Ponomarev was a member of drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers for four years (1977-1981) and often referred to his prominent association with Blakey. To this day, people find it hard to believe a Russian played in that band," he told the audience.
The evening featured several tunes heavily associated with Blakey's bop-centric band, including two by ex-Jazz Messenger Benny Golson: Along Came Betty" and Blues March." The band also took a lengthy exploration through Cole Porter's Love For Sale" that took up nearly a third of the first set.
Ponomarev shared the spotlight all evening with his band mates, Gillespie on alto and tenor saxophones (and vocals), Judi Glover on piano, John Lamb on bass and Ian Goodman on drums.
Gillespie had two vocal features, My Funny Valentine" and Lush Life." She dedicated "My Funny Valentine" to area concert producer Rick Gee, who booked the Ponomarev gig but died unexpectedly on March 1. Ex-Ellington bassist Lamb opened the number with a poignant bass solo.
The way they clicked, it was hard to fathom that Ponomarev had never met the other players until that afternoon. What an incredible bunch of musicians," he said. Repeatedly. All night long.