In the annals of jazz, John Coltrane remains one of the most influential alto saxophonists and composers in the world. His innovative sound, from ballads to soul-searching avant-garde spirituals, will always be an inspirational source for listeners and aspiring students.
In honor of his great contribution, the inaugural John Coltrane Jazz Festival will be held on September 24th from 1pm to 7pm at Marcus Garvey Park (124th Street & 5th Avenue). The FREE all-day jazz event is part of State Senator Cordell Cleare’s celebration of “First Jazz Appreciation Day”. It is also the day after Coltrane’s birthday (September 23, 1926).
The parade of incredible saxophonists includes Bill Saxton, TK Blue, Patience Higgins, Alvin Flythe, Todd Herbert, Sweet Lee Odom and John S. Mannan. They are joined by various rhythm sections to play the music of John Coltrane from his days with Miles Davis’ “First Great Quintet”, his recordings with Thelonious Monk and his own innovative recordings with Atlantic and Impulse! Records.
Recognized for his work with Coltrane, Reggie Workman, NEA Jazz Master bassist, composer and educator, will open the all-day festival (Art Davis) on the album “Ole (Atlantic Records 1961). Joining Workman are baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall, pianist Yayoy Ikawa, guitarist Omri Diora Bar, drummer Darrell Smith and vocalist Chi Westfelt. “I go through all of Coltrane’s music and pick some special pieces that we played together,” Workman said.
Other members of the cast include tap dancer Omar Edwards, Sister Zoc, Akako, singer Lori Hartman and Sweet Lee Odom.
The motto “Jazz Appreciation Day” is part of New York State Senator Cordell Cleare’s efforts to “promote and sustain the beginnings of a positive new cultural renaissance in Harlem that promotes community dignity and distinction.”
The blues lives and screams at the 12th Big Eyed Blues Festival September 22nd, 24th and 25th with performances at various venues in Brooklyn. The Blues Festival was conceived by blues singer Beareather Reddy to showcase talented blues singers.
Her passion for keeping the blues (black music) alive inspired her to found the non-profit organization Brooklyn Blues Society. “In a way, I feel like my goal is to open the door for some and help others see again that blues music is an integral part of their rich heritage,” Reddy said.
On September 24, the Command Performance will be held at the Brooklyn Commons (495 Flatbush Ave. Brooklyn) from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Artists featured include singer/guitarist and emcee Michael Hill, singer/songwriter and guitarist Clarence Spady, Bearather & The Brown Liquor Sounds, Antoinette Montague Experience, who sings blues, jazz, soul and in-between for all seasons, and Brooklyn’s own soul/blues singer, The Alexis P. Suter Band, will end the evening.
For more information please contact: Brooklyn Blues Society 929-271-2259 or visit brooklynbluessociety.org.
The Jazz Legacy of San Juan Hill will be held September 22nd at the David Rubenstein Atrium (61 W. 62nd St.) at 7:30pm “Sounds of San Juan Hill” ventures back to the dance halls and jazz clubs of late 19th century and early San Juan Hill 1900s with host Loren Schoenberg (saxophonist and senior scholar at the National Jazz Museum) and special guest.
San Juan Hill was home and neighborhood for the creative minds of many artists. James P. Johnson, Benny Carter and Thelonious Monk (where he was attended by Randy Weston, John Coltrane and Bud Powell) are just three of the legendary artists who lived and played there and it was where the Amsterdam News was founded in 1909 by James Anderson. He produced the newspaper at his home at 65th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, hence the name Amsterdam News.
On September 28th, the San Juan Hill series will continue, at the same time, in the same FREE room. Chilean-born, NYC-based visual artist María Verónica San Martín captures the spirit of displacement and memory in her collages.
September 29 is San Juan Hill Day: Connecting at the Seams. Once home to the largest black community in New York City and later a significant Puerto Rican population, San Juan Hill was demolished between the 1940s and 1950s as part of the “urban regeneration plan” now referred to as gentrification that created the Lincoln Center campus and others important developments. While many families were displaced to other neighborhoods in New York City and beyond, a significant number of residents moved to the nearby Amsterdam Houses.
