Summer Music, by George Grella
The good news is, it feels like summer, which isn’t just a box on the calendar but quite an experience here in New York City. It can seem like a struggle, the heat and humidity and the metro wait in a stuffy station. But after the unease, the terror, the anger, the frustration, the indignant energy of last summer – because Black Lives Matter and if you love jazz they always counted – all bottled up in the inevitable expectation that something thing shatters – elections, vaccine trials – waiting is just another sign of normalcy. And normalcy is something we hoped to embrace, not just endure.
Summer is a great time for jazz. “Summertime” is the anthem, but I still hear “Easy Living” as a summer song, every summer, not just the chewing gum prepared by payola chewed and spat out by all the old fraternity and sorority engagements piled up in Murray Hill: “Live for you / It’s easy to live when you’re in love / And I’m so in love / There is nothing in life except you” (Leo Robin & Ralph Rainger). maybe listened to “Idle Moments” by guitarist Grant Green, from his album Blue Note of the same title, with tenor Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson on vibrations, Duke Pearson on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and drummer Al Harewood, more than any single track (at least up there with everything from Elvis Costello Be happy ! I), and when it’s hot, I put it on all the time. The elegant and languid tempo, the relaxed but consistent atmosphere, always reminds me of the sound of a nap in the middle of the afternoon, of a spin before dinner. It’s cool and hot at the same time, and it’s jazz.
Summer is all about outdoor music, and that always means jazz musicians in parks, on the Jazzmobile, on festival stages. There are the formal setups in the shells, and part of the normalcy is that there seems to be a lot of music going on in public places again this summer. But go to Central Park and especially Washington Square Park, and you’re going to meet dozens of great musicians who live in this city. It bears repeating that the talent pool here is bigger than anywhere else in the world in terms of jazz, and the kind of dedication and need to play that motivates someone to become a jazz musician means that virtually no any afternoon you’re going to have the kind of random experiences I’ve had in Washington Square recently: the funky Flow Mingos quartet, the Eyal Vilner big band dancing on the west side of the park, and a regular assortment of trios and quartets playing high level hard bop and modern jazz.
It is the fabric of public life in New York City, and jazz has been an important part of that fabric for 100 years. I’ve never done a formal survey, but when I meet bands playing music in public, 80% of the time it’s a jazz combo. It’s the noise of the city, it’s the noise of summer. The people will come out, and the musicians too.
In a more formal sense, the news is excellent. At the end of May, we know that Celebrate Brooklyn will be producing live music at the Prospect Park Bandshell, and Summerstages will be returning to Central Park and other locations around the city. There aren’t any details on the schedule for Celebrate Brooklyn yet, and plenty of dates open for Summerstage, but for the latter you can already purchase tickets for George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic (June 27) and Galactic (11 July), and the end of summer Charlie Parker The jazz festival is already preparing, with August 28 and 29 staked at Marcus Garvey Park. As will likely be the norm across New York City, at least until the fall, ticket holders will be required to show a recent negative COVID-19 PCR test, or full proof of vaccination. Get your photos and your Excelsior passes, folks.
The Vision Festival (artsforart.org) will also be returning for its 25th season, and this year it will combine indoor in-person performances at Pioneer Works, outdoor in-person performances at The Clemente, and remote / virtual events. The festival will run July 22-31 and there has clearly been a lot of planning, as the details are so many and exciting. There will be performances from the veteran core at the Vision Fest / Arts for Art community center, including the great and venerable William Parker, Dave Sewelson, Matthew Shipp and Cooper-Moore, and exciting young musicians like Ava Mendoza and Luke Stewart. ) (masks will be required at Pioneer Works and headquarters will be socially distanced).
The festival always honors a singular figure on the stage, and this year it is Amina Claudine Myers. Myers deserves more than this recognition for her decades of keyboard work – she is a wonderful organist and will play the Hammond B3 with bassist Jerome Harris and drummer Reggie Nicholson – and audiences will be in for a real treat of her vocal quartet’s scheduled performance. Generation IV. With this group, Myers weaves jazz with old gospel roots. This is something, the pre-jazz music that went into the development of jazz, it’s easy to read but almost impossible to hear, mainly because most of the music predates the era of sound recordings. . The concept learned from Myers is a beautiful revitalization of historical memory, the music is moving and deeply creative, and takes that lightly, delivering meaning under the guise of pleasure. It should be one of those performances that will be remembered for years to come.
Outside of the Clemente, the talent at the rendezvous is so exceptional that there will be no reason to find your way to Newport or Monterey later in the summer, even if you have the time and money. : there is a trio called ElectroFLUTTER with improvised singer Fay Victor, great flutist Nicole Mitchell and incredible bassist Jamaaladeem Tacuma; drummer Pheeroan akLaff conducts his Liberation Unit with pianist Adegoke Steve Colson and guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson; James Blood Ulmer’s ODYSSEY trio perform; so is the James Brandon Lewis Quartet, Oliver Lake Trio 3 plus a promised “special guest”, jaimie branch’s “fly or die”; John Zorn plays a solo set, the David Murray Octet Revival makes an appearance, Fred Moten reads his poetry accompanied by bassist Brandon Lopez and drummer Gerald Cleaver… that’s not even half of the total festival lineup. On paper, it doesn’t look like jazz is just going to make a comeback this summer, but that it’s going to explode. I suspected it was going to be like this, but the Vision Festival seems to exceed expectations by orders of magnitude.
If you’re like me and really can’t wait, try getting tickets to two outdoor and socially distanced June 17 sets from guitarist Wayne Krantz, hosted by Hometown BBQ on their Industry City site (https : // sites .google.com / view / waynekrantztriojune17). Krantz will perform in a trio with bassist Evan Marien and drummer Josh Dion. Krantz is a true guitar hero with a modest way of being a complex and funky player, not just a moan. He used to frequently maintain the fort at 55 Bar, one of the places we’ve lost due to the effects of the pandemic and our decadent economic system (on the bar’s Facebook page, Krantz’s concert on 19 July 2019 is the most recent listed). Cities need bars where you can go and listen to great jazz, rock and blues guitarists, not just on the jukebox, and while musical life seems to be on the decline this summer, that loss cannot be replaced. Take one for Krantz and pour one for 55.