The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival celebrated its 27th year from August 21 to 25, 2019, under the auspices of the City Parks Foundation and SummerStage.
From Wednesday, August 21 through Friday, August 23, the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival presented the following events. The 2014 film by Alan Hicks, Keep On Keeping On, was about trumpeter Clark Terry mentoring blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin as he prepared to compete in an international competition. The presentation was in association with The Jazz Foundation of America. There was also a concert in tribute to Clark Terry, featuring saxophonist Peter Branin, pianist Noah Haidu, bassist Marcus McLaurine, and drummer Steve Johns. There were two Jazz in the Garden concerts, the first featured multi-instrumentalist Michael Marcus, and the second featured saxophonist/composer/bandleader/educator René McLean. The panel discussion “Unpacking Jazz and Gender Justice” asked the question, “What would jazz sound like in a culture without patriarchy?” with composer/drummer/singer Terri Lyne Carrington leading the panel. A class titled “An Evening at Langston’s: Celebrating the Centennial Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance” was given by Ryan Maloney of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, with a performance by vocalist Candice Hoyes and multi-instrumentalist Joel Ross. There was a screening of the film, The Ballad of Fred Hersch at the Maysles Documentary Center, an intimate portrait of one of today’s foremost jazz pianists.
Friday, August 23
On Friday at Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, the evening was titled Harlem 100. It was a celebration of The Harlem Renaissance, which was an unrivaled period of brilliance and excellence in artistic expression and entertainment. Created in collaboration with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Harlem 100 captures the sights and sounds of Harlem when legendary artists such as Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and Billie Holiday made the neighborhood the height of cultural activity.
Winard Harper & Jeli Posse
At Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, host Simon Rentner of WBGO Radio introduced Winard Harper & Jeli Posse, and the group started the evening off with a swinging concert. Drummer Winard Harper was joined by Vince Dupont on double bass, 90-year-old Norman Simmons on piano, tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, singer Camilla Harper, guitarist Charlie Seigler, trumpeter Ted Chubb, and percussionist Alione Faye. Winard played a “musical drum” along with his regular drum kit. The set included “God is the Greatest,” “Segment” by Charlie Parker, and “Barbados,” which was sung winningly by Winard’s daughter Camilla. Camilla continued with “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was.” The set was tight and cohesive, and beautifully performed by all the members. Their finale, “You’re Just Too Marvelous for Words” was so catchy, that several people got up to swing dance.
Mwenso & the Shakes
The group played an irresistible blend of many genres that somehow worked spectacularly well together. This was a fun, energetic, and often moving homage to The Harlem Renaissance, and leader Michael Mwenso cited Fats Waller and Billie Holiday as big influences. They also included outstanding choreography throughout the set. The group included vocalist Vuyo Sotashe, tenor saxophonist Julian Lee, trumpeter Corey Wilcox, drummer Bryan Carter, tap dancer AC Lincoln, pianist Christopher Pattishall, guitarist Gabe Schneider, percussionist Kofi Hunter, saxophonist Anthony Orgi, pianist Russell Hall, and drummer T.J. Reddick.
At one point, guest artist Brianna Thomas joined the group on stage, and she gave a spellbinding performance. Then, AC Lincoln did a riveting tap dance to “Charleston.” Michael Mwenso said it was a personal joy to introduce a man he said was an inspiration in his life, trombonist Fred Wesley, who performed “St. Louis Blues” with the group. The pace slowed down for a tribute to singer Ethel Waters with a thrilling duet by Brianna Thomas and pianist Christopher Pattishall on “Suppertime.” Then, Pattishall paid a musical homage to Willie “The Lion” Smith and Jelly Roll Morton. They closed the show with a wonderful, sultry mash-up of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Ain’t Misbehaving.” Mwenso & the Shakes recently released their CD, Emergence [The Process of Coming Into Being].”
