New York, NY – January 17, 2018: Nicole Mitchell artist-in-residence presents Maroon Cloud during 2018 New York Winter Jazz Festival at Le Poisson Rouge (Photo: Lev Radin)
The cold winter winds whip through the canyons created by America’s greatest business center. Almost since the ball dropped on Times Square, temperatures well below freezing have chilled New Yorkers to their bones. What can make it all better? How about some hot jazz? 2018 Winter Jazzfest took place from Bleecker St to SOB’s on the corner of Varick and W. Houston. It was a neighborhood block party in a large neighborhood, featuring large sounds. Gildshire’s own Lev Radin was on the spot, shooting pictures of the festivities, and feeling the musical groove. Here is what went down.
When we think of the word “marathon” several images come to mind. Underfed runners throwing cups of water into their own faces is one. Leg cramps are another. A Winter Jazzfest marathon, though, is something totally different. It’s an all-you-can-eat musical smorgasbord, lasting two full days and nights. Impulse! recording artists Sullivan Fortner Trio started the party shortly after 6 pm, Friday the 12th of January. Between then and 2 am, Sunday morning the 14th of January, 109 jazz sets were played at 22 different venues. Now, that’s the kind of marathon we can get into!
The two-day marathon would have been festival enough in most towns, but New York’s 2018 Winter Jazzfest was just getting started. A capacity house greeted Ravi Coltrane as he presented Universal Consciousness: Melodic Meditations of Alice Coltrane, with Tongues In Trees. Mr. Coltrane is the son of John Coltrane and his musical roots were on full display. The folks who played with and around Ravi Coltrane are some of his closest friends. Together, they played the kind of music that people who are sympatico can truly achieve.
These troubled social times take voice here. Indeed, Jazz is inherently a music of social commentary and protest. On the 17th of January we experienced a true movement of contemporary jazz musicians expressing messages of justice, equality, and freedom. Ras Moshe Burnett moderated a lively discussion on the socially conceptual aspect of jazz performance. It was an inter-generational encounter, that featured Archie Shepp, Steve Colson, Nicole Mitchell, and Samora Pinderhughes. The get-together was an important touchstone for jazz-lovers in search of an emotional outlet for their thoughts and feelings in this climate.
The world of Jazz lost a bright and shining star last year. Jazz pianist and composer Geri Allen passed away June 27, 2017, another tragic victim of cancer. Her legacy includes over 20 albums of work produced over nearly three decades. Her proudest hour, though came in 2006. It was then that Allen was commissioned to compose “For the Healing of the Nations”, a Sacred Jazz Suite for Voices, written in tribute to the victims, survivors and their families of the September 11 attacks. The suite was by Howard University’s Afro-Blue Jazz Choir, under the direction of Connaitre Miller.
This year’s Winter Jazzfest paid tribute to the life and work of Geri Allen. With musical direction by Terri Lynne Carrington, over 20 artists played and sang Ms. Allen’s most-notable works. Participating performers included Angela Davis, Craig Taborn, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, along with Farah Jasmine Griffin, Jeff Tain Watts, and Maurice Chestnut. The aforementioned Ravi Coltrane participated as well. It was a gorgeous tribute, honoring a gorgeous woman who created gorgeous, not to mention powerful, music. The Geri Allen tribute concert was presented in association with Terri Lyne Carrington, Motema Music, and Ora Harris.
Some Jazz festivals close with a quiet whimper, its crowd spent from the activities of the occasion, but not so in the case of 2018 Winter Jazzfest! The curtain-closing act of this fest took place at 8 pm, Wednesday, Jan. 17. That’s when Bay Area-based art rockers Deerhoof teamed up with the legendary AACM trumpeter, composer Wadada Leo Smith for an unforgettable night of improvisation, exploration, and song. For those who may not remember, Wadada Leo Smith was a 2016 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Was it a festival worth attending, or just another set of songs? Ask those who attended, and the answer you’ll get is a variation on the theme of, “Hell, yeah,” played in the key of C Minor. Make plans now to attend the 2019 Winter JazzFest. It’s music at its core value.