Jazz in NYC and vicinity early in Jazz Appreciation Month: Since Monday, April 1 I’ve —
- heard the all-star Monterey Jazz Fest on Tour band at the Blue Note Jazz Club, and
- singer Imani Uzuri w/band there, too;
- learned about the James Moody Democracy in Jazz Festival (sponsored by TD Bank) at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC, Newark), and NJPAC’s upcoming jazz season;
- joined representatives of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan
- had lunch with pianist Edsel Gomez and Alex Webb, chair of judges of the UK’s first Jazz FM Awards and the writer of a musical about Café Society which he hopes is coming to a theater off-Broadway next year.
The musical highlight was beyond doubt Dee Dee Bridgewater tearing it up with bassist Christian McBride, pianist Benny Green, drummer Lewis Nash, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and tenor saxist
Chris Potter — that’s the Monterey Jazz Fest on Tour — starting with Louis Jordan’s classic “Let the Good Times Roll” and ending with Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty.” Before Ms. Bridgewater got onstage, the rhythm section was fine all on its own — Benny Green is a swift, dazzling two-fisted pianist who imbues songs such as “Taking a Chance on Love” with more varieties of mood than most mortals can imagine.
Bridgewater is a powerhouse, and a veteran — she slowed down for a touching version of “A Child is Born,” the lovely ballad written by Thad Jones, who was her mentor when she first entered the local scene via the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra in the early ’70s.
Imani Uzuri, who filled the Blue Note for the first set Monday night, is by comparison a beginner. She sang material from Gypsy Diaries, her second self-produced CD, with the game support japanese shinobue flutist Kaoru Watanabe, sitarist Neel Murgai, cellist Marika Hughes, “world percussionist” Todd Isler and her co-producer Christian Ver Halen on acoustic guitar. She’s got a great voice but could profitably expand into more challenging material.
In Newark, NJPAC presents outstanding jazz in a hall that rivals Carnegie for beauty and acoustics. The programming of the second Moody Festival, a seven-day event starting next November 4 with a concert by tenor saxophone wiseman Jimmy Heath at Bethany Baptist Church is impressive, including a celebration “in words and music” of the 50th anniversary of Newark author Amiri Baraka’s important book, Blues People on at the Newark Museum on November 5.
NJPAC’s season from next fall through spring 2014 is promising — curated by bassist McBride (he’s everywhere, and deservedly so: great sound, fantastic facility, hearty spirit), brilliant pianist Bill Charlap (who performed a brief medley of Ellington, Gershwin and Richard Rodgers songs — they are the composers of focus in the concerts he’s put together), Dorthaan Kirk (Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s widow, a JJA “A Team” award winner and NJ jazz community icon, long affiliated with WBGO which partners on the series with NJPAC) and Larry Rosen, co-founder of GRP Records and more recently producer of the Jazz Roots traveling concert series. The complete schedule is described in a press release here. But the big fun at that event was hearing a combo of teenagers, including 9th graders on alto sax and piano, play a rousing short set that included Moody’s “Last Train to Overbrook.” These were students of an obviously outstanding northern NJ program called Jazz House Kids, established by Melissa Walker (who has just been named a “Jazz Hero” by the Jazz Journalists Association) and in this case coached by saxophonist Don Braden and guitarist Ron Jackson. Those are terrific jazz adults, but these kids obviously had talent and were deep into swinging hard-bop, conjuring grown-up solos.
The Central Brooklyn bunch (with a couple of Manhattanites for seasoning) was quite hardy, standing in a chilly, stiff wind while members spoke about the importance of jazz in their lives — mostly for the
benefit of several photographers in attendance, since the area in front of the City Hall steps was blocked off to the general public by police, who subjected everyone allowed to enter to metal detector searches. They also forbade instruments, though Jenny Hill held her soprano sax protectively in her arms, and Jeff King pulled out his tenor to blow one chorus of Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness.” Others present: bassist Larry Ridley, drummer Newman Taylor Baker, CBJC media man Bob Myers. Which shows what a determined bunch (we) Brooklynites are.
It was a delight to have a burger and brew with Alex Webb, a multi-talented gent (author songwriter, ex-journalist, broadcaster, university lecturer in music and events management), just passing through New York and wowed by the edge of the jazz he’s been hearing at Smoke and Dizzy’s Club — and to spend some time with Edsel Gomez, one of whose gigs is musical director for (full circle) Dee Dee Bridgewater. We simultaneously lamented and celebrated the states of the worlds of jazz, journalism, contemporary music more broadly and scholarship. Among the pleasantries was Edsel’s interest in my “World Music” class at NYU; he promised to come on Monday to audit, and when I pressed him agreed to show some things on the rickety piano, which will certainly inform as well as delight my students.
The month has just begun.