Rhythm Regatta

Isaac Hayes performs in the hallowed halls of Powell as part of the Blues, Roots, Honks and Moans Festival

After years of composing and producing, Hayes finally got his chance to record as a leader, and albums like Hot Buttered Soul, The Isaac Hayes Movement and the soundtrack to the film Shaft featured Hayes' deep, distinctive vocal raps over long, loose arrangements that often extended to 15 minutes or more.

"In a way, my approach on those records combined influences of jazz in the arrangements and gospel influences in the vocals," says Hayes. "Speaking of the word 'moans,' there was one song I did where literally all I did was moan. I remember a lot of elderly people in church, when they were singing, and they didn't know the words, they would sort of moan. And they'd say, 'If you moan, the devil won't know what you're talking about.'

So how did Hayes, with his busy schedule as a morning drive-time DJ and his work as the voice of Chef on South Park, end up on a roster with jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut at Powell Hall?

"I was at the Blue Note in New York for a celebration of Dizzy Gillespie's birthday," he recalls, "and I really fell in love with Cyrus' piano playing. I ended up coming up onstage and singing "My Funny Valentine" with his group, and we both agreed we should do something together. This opportunity in St. Louis came up sooner than we thought, and I'm really excited about it. It's great to get a chance to get back to my first love -- singing jazz. It's a long time since I've had the opportunity to do that."

Hayes will only appear at Saturday's finale of Blues, Roots, Honks and Moans at Powell Hall. But the event kicks off Thursday with a free 7 p.m. gospel-choir workshop at Powell Hall featuring Twinkie Clark and the In Unison Chorus. Later, at 9 p.m., the Young Jazz Messengers -- a group of talented St. Louis high-school and college musicians -- will serve as the house band for a jam session at the Backstage Bistro. For a $10 cover, you can hear members of the Christian McBride Quartet, including exceptional sax player Tim Warfield, sitting in with the Young Jazz Messengers.

Friday, the educational component of the event continues with three presentations for high-school students. The 9:30 and 11 a.m. events are billed as "What Is Jazz?" and feature Robert Sadin -- the New York director of Blues, Roots, Honks and Moans, talking about the basics of jazz while McBride and his group demonstrate instrumental sounds and techniques. A 12:30 p.m. "Big Band Bash" will highlight Sadin, McBride and Chestnut working with eight local high- school bands from Missouri and Illinois. That evening, the Sheldon Concert Hall will feature a double bill of Cyrus Chestnut on solo piano and the Diane Reeves Trio in a benefit concert for the Symphony's Summer Jazz Institute and the Jazz at the Bistro series.

And on Saturday, a grand-finale concert at Powell Hall will feature an opening set by McBride and his group, followed by Chestnut and his band. Isaac Hayes will then perform with Chestnut. After a set by Twinkie Clark, the In Unison Chorus will appear, accompanied by McBride, Chestnut, Clark -- and perhaps Hayes as well.

"Cyrus Chestnut is a key, because his jazz playing has very strong gospel roots," the symphony's Gene Bradford explains. "He's even released a recording of spirituals. I think every generation of jazz musicians has its bass player, and Christian McBride is this generation's answer to Paul Chambers or Ron Carter. And he has a wide musical spectrum, playing both double bass and electric, and including R&B influences as well. Twinkie Clark is a contemporary gospel artist who still has a grasp of traditional gospel. And I see Isaac Hayes as a musical legend who's a great headliner for the event -- and who has all those influences in his music as well."

Whatever Hayes adds to the festival's finale at Powell Hall, you can be sure it will be spontaneous -- and will transcend the usual musical boundaries.

"Spontaneity has always been part of my creative psyche," says Hayes. "And that's the great thing about music like jazz -- or any music that comes from the heart. So when I'm onstage with Cyrus, we're going to keep it fresh, keep it spontaneous -- just like David Porter and I did when we'd go into a room right before a Sam and Dave recording session and write the songs.

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