Jazz at Bryant Park

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Audience at Bryant Park enjoying the music © Kevin R. Mason

Jazz at Bryant Park was a series of concerts that were part of a larger FREE series titled Bryant Park Picnic Performances that took place throughout the summer of 2021 in New York City. There were recitals by the New York Philharmonic; Spanish Harlem Orchestra; New York City Opera; Jazz at Lincoln Center Young Stars of Jazz Featuring Anthony Hervey on trumpet, Alexa Tarantino on alto saxophone, Julian Lee on tenor saxophone, Isaiah J. Thompson on piano, Endea Owens on bass, and Kyle Poole on drums; Classical Theatre of Harlem; Carnegie Hall Citywide; Craig Harris’ Nocturnal Nubian Ball for Conscientious Ballers and Cultural Shot Callers – A Tribute to Sun Ra – Presented with Harlem Stage; and dance performances by Ballet Hispánico + Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet; the Limón Dance Company; and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Friday August 6

Terence Blanchard Featuring The E-Collective with The Turtle Island Quartet Presented with Carnegie Hall

          Sir Clive Gillinson           © Kevin R. Mason

On a glorious summer night, Manhattan’s Bryant Park presented the first of the series of Jazz at Bryant Park concerts. There were socially distanced chairs set up, and the park even offered free blankets. Attendees brought picnics or availed themselves of nearby eateries. People were clearly happy to be out enjoying live jazz, because Bryant Park was quite full! The show starred Terence Blanchard Featuring The E-Collective with The Turtle Island Quartet, and they were introduced by Sir Clive Gillinson, Executive Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall. Sir Clive, who had received an abbreviated intro, got a big laugh when he joked, “I’ve never actually been introduced as Carnegie Hall before. So, there’s a first time for everything! It’s wonderful to welcome you all to Carnegie Hall Citywide at Bryant Park. Every year, for over 45 years, Carnegie Hall has presented free citywide concerts across all the five boroughs of New York City. Citywide represents and presents a very wide range of artists, as we do at our concerts at Carnegie Hall, really covering every area of music, and it’s wonderful to have Terence Blanchard here with us today. He really is one of the great musical voices of our day. Our mission at Carnegie Hall is to ensure that the very best of every sort of music is available to the greatest possible number of people, not only around here in New York City, but also nationally as well as globally…This is also reflected in our commitment to music education…which involves us reaching…up to 800,000 people a year now, most of them kids and students, most of the people who otherwise might not have the chance to have access to great music.” For more information on Carnegie Hall events, go to www.carnegiehall.org.

                Terence Blanchard                   © Kevin R. Mason

Sir Clive continued, “We’re very honored to partner with organizations like Bryant Park, to present free concerts like today’s event…We’d also like to say a huge thank you to the Howard Gilman Foundation for their very generous financial support…So now on to the music. Terence Blanchard is a 2018 USA Fellow, two-time Oscar nominee, and a five-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer. His latest recording, Absence, will be released on Blue Note later this month, and tonight, you’ll be hearing the first ever public performance of this music. His latest opera, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, will open the Metropolitan Opera season in late September. So, it’s a huge, huge project for him.”

         Oscar Seaton © Kevin R. Mason

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard was backed up by E-Collective: pianist Gerald Clayton, drummer Oscar Seaton, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist David Ginyard. Blanchard was also accompanied by The Turtle Island Quartet: violinists David Balakrishnan and Gabe Terracciano, Benjamin von Gutzeit on viola, and Naseem Alatrash on cello. After they played the first song to very enthusiastic applause, Blanchard said, “I really have to say thank you to all of you, ‘cause being huddled up in our house for a year, well, y’all know what that’s like…To have my first live performance to be here in New York City at Bryant Park is really, really special. I want to thank Carnegie Hall for having us here. I also want to thank y’all for letting us play this brand-new music, ‘cause like I said, we ain’t been playing in a year. We got back together and forgot whose part was whose!”

