Danielle Ponder takes control on the last day of the jazz festival
It took nine days, but on the final day of the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival, Danielle Ponder delivered the profound message that so many people had already taken to the streets over the past two days to speak for themselves.
“We won’t be checked,” the Rochester R&B singer announced from the stage at the start of her show at Parcel 5.
She was, of course, referring to Friday’s Supreme Court ruling — the fear that has been driving many people all week — that threatens to shut down a woman’s access to abortion.
“I am sovereign in my soul,” Ponder sang. “I am sovereign in my body.”
She dedicated her show “to black women across the country who will suffer the worst.”
“You will make the choice entirely for your own body.”
Ponder offered moving balm and hope to a wounded nation. And a late night theme for a festival that has been quiet for two years due to COVID.
With G Love & Special Sauce set to close out the night, the crowd continued to filter in throughout Ponder’s powerful set in the outdoor venue on this stunningly beautiful evening in Rochester.
She stopped to reflect on her early years here. Fifteen years ago, when she remembered singing for blueberry scones at Java’s on Gibbs Street.
Watch it now, listen to it now. Supported by a powerful band that echoes off the walls of nearby buildings, Ponder’s voice-laden siren of emotion, pain and violence carries the stories she has carried on not only in her own life, but also in as Rochester’s assistant public defender. .
Watch it now, listen to it now. Earlier this year, Ponder made his national television debut on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” performing his single “So Long.” This summer, her music was heard at NPR’s “World Café” and she opened for Leon Bridges. In August, Ponder joined Amos Lee’s national tour.
His new album will be released in August. It was the new music. It is a powerful voice that attracts attention. Slow-burning ballads reached meow levels.
And Ponder raised awareness in the community from the stage. At the start of the show, she promised nothing but new music. It was the only broken promise. Ponder slipped in a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” and as the show drew to a close, she amplified some passionate words for the new Clarissa Street history exhibit at RIT’s City Art Space, 280 E. Main St. An exhibit showcasing the history of the city’s historic black neighborhood.
And she championed Teen Empowerment Rochester, the nonprofit group that creates community betterment initiatives. Ponder noted that the Jazz Festival declined the opportunity to place a free advertisement in the festival program to publicize these programs; groups could buy advertising if they wanted to. So Ponder announced that she was using her Parcel 5 stage, with an audience of thousands by the time she got to this point on set, to get the word out, “I’m giving it to them this time.”
Next, a handful of youngsters in white t-shirts joined Ponder on stage for a catchy, concluding version of the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There.”
Nothing is guaranteed in life. But everything is in place for Ponder. She’s a star, she’s the conscience of her time, she’s long since stopped singing for blueberry scones.
Today’s jazz haiku
High on the sixth floor
apartment windows open
ponder the moment
Elling and the end of the world
Kurt Elling doesn’t care about any security barriers. On the closing night of the festival, he returned to Kilbourn Hall, where he has performed in the past, this time as the ‘Super Blue’ quartet with electric guitarist Charlie Hunter.
Elling’s first set was filled with scat chants, fast-talking hipster jive and wild gestures, as he stalked the band and danced across the stage.
He mixed vocals with lyric sections about a full tank of gas, a pack of cigarettes, and wearing sunglasses in the dark.
Jazz voice and beat poetry. Thoughts on the last day on Earth meaning “Maybe I won’t go to the gym today.” And the story of poor Willie, who ran out of his house, only to be run over by a runaway steamroller.
“The world,” growled Elling, “should end without Willie.”
The best of the party
You mean Danielle Ponder? Otherwise, here is a purely subjective and personal list of favorites. Not in order except for #1, by far the best show of the nine days. Your list will be completely different.
1. Ms. Lisa Fischer, Day 4, first set at the Temple Theatre. The former Rolling Stones backing vocalist delivered the stunning “wow” moment at the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. And not just this year. All. And I’ve seen all 19 of them.
Samara Joy, Day 6, first set at Max of Eastman Place. Certainly dynamic. And when she wasn’t relentlessly optimistic, Joy was defiant. She tapped into a smoky era of women in jazz as if she were the resurrection of Sarah Vaughan. Or Betty Carter; Joy did Carter’s “Tight” as a woman who’s had enough. “I don’t know where my man is. Where is he? Where is he?” Or how about, “I thought my man loved me, but he loved someone else.”
NY Chillharmonic, Day 2, first set at Glory House International. Some people left early, complaining it was too noisy. But as the crowd exited the venue at the end of the show, the overriding feeling seemed to be: Spectacular. As a couple of women—mature women who probably partied to vinyl copies of Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” when they were middle schoolers, I might add—called it amazing. And unlike anything they had ever heard.
Ranky Tanky, Day 2, first set at Kilbourn Hall. This group derives its culture from the Gullah culture of the Carolinas. Gospel and groats. And a sense of simple, traditional folk songs. “I’m gonna spread my joy,” they sang, “because it’s the only way.” Do we need that these days, or what?
Bill Frissel, Day 3, first set at the Temple Theatre. One hour of music, without interruption. Not a medley, but a collage of electric guitar potential. His trio was like going for a drive down the highway, each piece blending into the traffic of the next. Softly turn off an exit to explore a new neighborhood.
Big Sloth, Day 7, first set at the Montage Music Hall. Instrumentals guitar, bass and drums. Highway noise. Spy music. A soundtrack of intrigue in dented tour bus felts.
Joe Locke, Day 8, first set at the Temple Theatre. “Don’t give up on people,” the vibraphonist said. “People can be pretty cool sometimes.”
The people. It was exhilarating to see thousands of people gather for the free shows every night on Parcel 5. After two years of COVID uncertainty – and it’s certainly not over – Sheila E, Booker T, The New Power Generation brought us together.