Saturday, August 24
Once again at Marcus Garvey Park, Sheila Anderson from WBGO Radio welcomed the crowd, spoke about WBGO’s 40th anniversary, and introduced Reclamation, a collaborative composition that re-examined the work of Charlie Parker. The project was commissioned by The Jazz Gallery and the Joyce and George Wein Foundation. The group was made up of saxophonist/vocalist Camille Thurman, harpist Brandee Younger, and vibraphonist Nikara Warren. They were backed by bassist Endea Owens, drummer Darrell Green, and pianist Marc Cary. Nikara Warren thanked everyone who was part of their appearance, and said that they weren’t going to talk anymore, just play, and play they did! They started the afternoon of music off in fine style, going from mellow balladry to bebop with the greatest of ease. All the musicians had their moments to shine, especially an extended vocalese by Camille, a splendid harp riff by Brandee, and a fabulous turn on the vibraphone by Nikara. These young musicians did a great job of honoring the memory of the great Charlie Parker.
Vocalist Quiana Lynell, 2017 winner of The Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, was superbly accompanied by pianist Willerm Delisfort, drummer Darrian Douglas, and guitarist Matt Sewell. Once again, WBGO Radio’s Sheila Jordan did the introduction duties, and Lynell, dressed in a vibrantly colorful outfit, started the set with a jazzy “Tryin’ Times.” She followed up with “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” and then talked about different kinds of love: self-love, romantic love, and community love. She added, “Don’t let all the love talk fool you. I’m still trying to figure it out, but I won’t give up!” She said that the community is very important to her, and when you see someone who needs a smile, a handshake, a hug, or just some acknowledgement, you should certainly give it. Lynell performed the powerful gospel/protest song, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” and sang the up-tempo “Move Me No Mountain” with absolute conviction. Quiana followed with “Hip Shakin’ Momma”, and then another song about love, putting her strong, multi-octave voice to excellent use. Lynell sang “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” which was made famous by one of her biggest inspirations, Nancy Wilson. She ended her fine set with “Love Can’t Wait.”
Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and his band, pianist David Virelles, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Johnathan Blake, started with Ornette Coleman’s “Bird Food” and continued with “Candlewood Path.” Coltrane didn’t do much talking, except to introduce the band, and give the song titles. However, when you have music of this high quality, you don’t really miss the talking. This group really brought the goods! They closed their excellent set with Charlie Parker’s “Segment.”
Dee Dee Bridgewater
WBGO Radio gave the Champion of Jazz Award to Dee Dee Bridgewater for all the mentoring work she does with young people. She was joined by bassist Tabari Lake, drummer Kush Abadey, and pianist Michael King. Bridgewater said to the audience, “What an honor to be part of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival!” She added that she and all the other artists really appreciate the audience coming out to see them. Wearing a stylish hat, she took the time to compliment other hat-wearers in the crowd, exclaiming, “I love hats!” She began with “Feed the Fire” where she did some outstanding, rapid-fire scatting. The song is from the same-titled album by Betty Carter, featuring Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, and Geri Allen. In fact, part of the set was a tribute to Betty Carter, and included other songs from Feed the Fire, like “Lover Man,” which Dee imbued with a lot of emotion.
Next came Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk,” with lyrics that were written by Abbey Lincoln. Bridgewater performed the song captivatingly, and she so convincingly imitated a trombone, that swing dancers near the stage came out in droves! She brought out special guest Ravi Coltrane for a sax solo, and the pair segued into a classic improvisation to much appreciative applause from the audience. The last song was dedicated to the man who mentored her in her early career, and stayed friends with her until the end of his life. “I call him the King, but you might know him as B.B.!” The song was “The Thrill is Gone.” Dee Dee and invited Quiana Lynell back on stage to sing the song with her, and it was so deliciously funky, surely B.B. King was looking down from heaven, smiling! Bridgewater, her group, and guests really left it all on the stage.
Sunday August 25
The Lakecia Benjamin Quartet
On Sunday, the Festival moved to Tompkins Square Park in Alphabet City. Brian Delp from WBGO Radio was the host for the afternoon, and he introduced The Lakecia Benjamin Quartet, with alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, pianist Sharp Radway, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and drummer Darrell Green. The band got the day started with a jumping bebop Charlie Parker cut. Lakecia called Parker “The daddy of the alto sax,” and said she was glad to be there to celebrate him. She continued, “I’m someone who believes that instrumental music and vocal music go together.” With that, she brought out surprise guest, rising star Jazzmeia Horn, who was dressed in a striking African ensemble with statement jewelry. Jazzmeia scatted her heart out, and said, “We’ve been doing “A Love Supreme” and that’s what we need more of, because it is getting ugly out here…But together, we’re going to try to rectify that.” They also performed “Alabama,” a lament about some of the dreadful things that have been happening in the country. The quartet was in excellent form, and with the addition of Jazzmeia Horn’s stirring vocals did a fine tribute to one of the jazz giants who came before them, Charlie Parker.