          David Ginyard © Kevin R. Mason

Terence stated, “Wayne Shorter has been a constant in my life from the beginning, you know. From our early days with Art Blakey, all throughout the entirety of my career, every step along the way, one conversation with Wayne is a serious life lesson. Not just music, life.” Blanchard continued, “So, I wanted to pay tribute to one of our heroes while he’s still with us, so he can get his flowers now, and I wanted to do it in such a way that really pays homage to him, because he’s all about composition. So, not only are we doing some of his music, but we have some originals put in there, to just show our appreciation for composition. The very first tune that we played for you tonight was an example of that. This bass player in this band said he wanted to learn more about composition.” Blanchard recalled that on a long bus ride in Europe, they talked for about two hours, and bassist David Ginyard wrote the first song the group played, titled “Absence.” It’s from the CD of the same name by The E-Collective and The Turtle Island        Quartet.

            The Turtle Island Quartet
    © Kevin R. Mason

The next two songs were Wayne Shorter compositions “The Elders,” from Weather Report’s 1978 Mr. Gone album, and “Fall,” from the 1968 album Nefertiti, while Shorter was with the Miles Davis Quintet, both on Columbia Records. Terence said, “Right now, I want to have this amazing string quartet do something really special for you guys. Since we’re talking about composition, we had to have one of their compositions as part of the project. This is by David Balakrishnan, the founder of Turtle Island, and he calls this “The Second Wave.” It was a fantastically melodic song with several tempo changes and thrilling string performances. Terence said, “Uh huh. Caught you off-guard with that one, huh?…Aren’t they amazing?”

 

              Terence Blanchard             © Kevin R. Mason

Terence and all his musical cohorts were indeed amazing, with each artist getting several moments in the spotlight. Blanchard moved about the stage, briefly stopping to point his trumpet skyward or downward as his smooth tones soared throughout the concert, impressing the audience with his noteworthy trumpet skills. He also displayed quiet authority over the proceedings, seamlessly keeping the music going. Terence said, “We’re gonna play something a little funky for you.” The song managed to be soulful and have a contemporary jazz feeling at the same time. After the applause died down, Terence said, “We’re gonna play another original composition. This is David Ginyard’s…“Envisioned Reflections.” It was a slow, contemplative number with excellent interplay between the musicians. Their last song was another reflective tune that featured some stellar work by pianist Gerald Clayton (who often played dual two keyboards throughout the evening), and great back-up by The Turtle Island Quartet and The E-Collective. Terence Blanchard finished the concert by saying, “I really appreciate you coming out, giving us a chance to play for you. Till next time!”  To learn more about Terence Blanchard, go to www.terenceblanchard.com.

Saturday, August 14

Burt Bacharach Reimagined.

                  Camille Thurman and                       The Darrell Green  Quartet © Kevin R. Mason

August 14 was another lovely summer evening! Jazz at Lincoln Center presented the show, and Georgina Javor, Lincoln Center’s Vice President, Concerts & Touring, welcomed the crowd, and informed them that after 17 months, Dizzy’s Club at Lincoln Center is re-opening! Then she introduced Camille Thurman & The Darrell Green Quartet, who starred in a show titled Burt Bacharach Reimagined, with updated versions of composer Burt Bacharach’s songs.

           Camille Thurman             © Kevin R. Mason

Multi-instrumentalist/composer/vocalist Camille Thurman has accomplished several notable achievements at only 34 years old. She was runner-up in the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International  Vocal Competition, two-time winner of the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award, and a winner of the Fulbright Scholars Cultural Ambassador Grant. Camille was joined by drummer Darrell Green, bassist Tom DiCarlo, pianist Victor Gould, and guitarist Bruce Edwards.

     Darrell Green © Kevin R. Mason

The quartet played two atmospheric, soothing songs before Camille came out, glamorously clad in a golden satin gown and sky-high platform heels. She started with a swinging “Going Out of My Head” that had syncopated rhythms. She employed crisp diction and beautifully emphasized certain notes very effectively, making her rendition quite distinctive. Thurman talked about having a problematic love interest, where you think, “Man, that person just drives me mad, but I love them…I have an affinity for picking love songs…They make you feel good; they make you feel happy; they make you forget about what’s happening in the world…This is an arrangement that was featured on my latest album, Waiting for the Sunrise, and this is our rendition of Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love,” for those people out there who are just really easy to be with and love.” Camille performed some strong scatting in her expressive, octave-jumping voice. A slow, emotional “What the World Needs Now is Love” segued into “My One True Love,” where Darrell Green did an extended drum solo, heavy with cymbals, which received big applause from the crowd.

