piano and special guest Joe Ford on alto and soprano saxophones, they set out to explore classics of the post-bebop canon.
Born in Miami in 1932, Granville "Mickey" Roker came to Philadelphia at a young age and went on to become one of the city's jazz ambassadors, a valued sideman to the best in the music. Many great recordings bear his name, including
Sonny Rollins on Impulse!
, Herbie Hancock's
Speak Like a Child
, Dizzy Gillespie's
Dizzy's Big 4
, and more recently,
by Joe Locke's Milt Jackson Tribute Band.
When he's not backing distinguished visitors (like Von Freeman at the Kimmel Center in 2005), Roker flies under the radar in Northern Liberties, sticking to his old-school guns.
On Saturday, the quartet picked songs as they went, and the familiar menu suggested little if any preparation time with Ford. No matter; the group found its stride, and Roker pushed the music forward with sportive determination.
The show opened at a moderate pace with the Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen staple "It Could Happen to You," and continued with Joe Henderson's Latin-tinged "Recordame."
Ford, a longtime associate of McCoy Tyner, rendered melodies with a casual flair and offered densely packed solos. His soprano on Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" and Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring" was especially lucid. Frank Foster's "Simone," in a brisk 3/4 tempo, brought forth Simmons' most inspired statement, even if the out-of-tune piano did him a disservice.
It was the fast-swinging blues "Tenor Madness" that stretched the music to its limit. Roker thrashed at the kit as he traded solo choruses with Simmons and Ford. "I'm too old to play that hard!" he exclaimed afterward. Evidently not.