The Fred Hersch Trio
Pianist Fred Hersch welcomed the crowd and remarked on what a beautiful day it was. With drummer Eric McPherson and bassist John Hébert, Hersch performed “Havana,” “Serpentine,” and “Mrs. Parker of K.C. (Bird’s Mother).” Fred discussed studying with multi-instrumentalist Jaki Bayard, and how much of an influence Bayard had been on him. Hersch also acknowledged the person he calls “one of the other all-time great saxophonists,” Wayne Shorter, and they played two of Shorter’s songs, “Miyako” and “Black Nile.” The trio finished with Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” The music of this marvelous set ran the gamut, from sensitive and introspective, to surreal and dramatic.
The George Coleman Quartet
Although he played sitting down, tenor saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master George Coleman still has all his chops. There was excellent cohesion in his group: alto saxophonist Adam Brenner, drummer George Coleman, Jr., and Brian Charette on Hammond B3 Organ. The quartet consistently stretched the limits of their instruments and talents, with outstanding solos that thrilled the audience, on a set that included “Cherokee,” “Barbados,” and “My Little Suede Shoes.” George Sr. said, “We’re so happy to be here with you, celebrating this momentous occasion, honoring the great Charlie Parker. Bird!” He also thanked the crowd for being there with them. At the end of a huge standing ovation, Coleman told the audience, “Continue this beautiful Festival at Tompkins Square Park!”
Carl Allen’s Art Blakey Tribute Featuring Jeremy Pelt, J.D. Allen, Eric Reed, & Peter Washington.
Host Brian Delp said that renowned drummer Art Blakey arguably created more leaders than anyone else. When someone worked with Blakey for a while and developed to a certain point, he would send them off to start their own bands. Carl Allen’s show was in honor of the memory of the great Art Blakey. The quintet, that was made up of pianist Eric Reed, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Carl Allen, had such a big sound, they could have easily been mistaken for a big band. They played the Art Blakey songs “The Down Under,” “Pensativa,” “Moanin’” and “Arabia,” a swinging song with an alluring Middle Eastern undertone. They also performed “Sweet ‘N’ Sour,” a composition by Wayne Shorter that was recorded by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on the album Caravan. Allen then said he was going to play a song, “The Sacrifice,” by his mother’s favorite composer of all time: him! He got a big laugh from the crowd, and he added, “If you don’t play your own stuff, no one else will!” These musicians not only paid great honor to the legacy of Art Blakey, but they also closed the 2019 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in fantastic style!
About the City Parks Foundation, the Festival program said the following: “At City Parks, we are dedicated to invigorating and transforming parks into dynamic, vibrant centers of urban life through sports, arts, community building and education programs for all New Yorkers. Celebrating our 30th anniversary this year, we program in more than 400 parks, recreation centers and public schools across New York City and reach 300,000 people each year. Our ethos is simple: thriving parks mean thriving communities.”
About SummerStage, the program said the following: “Capital One City Parks Foundation SummerStage is New York’s largest free outdoor performing arts festival. SummerStage annually presents approximately 100 performances in 15-18 parks throughout the five boroughs. With performances ranging from American pop, Latin, world music, dance, and theater, SummerStage fills a vital niche in New York City’s summer arts festival landscape. Since its inception 34 years ago, more than six million people from New York City and around the world have enjoyed SummerStage.”
The vibrant FREE Charlie Parker Jazz Festival is brought to the public by a group of essential sponsors, and it has become a mainstay of the New York summer festival season. Capital One is the presenting sponsor of the Festival. Other sponsors include WBGO Radio, New York City Jazz Record, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Howard Gilman Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts, The Syndicate Entertainment Marketing Agency, and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable trust.