              Camille Thurman               © Kevin R. Mason

Camille said to the listeners, “How y’all doing out there? You enjoying yourselves? The music is treating you good? Yes, yes, yes, yes! It feels so good to be in my hometown of NEW YORK CITY!…Not too often you get to find native New Yorkers. I’m a native, and it just feels so good to be able to perform again, after a year and a half of sitting at home staring at TV screens…So, thank you so much for joining us tonight…This next tune is another love song…a composition by the great Burt Bacharach…our arrangement of “Close to You.” So, if you’ve got a nice person to snuggle up next to, this is the time!” The song featured a very different arrangement, a jazzy approach to the Bacharach classic, and had Camille doing excellent double duty, singing and playing saxophone, while receiving fine backing from the band. Thurman again addressed the audience. “This next piece we’re about to do for you, I stumbled upon it, actually through my mentor, the great Antoine Roney…He was like, ‘You know, you should do this piece.’…It was on an album that Roy Ayers did…I listened to the recording…and I thought it was the most beautiful, romantic ballad in the world.” When Thurman checked out the original composition by Burt Bacharach, she was amazed how someone can have a completely different perspective that inspires them to put their own signature on it. “This Gal’s in Love With You” was mellow and tender, and featured first-rate instrumentals and superb vocals.

Thurman said, “We thank you so much for joining us. You made this evening so special for us. Thank you for sticking around and listening to this music…If you want to follow us, and find out where we’re performing next…please follow us on Instagram, Facebook at Camille Thurman and Darrell Green…You can also join our mailing list at www.camillethurmanmusic.com. We’re going to close with an original composition of ours. This is called “Stand Tall.” Thank you again. We hope to see you soon. Get home safe!” It was an upbeat song that the band played delightfully and cohesively, and the audience was enthused about all the fine solos. It was a dazzling closing to a wonderful concert.

Monday, September 20

The Town Hall: Centennial Concert with Chris Thile and Guest Stars Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner, Zakir Hussain and Ganesh Rajagopalan, Damon Daunno, and Timo Andres 

On the Bryant Park website, it says the following about this concert: “The Town Hall’s centennial concert in Bryant Park commences the storied hall’s centennial season. The evening, hosted by Chris Thile, will pay tribute to the great artists and art forms that the hall nurtured and introduced to New York City. Known for being at the vanguard, the Town Hall held the concert hall debuts of many great artists like Marian Anderson, Isaac Stern, Billie Holiday, Glenn Gould, Leontyne Price, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Coretta Scott King and João Gilberto, among others. From 1935-1956, The Town Hall hosted America’s Town Meeting of the Air, one of the first of the radio “talk shows,” a program which featured guests, scholars, and experts who discussed important issues of the day. Over its two-decade run, the program’s guests included Eleanor Roosevelt, Langston Hughes, Earl Browder, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Carl Sandburg, Pearl Buck and Mary McLeod Bethune.”

Artistic Director Melay Araya      © Kevin R. Mason

Melay Araya, Town Hall’s Artistic Director, addressed the crowd. “Hello everyone and welcome to the Town Hall Centennial Concert! We’re so happy you came to join us…The Town Hall has 100 years of rich history…If you look into our radio archives, [you’ll find] some of the best programming on American politics, intellectual history, and music. Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts…and we’ll see you in the Hall very soon! Every city needs champions…and we’re lucky enough tonight to have one of New York’s champions, one of Town Hall’s champions, one of Bryant Park’s champions. Our councilperson, Keith Powers!” Powers said, “Thank you!…Town Hall has such an amazing history…When it opened its doors in 1921, it was a major victory for the City and this area, which would go on to host some of the greatest live performances here in the City…It was also an important moment for the suffragettes, who founded Town Hall, and had just won the right to vote with the 19th Amendment…Now, 100 years later, we are here to celebrate Town Hall in 2021. But more importantly, I think, after the year we have had, it is exciting to be sitting in a park…to celebrate a live performance…So thanks to Town Hall for being such an important and amazing part of New York…Let’s give them another big round of applause.”

