The holidays are the best of times and the worst of times for hearing music in New York City. Hosting friends and family, or being a guest on a visit, is great, until it pales. That’s when we look for entertainment options, and going out for jazz seems like the most sociable, something-for-everybody activity.
The main stages typically book artists who will please casual as well as hard-core audiences. This year these big draws are two. Maria Schneider, whose orchestra has its annual residency at the Jazz Standard, and multifarious pianist Chick Corea, who’s been celebrating his 70th birthday at the Blue Note since mid November. Of course, as I write this both shows for Wednesday, Nov. 23 are sold out.
Schneider conducts and writes for the most orchestrally-oriented of large jazz ensembles. Without having released a new record since Sky Blue in 2007, she’s overdue. Yet she has not stopped composing, on November 14 premiered her classically contextualized “Winter Morning Walks” with soprano Dawn Upshaw and the Australian Chamber Orchestra at the Ojai Festival in California, and before that was on tour of Europe. Her music does offer nearly something-for-everyone: structure and depth, vivid solos, powerful drumming supporting a huge sound. She doesn’t go for funk, and her themes can seem elusive, but the Jazz Standard is a place adults of all ages can go, assured they’ll hear something extraordinary, Tuesday the 22 through Sunday the 27. It’s closed on Thursday so no barbequed turkey that night or Schneider Orchestra, either.
Corea settled into the Blue Note on November 14 and has been rotating some of his favorite groupings through the venue every few days. His night-before-Thanksgiving gig in duo with pianist Herbie Hancock has a potential for greatness: both of these men are masters of the keyboard, after all, with a significant shared past.
Both played with Miles Davis, sequentially and simultaneously on his warmest experimental record, In A Silent Way. In 1978 they recorded expansive duets for an album called An Evening With . . . Each of them, on their own, has exemplified solo lyricism, explored the tensions of trios (hear especially Chick’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs), run larger bands and amped up their efforts. Together they tend to rhapsodic balladry, rich harmonies and nuanced dynamics. Any competitive impulses are muted to be playful rather than edgy.
The downside of this pairing is it’s one-night-only, and on Friday Corea ends his stand by featuring his Original Elektric Band, a very pro fusion-oriented outfit that’s never been my cup of tea, for three nights. Upsides are on Thanksgiving itself seductive Russian-born, Israeli-raised, Toronto-based singer Sophie Millman performs, on the next Monday soul singer-songwriter Leon Ware makes a rare NYC appearance, and then guitarist John Scofield, currently in a sensitive standards mode, brings his quartet.
Alternatives to Schneider and Corea abound, of course, which is why we love New York! This city loves piano players, and over the course of the holiday week encyclopedically capable Ethan Iverson plays in trio with drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, pianist-of-ineffable-prettiness Frank Kimbrough is in tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger‘s quartet, back to back at Smalls, the Village basement joint. Cuban-born pianist Manuel Valera has several nights at the upscale Bar on 5th (between 36th and 37th streets). Gerald Clayton, 26 years old, dread-locked and lauded for “making standards new again,” has his trio at the Village Vanguard.
On Friday the bebop professor Barry Harris‘s trio is at The Kitano hotel’s jazz club, while boppish and bluesy Junior Mance holds forth in duet at the Knickerbocker (full menu and well-stocked bar) and Greg Lewis has his organ trio, which transforms Thelonious Monk’s repertoire, at Night of the Cookers (on Fulton Street in central Brooklyn).
Saturday night Sonelious Smith‘s trio is at Cleopatra’s Needle, the Upper West Side neighborhood hangout; David Hazeltine leads his quartet at Smoke, further uptown, and on Sunday I recommend Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, at Birdland in midtown.
That’s much of the best – not all, but some – for the Days of Overstuffing. Afterwards, if your company has left or you’ve gotten home yourself, there’s cause to sigh with relief and reason to say (as we so rarely do), “Thank God it’s Monday.”