Friday, November 28, 2014

Jazzmobile Shines at 50-Year Celebration

Cynthia Scott sings alongside Patience Higgins and Jeremy Pelt
Old jazz souls united under one roof to honor 50 years of Jazzmobile, the country’s oldest non-profit organization dedicated to keeping jazz alive.

Hosted by Rhonda Hamilton of 88.3 FM WBGO, the tribute concert took place at the First Corinthian Baptist Church on Friday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. with appearances by venerated jazz legends and young, emerging stars. 

“And I’ll get along, as long as a song, strong in my soul,” were lyrics to Without a Song, sung by Melba Joyce, that echoed throughout the evening and reflected the beauty of musical composition and it’s role in feeding the soul. She described it as a song about “us and about music” which was powerfully performed. 

Vocalists like Cynthia Scott, Ghanniyya Green, Lynette Washington, and Whitney Marchelle were some of the leading ladies that ignited the stage that evening with beloved jazz standards and cherished blues renditions. 

Many musicians played unpaid for the love of music, and many were Jazzmobile educators like bass player, Darnell “Jay” Starks. 
Patience Higgins on sax, James Zollar on trumpet

“Over the last 50 years we have reached over 200,000 students, like Solomon Hicks,” said Hamilton, regarding the organization’s commitment to joining students of diverse backgrounds and ages with the opportunity to develop a talent into serious skill. 

Solomon Hicks, 19, a guitar and singing prodigy, showcased his music alongside the jazz idols he grew up listening to.

“When I first learned jazz, I was in the classes studying how to read music at 13 - 15 years old,” said Hicks. “I feel so fortunate to play with so many Jazz musicians like Danny Mixon, Lafayette Harris, and Patience Higgins,” he added. 

One of his favorite guitar players, Michael Howell, taught an intermediate class with Jazzmobile that Hicks was a student in. 
“He would play at a million miles per hour,” said Hicks, “but I kept on keeping on and now I’m a full-time professional musician.” Now a musician that has played at venues like the Lenox Lounge and the Cotton Club, he also plays internationally and said “all of this basically started with Jazzmobile.”

Currently in the midst of numerous projects, he looks forward to future collaborations and is working on preparing for upcoming performances with Antoinette Montague who entered the stage of performers for the second set.
The FCBC's Young Dreamers Choir opens for the jazz performers

“It means everything, because every time you get a chance to rejoin the people, during these crazy times, it’s a privilege,” said Montague. “It’s an honor to work for Jazzmobile during the summers, they help give me my Harlem audience and my New York presence.” 

“Whenever she’s around its always a good time, she's got really a warm and loving spirit,” said Hamilton about Montague. 
For New Year's Eve she announced her upcoming show with Danny Mixon and Solomon Hicks.

“We’ll stomp the yard and have such a great time,” she said. 

Another young artist, Camille Thurman, known for her skills on the flute and saxophone, performed and scatted the evening away.

“It’s like a full circle experience,” said Thurman, who started in her early teens with Jazzmobile and is now part of their 50th anniversary celebration. 
Camille Thurman resting the sax to scat away

It was at the National Endowment for the Art’s Jazz Masters Ceremony hosted at her school, LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts, where she had the opportunity to play with Chip Jackson, Winard Harper and Dr. Billy Taylor. That then opened the door to attending a summer music camp, expanding her opportunities to collaborate with other artists.

Inspired by Sarah Vaughan, Thurman said that taking the stage allows her to feel “free as a bird” when she scats a melody or jams to a tune.

Jazzmobile, founded in 1964, has grown to the outreach organization that touches New Yorkers to “preserve, promote and propagate Jazz.” With music workshops, symposiums and artist panels they work to incorporate a fundamental understanding of a style of timeless music and serves as resource to the musically expressive spirit.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Makandal Mixtape Heats up Harlem Stage

The Pedrito Martinez Group featuring Yosvany Terry
“We are la familia, all right?” said Oneza Lafontant, lead vocalist of Kongo. “We breathe from the same air, we are all connected to the same source.”

That was the sentiment behind the bodies swaying to the pulsating rhythms of the Kongo and Yoruba-influenced sounds that filled Harlem Stage during their Uptown Nights Series last Saturday, Nov. 8th. The evening, titled the Makandal Mixtape Live, featured musicians with cross-cultural connections to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora and aimed to share those traditions that have rippled throughout time.

With it’s conquering and jubilant themes, guests were free to stay seated in the Havana-style nightclub tables, enjoy local food and drink - beer by Sugar Hill Brewery or hot food and mixed beverages, and were invited to dance throughout each show.

The sets served as a soundscape to lands far away but had very indelible marks as it connected to Harlem’s multi-cultural community of today. The evening was curated by Habana Harlem and tell the story of the “the only successful slave revolution [in Haiti]” and celebrated the influence of Yoruba and Kongo culture on Latin and Creole music. 

Theatre and dance enrich Kongo's story-telling performance
“Among many of the wonderful things we are doing is the Makandal Opera with the music that Yosvany Terry has composed,” said Patricia Cruz, Executive Director of Harlem Stage. “The actual opera, that links the cultures and the people of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, is an incredible transportation of, and transformation of African music.”

Brad Learmoth, Director of Programming, said that the significance of the opera was to highlight the undercurrents of culture that were not as well known as the historical struggles between them. To chronicle that dissemination through song and dance was something special that he said Harlem stage wanted make accessible to everyone.

“Our people suffer…despite our ancestors’ ultimate sacrifice, the struggle continues,” were the words behind Kongo’s performance of Poul Nago Néné.

The Kongo-Haitian Roots Music repertoire channeled the resilience of ancestors before them to bring about a beautiful display of strife and empowerment. Not soley a collection of musicians, but the group is active in many community projects that provide cultural enrichment and support for social justice campaigns internationally. Their performance was joined with a dance performance by José Figueroa, whose previous work includes performing traditional Dominican-Haitian gaga dance in venues such as Lincoln Center. 

When Dominican bachata rhythms were melded with R&B and Hip-Hop, listeners were taken to the dance floor with the Ripiao Kings, the second headlining group. The Ripiao Kings incorporated the influence of Dominican Bachata and blended it with aspects of other forms of music that the group has come to appreciate.

“There are no barriers of age or race its just a matter of love and respect,” said Cruz on the diversity of the crowd engaged with the performances.

The Ripiao Kings keep the crowd dancing
Afro-Cuban Rumba and elements of Bata were all combined in to explode in a vivacious final performance by the Pedrito Martinez Group. A dynamic musical conversation between the artists unfolded on stage, with vocals lead by Pedrito Martinez the and instrumentals of the effortlessly dancing around intertwined melodies.

Guest-starring alongside the Pedrito Martinez Group was Yosvany Terry, saxophonist and composer for Makandal Opera. Known in Afro-Caribbean community for his continuous projects that receive high praise, he also collaborated with Carl Hancock Rux and Jan Lars, director, for the opera.

In between sets the music kept right through with local producer and author DJ Asho, formally known as Ariel Fernandez Diaz, spinning Afro-Cuban selections throughout the night. 

The Uptown Nights series runs throughout the rest of the season with shows centered around emerging artists.

Upcoming events for the series take place on Friday, Nov. 21st with Rock & Soul, Thursday, Dec. 11th for Black Music NOW, Wednesday, Dec. 17th for a listening session with Thundercat, and Friday, Dec. 19th for a performance by Thundercat.