The immortal Charlie Parker — the dazzling alto saxophonist who helped raise jazz to an abstract art form and embodied “hip” as a person experienced, perceptive, hedonistic, aware of the contradictions — would have dug the 20th anniversary Charlie Parker Jazz Festival held in Marcus Garvey Park, Harlem, Manhattan, New York City yesterday. His old buddy Roy Haynes, now 87 (Bird died age 35 in 1955), wearing a sharp cut, creamy white satin (?) suit, tap-danced, jested and flirted with the audience, but best of all played trap drums deftly and dramatically in solo and accompaniment of his fervent young quartet.
Couples danced — for real, close and meaning it, with some of surviving original Lindy Hoppers undeterred by Haynes’ off-kilter yet always in-tempo drumalog. Listeners soaked up Haynes and his Fountain of Youth band – impassioned altoist Jaleel Shaw, imaginative pianist Martin Bejarano, flexible bassist David Wong — playing Monk (I think it was “Jackie-ing”), Metheny (“James”), “Autumn in New York,” a Bird melody, another ballad. . . Nothing rote. I’m lucky — get to hear them again Friday night at the Chicago Jazz Festival.
Though Haynes is originally from Roxbury in Boston, the pleasant bandshell at Marcus Garvey Park was full of his real hometown crowd: Lifelong jazz devotees, sophisticated urbanites, the majority African-Americans, and about 3/4s, I’d guess, ages 45 and up.
Not that we’re the last of the breed. Relative youngsters onstage included electric bassist Derrick Hodge with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and a tight, hard-syncopating drummer (sorry, missed his name — maybe Chris Daves?); underwhelming though loud drummer Jamire Williams, whose band Erimaj was vastly improved when pianist Jason Moran sat in on Fender Rhodes, offering a lesson to band pianist Kris Bowers, for a tune; and singer Rene Marie’s response give with the excellent, underplaying drummer Quentin Baxter.
As there are rising players in their 20s, there are jazz journalists of that age (I saw reporter/blogger Matt Kassel, writer/blogger/ethnomusicologist Alex Rodriguez, Gio Russonello of the D.C. website Capital Bop and Emilie Pons, as well as Jazz Times’ publisher Lee Mergener, Laurence Donohue-Greene of the New York City Jazz Record and Jo Ann Cheatham (publisher Pure Jazz Magazine, Brooklyn), and at least some of the presenters are young (Mehgan Stabile of Revive Music Group collaborated on this CP fest with the City Parks Foundation, which also produces Summerstage). So where are the Gen Next fans?
I’ll give Rene Marie high marks for insisting in “This For Joe” that she not be compared to “Ella or Sarah, magnolia’s don’t stay in this hair/That was then, this is now/I’m right here, they’re somewhere up there . . . ” but I take a couple away for her dis (in the same song? Not as recorded) of critics, asking what kind of preparation they’ve done, how many of us have been onstage — as if actually performing is the necessary background to understanding some expanse of the jazz world, then writing or broadcasting or photographing or videographing or all of that informed and well-disseminated news of new and older artists, trends in music and its changing landscape. Sadly, the CP fest audience jeered at the crits right along with Marie (whose received a lot of good reviews, deservedly), which made it slightly uncomfortable for me to go up to the mike thereafter and present Roy Haynes with his seventh Drummer of the Year Award from the Jazz Journalists Association, of which I’m president.
I didn’t take the the slingsshots too seriously and neither did anyone else. No tomatoes were thrown. Someone even asked for me business card, admitting to be a jazz blogger. “Yes, that counts!” I told him. Seemed like most everyone knew I was there to enjoy jazz in the moment, as Charlie Parker intended, and would put out the good word, my preferred sort of coverage.