Introduced as “another great champion of New York City, and of Town Hall, and of Bryant Park,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer welcomed the crowd, and said, “Thank you very much, it is an honor to be here. Congratulations to Town Hall, on a hundred seasons! This great organization…[is] home to the concert hall of countless stars, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, and many others, and renowned speakers. Town Hall is the real New York, landmark for music and the spoken word. For me, it’s a bastion of cultural and artistic diversity and free speech, at a time, as you know, when these values are being challenged as never before. So, every one of us here needs to support, not only Town Hall, but the amazing values that it embodies…Thank you to everyone who carries on the Town Hall storied legacy.”

    Jessica Vosk © Kevin R. Mason

Then, Broadway star Jessica Vosk came to the microphone thanked everyone for coming. “Hi Bryant Park…Let’s give everybody up here the just deserts that they are due. I was going to announce Chris (Thile) coming on stage, but he already came on stage! It’s okay, this is live theater, this is how we roll…I was here to open up Bryant Park’s Picnic Performances in June…Here we’re closing Bryant Park’s live Picnic Performances with livestreams brought to you by the one, the only Bank of America…Throughout this entire summer, Bryant Park has invited cultural institutions across New York City to use this very stage to do what they do best, which is perform live…Bryant Park and Bank of America, they played a key role in the return of the arts in New York City…I’m a big fan of everybody up here. I’m starstruck! So, whether you’re here on the lawn, whether you’re tuning in from home…welcome…This summer, arts lovers…tuned into Picnic Performances…from Australia, from Japan, from Brazil, from Germany, and from beyond…Town Hall…gathered the best of the best for this momentous occasion…Please join me in welcoming Chris Thile to tell us more about tonight’s event.”

       Chris Thile © Kevin R. Mason

The host of the evening, which featured all kinds of music, was Grammy Award-winning singer, mandolinist, and songwriter Chris Thile. Chris called out “Ahoy!” Then he and his fellow musicians started with an eclectic country-infused ballad with excellent musicianship and fine harmonic singing. Then Thile said, “There’s nowhere I’d rather be on God’s green earth on such an evening as this than with you, in this beautiful park, except Town Hall.” Thile imagined himself at a concert that happened before he was born. “I want you to close your eyes…It’s April 1962…The lights go down. A gangly ray of banjo-toting sunlight named Pete Seeger walks on stage. He smiles right at you and kicks off his soon-to-be iconic Children’s Concert at Town Hall, like this.” Thile performed Seeger’s “Little Birdie” where his stunning mandolin riffs and clear, strong voice enthralled the crowd.

Thile said, “Town Hall is home base to so many of us, myself included. The acoustics, the energy…My first Town Hall show was 14 years ago, in the audience for a broadcast of A Prairie Home  Companion. I was on stage for a live broadcast of Live From Here, February 22, 2020. Then came the ‘great what have you.’ I used to write a brand-new song for each broadcast of Live From Here…So here, in the middle of a park, playing songs about Town Hall is a song I wrote for us to play in Town Hall, about being in the middle of a park.” After the lilting tune, Chris called out, “Hey, how ‘bout this band, y’all! Becca Stevens on guitar, Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, Sean Martin on keys, Chris Morrisey on bass, Eric Doob on drums, and this is Emily King.” Vocalist Emily King led the group on “Remind Me,” which was a joyful multi-genre, syncopated song with wonderful harmony.

Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner             © Kevin R. Mason

Chris said, “A lot of us heard of Town Hall before we ever stepped inside it, thanks to any number of profound live jazz records it has hosted. For instance, The Thelonious Monk Orchestra’s only performance was recorded, thankfully, at Town Hall on February 28, 1959. Later that same year, Nina Simone made her Live at Town Hall record. That was September 15…You know who else did that is Billie ‘Freaking’ Holiday, February 16, 1946. Name a giant, y’all, Armstrong, Parker, Evans…all made magic at the Hall. So how about some magic from two giants of our time? Welcome my heroes, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner!” Cécile said, “Hello! So, I knew all the lyrics to that last song. But I don’t know the lyrics to the songs I’m going to sing, so that’s sad.” Salvant was clearly joking, because she and pianist Sullivan performed a delicate and lovely rendition of “Promises, Promises,” and she did not miss one lyric. Next came a dramatic tune that was recorded by Nina Simone, “Pirate Jenny” that really demonstrated Cécile’s superb storytelling skills along with her outstanding musical abilities. When the crowd finished their ovation, Thile exclaimed, “Hot damn, Cécile! Oh, and Sullivan Fortner, good Lord!”

           Becca Stevens © Kevin R. Mason

Chris then told the audience, “A little something from Joan Baez, another Town Hall regular.” Becca Stevens used her light, lyrical voice to do an exquisite performance of “Silver Dagger.” Chris said, “With that Joan Baez excavated folk masterpiece, it’s the Sixties again!” Thile continued, talking about how Town Hall became a welcoming place for musical activism: civil rights and peace movements took center stage, with artists like Odetta. Judy Collins, who appeared at an anti-nuclear event, helped her friend Leonard Cohen overcome his stage fright. “Now it’s April 12,1963…Bob Dylan…was this brooding, curly-haired Midwesterner stepping up to the mic.” Thile launched into a passionate and heart-wrenching interpretation of Dylan’s “Masters of War.”

       Timo Andres © Kevin R. Mason

Thile said, “Please make welcome one of my favorite musicians alive, Timo Andres, the best-dressed composer/pianist!” When Chris asked Timo to recount some stories of Town Hall, Timo said, “For me there are kind of two big ones that come to mind. That’s the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, [who] actually played for the first time in New York at Town Hall…an iconoclastic program…The other one is Philip Glass, of course. The iconic…composer premiered what I think is maybe his masterpiece, Music in 12 Parts, at Town Hall in 1974…I’m going to do one of his piano etudes. This is Etude No. 6…Then in homage to Glenn Gould, I’ll do Bach’s Three-Part Invention in F Minor.” The first song was a driving, percussive number that Andres played as a solo, and such were his piano skills that the audience was spellbound. The second song was a plaintive and melancholy composition that was equally riveting.

              Damon Daunno                © Kevin R. Mason

Chris mentioned that many Broadway stars have graced the stage at Town Hall, like Liza Minnelli, Alan Cumming, and Audra McDonald, and Town Hall has presented its signature program, “Broadway by the Year.” Thile then introduced the star of Oklahoma and Hadestown. “When I grow up, I want to sing like Damon Daunno!” Damon said, “How special is all this?…It’s such a joy, honor, and genuine privilege to be on this stage with all of y’all tonight.” The band launched into a vivacious performance of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from the musical Oklahoma. Daunno’s strong vocals led the song, and he got the audience to sing along. Thile’s mandolin punctuated the song brilliantly. The next song was a lively fiddle and mandolin duet with Thile and Alex Hargreaves, and Chris danced joyfully throughout. Damon returned to the mic to sing “Epic, Pt.1” from the musical Hadestown. After the song was finished, Thile said, “That was Damon Daunno, a voice from the gods!”

