The Best Jazz Festival of the Year in NYC: Winter Jazzfest, at Various Locations, Starring an Evening of Sax Spirit Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Shabaka Hutchings
What started twelve years ago as an inspired goal of giving voice to the plethora of relatively unknown but immensely talented jazz musicians toiling in the multitude of the New York’s tiny and obscure clubs, the NYC Winter Jazzfest (January 5-10) has become hands down the best festival for jazz in the entire year in a city where improvised music never sleeps. Some call it the SXSW of jazz.
This year’s fest stretches over six days, highlighted by the two-night Jazzfest Marathon that this year officially launches on Friday, Jan. 6 and continues on Saturday, Jan. 7 at thirteen venues in and around Greenwich Village and across Lower Manhattan. More than 140 different groups comprising four hundred musicians take the various stages. (Festival passes for one evening or both are available through a ticket link at winterjazzfest.com.)
It’s not only music that’s being celebrated but social issues of our day are poignantly being expressed through song and poetry. Case in point on the #BlackLivesMatter front: Music dealing with the social unrest, with key acts including Samora Pinderhughes The Transformations Suite, Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone, Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones, Nate Smith & Kinfolk, Amina Claudine Myers, Craig Harris’ BREATHE.
A sampling of main shows other than the club Marathon not to be missed:
• In a mammoth concert of saxophone maestros, the colossus Pharoah Sanders stars with a rare Stateside performance with one of the most exciting young stars, U.K.’s Shabaka Hutchings, in the fest’s opening concert on Thursday, January 5 at Le Poisson Rouge.
• On the same night the BLUE NOTE NOW! all-star show at Le Poisson Rouge features the legendary label’s Robert Glasper Trio, José James, Derrick Hodge, the Kendrick Scott Oracle.
• Plus also on Thursday January 5, there’s the Jazz Legends Play for Disability Pride NYC benefit concert at the Quaker’s Friends Meeting House on 15 Rutherford Place featuring Brad Mehldau, Benny Golson, Jimmy Cobb, Harold Mabern, Ron Carter, Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes, Russell Malone and others. (This is a benefit show; more information atdisabilitypridenyc.com.)
• Speaking of label showcases: For its second year ECM Records participates in the Marathon with a full evening of its acts at The New School’s Tishman Auditorium:
6:00pm Tomasz Stanko NY Quartet
7:20pm Jakob Bro / Thomas Morgan / Joey Baron
8:40pm Ravi Coltrane / David Virelles Duo
10:00pm Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan Duo
11:20pm Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile
• On Sunday, January 8, Jazzfest moves to Brooklyn’s Littlefield to celebrate Thelonious Monk’s 100th birthday with various improvisers playing the piano genius’ classic Solo Monk recording in different configurations from solos to larger ensembles. Performers include Kris Davis, David Virelles, Shabaka Hutchings, Sam Newsome, Marc Ribot, Charlie Burnham, Erik Friedlander, Linda Oh, Trevor Dunn, Hamid Drake, Andrew Cyrille, Deva Mahal. On the same evening at The New School, Jason Moran and Peter Bernstein will be leading their respective trios playing Monk beauty.
• This year’s artist-in-residence is jazz elder drummer/composer Andrew Cyrille who will appear in various projects including with his band Haitian Fascination that showcases his Haitian roots and his duo project with saxophonist Bill McHenry. Also on Monday, January 9 at Le Poisson Rouge there’s Sam Amidon Extended and Cyrille solo with such guests as Shahzad Ismaily, Jeremy Gustin, Marc Ribot, Kris Bowers, Richard Sears, Curtis Fowlkes, Ben Goldberg, Sam Gendel and Linda Oh.
• For the Jazzfest’s finale on Tuesday, January 10, Le Poisson Rouge presents Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and its Concert for Social Justice with special guest Geri Allen and arrangements by LMO co-founder Carla Bley.
Drink it deep or sample the shows. One way or the other, jazz in the winter wonderland is the word. —Dan Ouellette