|New York City Summer Festival Roundup
It always seems like more dinner than one can eat when the schedules
for New York City's summer jazz festivals are announced. This town
is a full-time jazz festival all year, and even the most avid fan
can't get to every promising set normally scheduled for the clubs
and concert halls. We have neither the energy, time nor money, and
must chose our fun carefully.
Sure, it is the New Yorker's nature to complain, even about surfeit.
On the bright side, there is jazz for everyone. When summer comes
there is certainly someone to hear you've never heard, someone you've
always wanted to hear again, someone you always like to hear, something
you'll pay for, something for free.
The Vision Festival starts the season, in late May. This is the gathering
of musical artists (including, besides musicians, dancers, painters
and poets) organized by musical artistsnamely, Patricia Nicholson,
dancer and choreographer who is married to bassist William Parker.
The festival is held at the Center at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral,
which sounds grand but is a simple community meeting hall that holds
about 800 people. The scene is a lot like a high school dance in the
gym, taken over by the slackers, nerds and craziesexcept that these are some of the most invidividualistic,
idealistic and iconoclastic performer-composer-improvisers on earth.
"Vision music or freedom music is not limited by any particular
tradition but may utilize any tradition", according to promotional
materials. But the festival follows from the 60s secular spiritualism
and peace politics of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane, among others,
based in the urban African-American perspective, embracing some European
My favorites among the 30 different groups (over four sets a night)
include (on May 25) the Sun Ra Arkestra celebrating reeds player Marshall
Allen's 80th birthday, and gritty guitarist James "Blood"
Ulmer with the driving rhythm section of Jamaladeen Tacuma, bass,
and Calvin Weston, drums; (on May 26the whole night looks good)
bassist Mark Dresser, unique windsplayer Ned Rothenberg, and Michiyo
Yagi playing koto and bass koto; the trio Equal Interest (with pianist
Myra Melford, reeds player Joseph Jarman and violinist Leroy Jenkins),
the Henry Grimes trio (he's the first choice bassist who dropped out
of sight for 30 years, returning to action after being discovered
in a Los Angeles room too small to keep an instrument), and Belgian
pianist Fred Van Hove with East German-born Johannes Bauer, trombone;
(May 27) scribe-guitarist Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar, and the Amiri/Amina
Baraka band Blue Ark; (May 28) tough New Orleans tenor saxophonist
Kidd Jordan with his hometown band; (May 29) bassist Reggie Workman's
nonet with two drummers and three singers, and master drummer Milford
Graves with William Parker and two saxophonists; (May 30) a panel
on "The Artist's Role in Waging Peace", percussionist Kahil
El'Zabar with baritone saxman Bluiett and violinist Billy Bang, and
the reunion, after 30 years, of the Revolutionary Ensemble (violinist
Jenkins, bassist Sirone and drummer Jerome Cooper).
On May 31, improvising conductor Butch Morris will sound-sculpt with
a 16-piece ensemble, in honor of his late brother, the bassist Wilbur
Morris, and the late German bassist Peter Kowald. Also that night,
German drummer Gunter "Baby" Sommer performs with bassist
Barre Philips and trombonist Connie Bauer, and bassists William Parker,
Sirone, Henry Grimes and Alan Silva get together with tenor saxophonist
Charles Gayle. Tickets cost $25 each night, or $140 for a seven day
pass. The complete schedule is posted at www.visionfestival.org and
advance tickets may be ordered from email@example.com.
Just two weeks later, the 12-day JVC Jazz Festival New York is launched
with a publicity party at the Mayor's official home, Gracie Mansion.
If the Vision Festival represents the underground, the JVC fest, produced
by veteran promoter George Wein, whose autobiography Myself Among
Others is one of the jazz books of the year, presents the broadest
vision of the jazz mainstream. It takes place mostly in the Danny
Kaye Playhouse, Carnegie Hall, and Merkin Concert Hall, but also the
Apollo Theatre, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Symphony Space. The
fest has free afternoon performances behind Manhattan's main library
in Bryant Park (don't miss the Marsalis Music matinee of guitarist
Doug Wamble and alto saxist Miguel Zenon). The Village Vanguard, Birdland,
and the Jazz Standard tie their shows to the fest. Ticket prices range
from $12 (to see drummer T.S. Monk's Sextet at the Studio Museum)
to $35 (for opening night's "Music of Leonard Bernstein and George
Gershwin", by pianist Bill Charlap's trio at Kaye) to $85 (for
singer k.d. lang with the Brooklyn Philharmonic at Carnegie Hallif
you call that jazz).
There are all-star tribute concerts celebrating the music of Nina
Simone (cast including Toni Morrison, Tracy Chapman, Vernon Reid,
Lizz Write, Odetta, etc.), Sarah Vaughan (starring Dianne Reeves),
Fats Waller, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins and Glenn Miller; the co-billing
of eternal avant-gardist Ornette Coleman and diva Abbey Lincoln; the
debut of the touring Herbie Hancock-Wayne Shorter-Dave Holland-Brian
Blade quartet; Joao Gilberto solo; Roy Haynes' Quartet; John Scofield's
trio, and Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. Longtime instrumental draws
Phil Woods, Buddy DeFranco, Clark Terry, Louie Bellson and Frank Wess
will appear. So will rocker Lou Reed, conguero Pancho Sanchez in a
Latin jazz jam session, and party-master George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic.
Pianist Uri Caine will do different repertoire with different guests
almost nightly for a week. Pianist Jason Moran plays a solo recital
and there is a Danish Jazz Day. Go to www.festivalproductions.net
to drool over the entire schedule.
On July 6, the Lincoln Center Festival, a multi-kulti and pan-arts
extravaganza, commences, but for all its splendors, there's not any
jazzor as a friend who works as one of the curators said, "Not
much for you, Howard. But there aren't many people like you."
How dare she? Why, her husband is like me, writing about jazz and
its kin. Closest thing here is a "free adaptation" of Aristophane's
comedy The Frogs by Burt Shevelove, Nathan Lane and Stephen
Sondheim, or maybe D.J. Spooky's take on D.W. Griffith's bigoted silent
film epic The Birth of a Nation, or perhaps Elvis Costello's
full-length orchestral work, Il Sogno, performed by the Brooklyn
Philharmonic. I kid you not.
Heythere will also be low-price jitterbug dancing to swing bands
in the Lincoln Center plaza. Free world music acts from Africa and
the Caribbean at Central Park's Summerstage. The free Charlie Parker
Jazz Festival in August in Tompkins Square Park, and free Jazzmobile
concerts in view of the Hudson River, at Grant's Tomb.
When we go out of town, it may be to the 50th Anniversary of what
promises to be the Newport Festival to top all Newport Festivals with
Dave Brubeck, Ornette, Dave Douglas, Herbie Hancock, the Heath Brothers,
Jackie McLean, Roswell Rudd, Geri Allen, Ravi Coltrane, Russell Malone,
and a few hundred others. Check this out at www.newportjazz50th.com.
More about it from me, later. I'll send, at least, a postcard.