New York City officials destroyed Seneca Village, a thriving community that was home to wealthy black landowners. This community was demolished to build Central Park like the Lincoln Center complex building at the expense of blacks and people of color who were driven from their homes. These two main constructions form a pattern of demolition and expulsion of colored people. Just one point to remember throughout this whole celebration.
This multi-part observation of the heirs to San Juan Hill’s history will bring the elderly residents of Amsterdam Houses into the atrium to publicly tell creative oral histories in collaboration with Sydnie L. Mosley Dances.
For a complete listing of the San Juan Hill Series, visit the website: lincolncenter.org
Smoke Jazz and Supper Club (2751 Broadway between 105th & 106th Streets), the only jazz club on the Upper West Side, recently celebrated the grand opening of its newly renovated expansion since opening in 1994. The club, with two adjacent storefronts, is obviously more spacious, but it gave it make never worry about being overcrowded at Smoke. Though many regulars will miss lingering in the little back corner behind the bar, a little squashed but happy to be standing next to co-owner Paul Stache, who often acted as the club’s sound man. Well, forget that corner – the long mahogany bar is now in the outer lobby, to the right as you enter. Customers can no longer enjoy the show from the bar as a beautiful velvet curtain (burgundy/red) separates the main room from the entrance and the bar.
Stache says he’s looking for a chef, but has now taken on the chef’s duties, which he did when the club opened in 1994. He looks handsome in his chef outfit and hey, his salmon is smoking! On the evening of my visit, the Eddie Henderson Quintet was full, with alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, pianist George Cable, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Lenny White. This is an all-star band no matter how you slice it, with swinging tunes by Lee Morgan, saxophonist Joe Henderson, and original compositions by Henderson.
September 29-Oct. 2, Smoke welcomes Elio Villafranca and the Jazz Syncopators, two shows each night with three shows on Friday and Saturday at 7pm, 9pm and 10:30pm. Pianist Villafranca brings his Cuban rhythmic roots to the stage, infused with Caribbean sounds and straight-forward jazz. His ensemble includes alto saxophonist, soprano and flute Steve Wilson, alto/tenor and flute Vincent Herring, trumpeter Steve Norris, bassist Edward Perez, drummer Dion Parson and percussionist Mauricio Herrera.
For reservations, visit smokejazz.com or call 212-864-6662.
During the pandemic, The Jazz Gallery, the tiny little jazz club with the big sound where creativity thrives, has taken the time to renovate and expand its space. What they are presenting now is a much larger area, a modern lounge with comfortable seating and a small bar (wine and soft drinks only), all completely separate from the events area. There is also a VIP room and, most importantly, a spacious area for musicians to relax, change or just practice a few notes. Located at 1156 Broadway, the club has a new entrance on 27th Street on the 5th floor; It’s one of those elusive NYC institutions with no signage as the building is listed and not allowed inside.
My recent visits to the Jazz Gallery demonstrated their total dedication to the music and their introduction to the sounds of jazz not seen in the average jazz club. Cornetist Graham Haynes with percussionist Adam Rudolph hiring the electronics and Graham playing a bass version of the kora (African instrument). The duo pushed the boundaries of jazz realism music that awakened and inspired.
Bassist and composer Dezron Douglas presented his long-awaited TJG Fellowship Commission entitled “Not Too Suite”. Hopefully it will be recorded for the world to hear. “The title is a play on words. I used that title because as a composer this is my first suite, as a black person I grew up in a culture that put way too much sugar in their coffee, and the obvious…coffee!” Well, in a pun, the band was hot, it steamed, they used no cream, only organic ingredients, serious instrumentation, swinging jazz in and out in all dimensions with award-winning drummer Jonathan Blake, pianist Glenn Zaleski and vocalist Sachal Vasandani. Douglas moved in and out, his basslines walking and talking with rhythmic liberation, the reason Jackie McLean mentored and kept him as his bassist. Like his mentor, he brings young musicians like his trumpeter Akili Bradley to the stage alongside saxophonist Chris Lewis, two young musicians to keep in touch with – they are on the way to becoming jazz staples.