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‘Jazz Meets Sports’ at NJPAC

RISASI DAIS | 3/14/2014, 12:38 p.m.
A historical jazz and sports collaborative event occurred recently on a Sunday evening at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center ...
Bernie Williams, the popular former New York Yankees player, played jazz on Sunday evening at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark in a program titled “Jazz Meets Sports.” Here, Williams is playing next to jazz drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. Risasi Dais photos

A historical jazz and sports collaborative event occurred recently on a Sunday evening at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark. For the first time, two sports legends were presented onstage at the Victoria Theater at NJPAC with one of the nation’s top jazz musicians.

The sold-out premiere evening program was titled “Jazz Meets Sports,” and it included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the legendary 7-foot-2 all-time basketball champion of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Bernie Williams, the four-time World Series champion who spent 16 years playing for the New York Yankees, as they joined jazz, R&B and hip-hop bassist Christian McBride.

The concept of “Jazz Meets Sports” was conceived by McBride, who is the artistic director of the weeklong James Moody Democracy of Jazz concerts during the fall of each year at NJPAC.

“It seems like there are many professional athletes who admire jazz musicians, and there are many jazz musicians who always wanted to become great sports athletes, so I’ve decided this evening to combine the two worlds,” said McBride.

McBride is a Philadelphia native who moved to New York City in 1989 to further his classical musical studies at the Julliard School at Lincoln Center. However, his studies were cut short when he abruptly left school to join jazz saxophonist Bobby Watson as his bassist.

Eventually, his incredibly versatile bass playing made him much sought-after as a sideman by many of the top jazz musicians, such as Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Ray Brown, Chick Corea, J.J. Johnson, Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. In the R&B world, he arranged for Issac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, LaLah Hathaway and even the “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown. In rock, he collaborated with Sting, Carly Simon, Bruce Hornsby and Don Henley. In the hip-hop world, he collaborated with the Roots, D’Angelo and Queen Latifah.

And so, on March 2, jazz would meet sports as the Christian McBride Trio—which included the sensational jazz pianist Christian Sands and jazz drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.—backed up Abdul-Jabbar as he recited the poem “Jonah and the Whale,” following an interesting, insightful interview of Abdul-Jabbar conducted by McBride and Lesley Visser, the highly acclaimed sportscaster and the only woman to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Following Abdul-Jabbar’s poetry reading, the stage was reset for Williams, who was interviewed by McBride and Visser. Following Williams’ interview, Williams, who is an accomplished guitar player, joined McBride’s trio and thrilled the audience, playing “Autumn Leaves” and “Pass the Peas”, a James Brown arrangement.

On this evening, a snowstorm was predicted to occur in New Jersey. However, McBride’s hot, sizzling jazz music, in collaboration with legendary sports icon Abdul-Jabbar and his recitation of radiant poetry as well as Williams’ electrifying jazz guitar melodies, heated up the theater, sending steamy jazz sounds to the heavens and melting all snowflakes during this particular evening.