He blew his horn, blew out the candles and blew away a full house at the Dakota Jazz Club Sunday evening with his buoyant spirit, easy humor and enduring musicality. Irv Williams sure knows how to celebrate a birthday.
It was No. 96 for Mr. Smooth, the pride of the Twin Cities who plays most Fridays at the Dakota during happy hour.
On Sunday, he still had that smooth, full sound on saxophone, playing standards with guitarist Steve Blons and bassist Steve Bickell.
During the first of two 45-minute sets, Williams showed a tendency to end each piece with a playful little twist by blowing an odd extra note after the song was done.
At the end of the set, Williams said he was running low on energy and needed to go outside and get some fresh air. Instead, he spent the entire intermission sitting onstage receiving birthday cards and greetings from bar-goers, all captured by KARE 11 cameras for a Boyd Huppert report.
At the start of the second set, Dakota co-owner Lowell Pickett presented Williams with a cake (above). It took more than one blow to snuff out all the candles, even though there weren’t quite 96 of them.
Pickett called the saxophonist “an absolute treasure.” Every performance, Pickett continued, “is a gift to us.”
Then the club owner told the story of how about 20 years ago at a gig, Williams was asked to play “Satin Doll.” The saxophonist said that night, “I must have played that 300, 400, 500, 1,000 times. Man, I hate that song. You asked for it, I’ll play it.” Williams repeated that last line three or four more times. He played “Satin Doll” and there were no more requests that night.
The songs in Williams’ second set Sunday were almost all requests: “Time after Time,” “Body ‘n’ Soul,” “Embraceable You,” “Stardust,” “Girl from Ipanema,” “My Funny Valentine” and “St. James Infirmary,” on which the saxophonist sang a verse and then ended up scatting because “I don’t know the words” and finally singing in a French-sounding gibberish.
Afterward, he said: “You didn’t know I could sing, did you? You still don’t know it.”
Williams played his own “Ditto’s Waltz,” inspired by his dog who would spin around whenever the owner brought out his saxophone.
After a sweet and hopeful “Someone to Watch over Me,” the saxophonist smiled: “I’m just about done. We’ve played all your requests and I blew my lungs out. Playing for you is what I was born for. I’m going to do it as long as the Lord doesn’t cut me off.”
Williams still had enough lung power for an extended version of “Summer Wind.” Then he announced, “I’ll be around for my 100th. It’s not long. Five years.”
OK, we’ll cut the birthday boy some slack when it comes to math.