July 2008 Archives
It's almost time for the Deer Isle Jazz Festival in Stonington, Maine. For eight years, I've helped bring great jazz to this tiny Down East Maine island. In that time, both the fest and I have grown. This year's event is a New Orleans blowout (more on that in my next post). Here's a recent piece I wrote for Jazziz, about my experiences as volunteer producer.
by Larry Blumenfeld
"Condoms. Tampons. Excess hair. SMALL AN-I-MALS!"
So sang the dozen folks forming a circle within a tiny cabin last July, holding that last syllable until Arturo O'Farrill dropped his right hand with a conductor's authority. I'd just made the nine-hour drive from Brooklyn, New York, to Deer Isle, Maine, but my bleary eyes found strength to widen. I laughed.
I'd walked in on a rehearsal for Haystack, The Opera: An Afro-Cuban Jazz Odyssey -- and it was no joke. O'Farrill's wife, Alison, sat at a keyboard, his eldest son, Zack, before a set of conga drums. His youngest, Adam, held a trumpet, awaiting his cue. Soon various rhythm instruments -- hand drums, cowbells, guiros, clavés -- were handed out.
Before long, O'Farrill had these painters and potters and sculptors, all of whom had come to the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts for a summer session, creating four layers of rhythm and sounding pretty damn in-sync.
O'Farrill had come to Maine to headline at the annual Deer Isle Jazz Festival, for which I've been volunteer producer since its inception, in 2001. Each summer, one festival musician serves as artist-in-residence at the Haystack School. O'Farrill, a celebrated pianist and bandleader, the son of a legendary Cuban composer, met this challenge by bringing his whole family and creating an opera, with lyrics drawn from Haystack Director Stuart Kestenbaum's work -- not his celebrated poetry, but his school manual, the part about "what not to flush down the toilet."
It was June, and I'd just moved back to New York for at least a very long stretch. The sting of missing New Orleans was lessened a bit by the arrival of Kidd Jordan: He got a hero's welcome at this year's Vision Festival, which kicked off a fest-filled June in Manhattan.
Here's my Village Voice piece on Kidd, and all the rest of that jazz:
Recapping 2008's Vision and JVC Jazz Festivals
Charles Lloyd, Kidd Jordan, Herbie Hancock and more
By Larry Blumenfeld
Kidd Jordan felt something stir deep down inside. He just had to let it out. That's the way the tenor saxophonist explained it during a Vision Festival pre-concert discussion when poet Kalamu ya Salaam asked, "Why don't you just play more popular music and make more money?"
In New Orleans, where he's lived most of his life, Jordan once played all sorts of commercially viable stuff: seminal 1950s r&b alongside Art and Aaron Neville in the Hawkettes, Broadway scores for touring productions, session work and gigs with everyone from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder. But he found his sound elsewhere. It's been some 50 years since a friend played him Ornette Coleman's Something Else!!!!, and Jordan has felt emboldened to follow his singular, utterly unfettered path ever since. He's informed by but never derivative of Coleman's free jazz, enamored of his instrument's altissimo overtone range, and still as soulful as when he played r&b. Yet Jordan is revered in his hometown mostly as an educator, in summer camps for kids and as founding director of the Heritage Music School at Southern University. His music isn't heard much there; at this year's Jazz & Heritage Festival, Jordan didn't even perform.
In June, at the 13th annual Vision Festival, this country's
premier gathering of avant-garde musicians, Jordan got a true hero's welcome: a
full night in his honor, billed as a lifetime-achievement celebration, centered
on his music.