        Zakir Hussain and Ganesh Rajagopalan                      © Kevin R. Mason

Chris continued, “From around the corner to the four corners of the earth, Town Hall has provided a space for the width and breadth of the music being made, not just in America, but all over the world by legends of yore like Miriam Makeba, Jõao Gilberto, and Amália Rodrigues…In 1937, a young Ravi Shankar performed at the Hall as a dancer…He returned to the Hall for his own show 20 years later, well on his way to blowing the Western world’s musical mind wide open…Our next guest was a musical protégé and frequent collaborator of maestro Shankar’s… Make welcome the master of rhythm, Zakir Hussain, along with the great Ganesh Rajagopalan!” Tabla virtuoso/composer/percussionist Zakir Hussain said, “It’s crazy, somebody calls me a master, but that somebody happens to be the real deal. Let’s hear it for Mr. Chris Thile!” Zakir introduced “Bihag,” a gorgeously romantic, Indian Raga song. Hussain added, “It is an honor and a privilege to be sitting onstage with one of the finest Indian fiddlers ever, Mr. Ganesh Rajagopalan!” “Bihag” started with a lovely extended fiddle solo by Ganesh, then Zakir joined in on his tabla drums. This hypnotic tune was like a musical travelogue, taking listeners on a virtual trip to India. The two musicians’ interplay was magical, and their musical virtuosity was quite impressive. From the expressions on their faces, they enjoyed performing as much as the audience enjoyed hearing them. Zakir kidded, “So, about 92.92% of that was improvised. I had no idea what he was going to do, and he definitely didn’t know what I was going to do. But anyway, we got there.” Next came a composition by Ganesh Rajagopalan, “Peace,” and Chris brought his mandolin to take part. The energetic piece ended with a thrilling crescendo.

                  Emily King                         © Kevin R. Mason

Vocalist Emily King returned to the stage with her guitar, joined by the rest of the ensemble for a real change-of-pace song composed by Emily, “Distance,” which was a soulful, percussive ballad. After the song finished, Emily said, “Give it up for the incredible musicians out here tonight! Legendary, legendary! It’s so nice to be out of my sweatpants tonight.” The group followed up with another of King’s compositions, “Georgia,” which featured Emily singing some gorgeous three-part harmony with Chris Thile and Becca Stevens.

      Chris Thile, Cécile McLorin Salvant, and                  Sullivan Fortner    © Kevin R. Mason

Timo Andres came back on stage to perform a song with the group. Thile said that when Town Hall’s Melay Araya told him that composer Samuel Barber was a Town Hall regular, “I knew it meant that you and I would have no excuse not to try playing the third movement of Barber’s only violin concerto…We have to. We’re obliged.” The breathtaking duet by the two musicians kept the audience on the edge of their seats. Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner joined Chris Thile to perform the intensely sensual “Spoonful,” which told the story of obsessive love and sex. Next, Thile said, “I wanted to do a song from the first broadcast of Live From Here from Town Hall, back in December of 2016.” The composition “Thank You, New York” painted a detailed musical picture of being in love and living in New York City, and the lyrics were changed a bit to reflect surviving and triumphing during tough times. The artists performed with passion and drive on this one.

Damon Daunno and Cécile McLorin Salvant          © Kevin R. Mason

Before the final song of the concert, Chris said, “It has been a true joy to have been in this beautiful place, celebrating the first 100 years of Town Hall.” Thile brought back all the musicians who had performed throughout the evening, exclaiming, “I’m like a kid in a candy store! We’re going to leave you with a song that has been performed countless times at Town Hall.” He recalled how similar being on stage is to being in the house at town Hall. “You’re enveloped by that sound. You’re never purely a spectator or a performer at the Hall; you’re always both.” Chris had all the musicians symbolically raise glasses and called out, “Here’s to the next 100 years of Town Hall!” The final song was “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” by Marcus Mumford and Oscar Isaac. The tune began with vocal harmony by Chris Thile and Damon Daunno, then Cécile McLorin Salvant partnered with both Emily King and Damon Daunno two stand-out solo duets. Chris Thile jammed on a sweet interlude with Ganesh Rajagopalan and Zakir Hussain. Becca Stevens sang and played her guitar with honeyed delicacy, and all the musicians gave each other marvelous support.

           Alex Hargreaves © Kevin R. Mason

What an extraordinary event this was, with jazz, Broadway tunes, folk music, and Indian compositions! The artists demonstrated how well they could stretch beyond the genres they are known for, and there were some exceptional collaborations. This last show of the Bryant Park Picnic Performances was a magnificent finish to a summer filled with amazing concerts. With clear protocols in place, Bryant Park was able to safely bring an abundance of FREE live presentations and livestreamed events throughout the summer to a public that had been waiting a long time for them. From the turnout and enthusiastic audience response, the shows were a much-needed respite from the pandemic, and a welcome step towards normalcy.

For more information on upcoming events at Town Hall, go to www.thetownhall.org.