Jazz Foundation knows how to party

To raise money for musicians’ health and welfare, how ’bout a jazz party? In three lofts with river views, a thousand attendees of every age, shape, style enjoyed food ‘n’ drink ‘n’ performances including Jimmy Heath playing “Gingerbread Boy,” Arturo O’Farrill‘s teen sons mastering Latin jazz, baritone saxist Hamiet Bluiett with Kahil El’Zabar on mbira. The Jazz Foundation of America kicked out the jams on Sunday night, and raked in donations.

I’ve mc’d at the JFA’s righteous annual benefits for several years now, watching the event grow even as has the need of artists nationwide (probably world-wide) for a safety net providing emergency medical care and occasional help with landlords, instrument repairs and employment opportunities. The financial goal for the five hour, three-ring circus Sunday, Oct. 18 was $150,000 — probably exceeded, as tickets cost $250 and there were noted funders in attendance, besides representatives from ASCAP, BMI, WBGO (which recorded Madeleine Peyroux‘s set), Englewood Hospital, Citigroup, the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers U., etc. The desired amount doesn’t seem very high, considering the amount of good the JFA does and the vast good vibes a festive night such as this one generates.

Being responsible for talking between sets in one room — dubbed “Iridium,” as Ron Sturm, the owner/operator of Iridium jazz club in midtown had lent substantial support — I pretty much stayed in it, hearing trumpeter Jimmy Owens jam with a band led by 13-year-old bassist Daryl Johns, then solo guitarist Stanley Jordan (who picks with the fingers of both his hands, a self-invented “piano” technique), then the Heath Brothers band. 
Jimmy, backed by his drummer-brother Tootie Heath, pianist Michael Weiss and bassist David Wong, performed his best-known composition (because it was featured on Miles Smiles ) with the exuberance befitting a tenor saxophonist turning 83 on October 25, then picked up his soprano for a haunting version of Thelonious Monk‘s “‘Round Midnight.” This was followed by O’Farrill, whose “Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra” was six-men strong, including his sons Adam (trumpet) and Zachary (drums), solo guitarist Jim Zucker (who mentioned that he practices during his daily commute on the Long Island Railroad — using earphones, of course), the good-timey Harlem Blues and Jazz Band — veterans, all — and Bluiett, who played some keening clarinet with resourceful El’Zabar on percussion (conga). In the other rooms, pianists Henry Butler, Eric Reed and Larry Willis (the latter with bassist Buster Williams), vocalist Gloria Lynne, Ms. Peyroux and Sweet Georgia Brown were among the attractions.
It was the sort of night that might only be possible in New York, due to the depth of both musical talent pool and well-heeled fan base. Looking out from the 13th floor of a Chelsea office building over sunset on the Hudson while a significant sub-set of New York’s jazz community ate, drank, schmoozed and networked while blues, trad jazz and jazz beyond jazz was being created live, silent auction treasures on display, waiters whisking trays hors d’ouevres around people holding plastic glasses of wine, water or vodka, one could imagine the great metropolis stretched out to the south thriving under sounds from on high. Pretty nice, pretty, pretty nice. Now if only the requisite monies were directed in such a way as to keep the creative people in this vibrant culture as secure as we all deserve to be. . . .

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