This week I went to a couple of outdoor concerts offering up a some jazz.
MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT SWING AT DAMROSCH PARK
Each standing-room only concert of the series costs $17. This gets you on to the large dance floor. You have the option of showing up early to take a dance class. You don’t have to dance—you can hop on the dance floor, get close up to the stage and just enjoy the music.
Salvant sang mostly standards and was backed by the swing orchestra, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. Not known a couple of years ago, Salvant has been making a name for herself. The New York Times has done a couple of articles about her and, in April, Salvant won the Jazz Journalists Association award for “Up and Coming Artist of the Year.” I enjoyed her voice but thought her spark and energy were somewhat overwhelmed by the large outdoor space.
Someone who’s energy came through to the whole crowd was Norma Miller, a Lindy Hop dancer in the 1940’s. She came out on stage a couple of times to sing and dance and it was hard to believe she is 94-years old.
LUNCHTIME AT METROTECH
Today, I went to one of Metrotech’s Thursday lunch concerts. It’s part of a series of concerts put on by the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The series continues through Thursday, August 7
Today was New Orleans pianist Henry Butler and New York trumpeter Steven Bernstein with his Hot 9 ensemble. They were promoting a new album they have done together, “Viper’s Drag.” It was a wonderful concert with a variety of styles which included modern jazz, blues, traditional jazz and some New Orleans standards by Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and others. It was great hearing Butler on a piano (as opposed to keyboard or organ) and his solo playing was the highlight of the day.
It was a funny sight, because just to the side of the stage was a giant screen showing the U.S. vs. Germany World Cup Match. Many of the people there had their backs to the stage—they were there to watch the soccer game. The applause and shouts didn’t necessarily match what was going on with the music, but both ended at exactly the same time. The people who were there for the concert left much happier than those who were there to root on the U.S. team.
New York City is a great place to be in the summer. There are an amazing number of free outdoor events, especially concerts. Last week, I saw “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park and I saw one show with three New Orleans bands in Prospect Park. Two nights ago, I went to a terrific concert by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Last night I was back in Prospect Park for a very special evening. As part of the Celebrate Brooklyn series, the evening was billed as “Celebrate Ornette Coleman”—a tribute to one of the most important innovators in jazz. Organized by Coleman’s son, Denardo, it was to include an impressive list of artists. Of course, everyone was hoping that Ornette would show up, but that was no guarantee.
The bandshell at Prospect Park is a great place to hear music. There are plenty of seats up front and for those who are more interested in picnicing and socializing, there is a grassy area in the back for blankets and BYO chairs. We got there before the doors opened—so that we could get in and grab seats in the front row behind the VIP section. While we were waiting for the music to start, we munched down some tortas from Puebla on 1st Avenue in the East Village.
The evening started with some surprises. No sooner had the introductions begun, then Sonny Rollins came out as an unannounced guest. He quoted Ornette’s expression “it’s all good, don’t worry about nothing, it’s all good”. Next thing we know, a weeping Ornette Coleman, is walking onto the stage. So right there, we have two living jazz greats on stage together. (Coleman is 84 and and Rollins will turn 84 in September).
The music started off with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Henry Threadgill playing with the back-up band: Denardo Coleman – Drums, Al Macdowell – Electric bass, Tony Falanga – Acoustic bass, Charlie Ellerbee – Guitar and Antoine Roney – Tenor sax. David Murray joined in the second song.
At this point Ornette Coleman came back on stage, took a chair, and at first listened, but didn’t play. Like jazz, the evening was full of some scheduling improvisation—after some conferring and confusion, Ornette plays a few bars and stops. Applause. More confusion. Then, to the happiness of the crowd, Ornette starts playing again and keeps on going. Clearly this part of the evening was unplanned and unrehearsed. One by one, the other musicians on stage join in. And they all keep on playing. As long as Ornette Coleman is playing, it seems like they’ve given up on the list of musicians scheduled to join in. In the middle of the song, Savion Glover comes on stages and starts tapping away. Sweat is pouring off of him—he’s wearing one of those Keep Calm t-shirts—his says “Keep calm & drink wine”
Ornette stays in his seat on stage, and Joe Lovano, Geri Allen and Wallace Roney come out for the next couple of songs.
Everyone leaves the stage except Ornette. Patti Smith and her band come out and she is the only one of the evening who doesn’t perform Ornette’s music. Instead, she read two of her own poems to music.
A short break, that’s the last we see of Ornette, but it’s all good—we got more than we expected.
