Earlier this month I had the fantastic opportunity to hear the Atlanta Bone Squad at Alpharetta’s innovative performance venue, the Velvet Note. The vision of eminent jazz trombonist and educator Wes Funderburk, the ensemble of five trombones and rhythm section comprised Tom Gibson, Lee Watts, Richard Sherrington, Decker Babcock, Justin Varnes, Trey Wright and Chris Riggenbach.
The Velvet Note markets itself as an “acoustic living room,” where the goal is to make patrons feel as if musicians casually appear in one’s own living room and perform. A somewhat small venue in terms of square footage, the Velvet Note is not small in terms of star power, with a recent performance by the legendary Wycliffe Gordon. Upholstered sofas and chairs over thick carpet and dim lighting set the mood for fine beverages and dining, served with plastic plates and forks in order to avoid the “clinks” of silverware interfering with the music.
Funderburk’s musical innovation was greeted with great acclaim by the audience of jazz enthusiasts abroad on this Friday evening. A variety of literature ranging from classic standards of the 1950s to originals by Funderburk offered ample opportunity for jokes and light conversation by the group. One original chart, the “14th Street Blues,” allowed Funderburk to discuss his variation of the 12-bar blues to a 14-bar form in the spirit of the downtown Atlanta landmark. A ballad by Funderburk, dedicated to his late friend Adam, was presented solo with rhythm section and brought an incredible reverent silence to the room. Simply stunning solo playing was demonstrated by each “Bone Squad” player, including Decker Babcock, a rising student of Funderburk. Babcock held his own amongst seasoned professionals, including Bumpin’ the Mango trombonist Tom Gibson.
Justin Varnes (drums) serves as Artistic Director of the Velvet Note, and Atlanta music fans have him to thank for bringing immense talents to the venue. We are likely to hear more of Funderburk’s Atlanta Bone Squad as conversations after the last set alluded.
Be sure to visit the Velvet Note to support live music in the Atlanta community!