The second half starts without the back-up band. Just Laurie Anderson, John Zorn and Bill Laswell. Laurie Anderson and John Zorn are two of my favorites, so it was great to see them. It was a particularly special moment of the evening, because Anderson’s late husband Lou Reed, a big Ornette fan, was included posthumously in the tribute.
Before Anderson started playing, we heard a clip of Lou Reed talking about Ornette: “’Lonely Woman’ has been a favorite song of mine ever since I heard it when it first came out. Not a day goes by where I’m not humming it. . . It’s not your standard jazz thing where this guy solos and this one solos and this one solos. It’s a real composition that brings all of [the musicians] together . . . “
Then, four of Reed’s guitar’s are set up against amplifiers to create a feedback that Reed called “The Drones” to accompany Anderson, Zorn and Laswell’s rendition of “Lonely Woman”.
A couple more acts without the back up band: Bruce Hornsby on piano and Branford Marsalis on sax (just the two of them) and then, Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Nels Cline (Wilco).
Then, the back-up back comes back and play three or four more songs accompanied by some combination of Ravi Coltrane, James Blood Ulmer, Bill Laswell, Branford Marsalis and Bruce Hornsby. A little international flavor is added as The Master Musicians of Jajouka from Morocco join. This seems to be the finale. But no,
Geri Allen takes the piano and is joined by 4 saxophonists: Joe Lovano, Wallace Roney Jr., Branford Marsalis and Ravi Coletrane to play “Lonely Woman”.
It was a free Free Jazz evening of legends, surprises, avant-garde, improvisation. It was all good.
Last night I had the chance to see the graves of some jazz greats and then hear their music played live. I took the 4 train to the end of the line to hear the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra play a free concert in Woodlawn Cemetery. Wynton Marsalis, the leader of the Orchestra, talked about the close ties between music and funerals in his hometown New Orleans. Music is an integral part of saying goodbye to the dead and also celebrating life and finding a way to move forward.
The music started with a traditional jazz number: “Dippermouth Blues” recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in 1923.
The next song was “St. Louis Blues”, composed by W.C. Handy. Before starting the song, Marsalis said “W.C. Handy is here and so is his music . . . Maybe we can wake him up . . because people like their music”
The third song, “Concerto for Cootie” was by one of the best known jazz musicians in Woodlawn–Duke Ellington. Ellington wrote it to highlight one of his trumpeters, Charles Cootie Williams, who is also buried at Woodlawn.
Miles Davis, who died in 1991, is resting near Duke Ellington, in an area called “Jazz Corner”. For some reason, instead of being buried, he has a sarcophagus behind a large black granite monument. After the title was given to him by the Knights of Malta, he insisted on being called “Sir”.
The Jazz Orchestra played “Milestones”, an example of modal jazz composed by Davis and recorded in 1958.
Lionel Hampton is also in “Jazz Corner”. He and his wife Gladys have simple side by side tombstones with a larger piece behind them which reads “Hampton Flying Home”. So it was very appropriate that Wynton Marsalis selected the song “Flying Home” for the orchestra to play. In 1942 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra recorded “Flying Home” featuring a tenor sax solo by 18 year old Illinois Jacquet. Jacquet has been at Woodlawn since 2004. Last night, Walter Blanding played Jacquet’s solo.
The song “Body and Soul” by Coleman Hawkins was next. Wynton Marsalis quoted Hawkins who said in an interview in 1956 that Thelonious Monk had asked him how it was that everyone loved “Body and Soul”. Monk told Hawkins he didn’t understand how people went for it, because people like melody.
Next was another Duke Ellington song: “Black Beauty”, a song that Duke Ellington wrote for Florence Mills. A parade of thousands made its way from Harlem to the cemetery and rose petals were dropped from an airplane as she was buried at Woodlawn in 1927.
There were also tributes to Milt Jackson, Max Roach (“The Drum Also Waltzes”) and Jackie Maclean (“Appointment in Ghana”)
And finally, a tribute to Duke Ellington: “Second Line” from the “New Orleans Suite”.
The suite was commissioned by festival producer, George Wein, for the 1970 New Orleans Jazz Festival. When Wein’s wife Joyce passed away in 2005, George hired stone carver Simon Verity to create a memorial for both of them. It is in Woodlawn, too–next to Max Roach and just up a ways from Jazz Corner. Among the characters in the relief is George playing the piano.
Throughout the evening, Marsalis said the musicians and composers buried around us were listening to the concert. He thought that some of them might be more critical than others. But he was sure that they were going to have a party once we all left.