When it comes to creativity, Miles Davis took his music and listeners to higher ground. He kept the music and his innovative concepts moving from bebop to “the birth of the cool,” and then straight ahead to fusion (“Bitches Brew,” “Tribute to Jack Johnson” and “On the Corner”).
Davis lived and hung out on the Upper West Side. It was in the Cellar Restaurant (West 95th Street) that he first saw the drummer Al Foster playing and asked him to join his band.
Last weekend, Foster was once again on the Upper West Side, this time performing the music of Davis along with bassist Buster Williams, pianist Larry Willis (both Davis alumni) and the young guns saxophonist Javon Jackson and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who are both making quite a name for themselves as sidemen and bandleaders.
They were performing as the Larry Willis Quintet for the “Dreaming in Blue” Miles Davis Festival, on now through June 30 at the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club (2751 Broadway, between 105th and 106th streets).
“We found there were six degrees of separation from Miles and the musicians we booked at Smoke,” said Paul Stache, co-owner of Smoke. “They all seem to have a connection with Miles. We are paying tribute to the Miles Davis tradition and him pushing the envelope.”
On June 14-15, the Sonny Fortune Quintet will continue the festival with “Remembering Miles Dewey Davis” (sets at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.). The saxophonist/flautist Fortune played an integral role in Davis’ mid-1970s fusion ensemble appearing on the albums “Big Fun,” “Agharta,” “Get Up With It” and “Pangaea.” As a bandleader, Fortune is a legend in his own right and has also had stints with McCoy Tyner, Mal Waldron and Elvin Jones.
Fortune will be leading his impressive band, which includes trumpeter Kamau Adilifu (formerly Charles Sullivan), pianist Michael Cochrane, bassist David Williams and drummer Steve Johns. This will be Fortune’s debut at Smoke.
One trumpeter of note to catch during this festival is Duane Eubanks, who performs on June 19 with his quintet, featuring tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, bassist Ameen Saleem and drummer Eric McPherson. And making his Smoke debut on June 21-22 is the Freddie Hendrix Quartet under the festival theme “Milestones.” Hendrix has toured with the Christian McBride Big Band, Lou Donaldson and Alicia Keys. His band includes tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Eric McPherson.
“Smoke’s Miles Davis Festival ain’t corny; it’s real,” said WBGO radio personality Rob Crocker. For a complete schedule listing and tickets, visit smokejazz.com or call 212-864-6662.
The Vision Festival 18 isn’t for the jazz police or purists; it’s for those daring souls who are on the edge of their seats waiting to hear something that eclipses the traditional boundaries of jazz.
Be assured that any of the tunes being performed at the Roulette (509 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn) on June 12-16 at the Vision Festival 18 will not be duplicated by any other band on the four-day program, and if by chance it is, the piece will be so reconstructed or dismantled that it wouldn’t matter.
The Vision Festival is about “vision.” It is avant-garde, free music; it is the creativity of musicians who follow their own boundless flight of musical freedom.
The June 12 opening will include the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to the drummer Milford Graves. The free jazz pioneer will perform in various configurations including Transition TRIO with pianist D.D. Jackson and tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan; and the NY HeART ensemble with poet Amiri Baraka, trombonist Roswell Rudd, bassist William Parker and tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle. It begins at 7 p.m.
On June 13, the festival will honor visual artist Robert Janz. Janz was part of the “Zen Generation” led by Pacific Coast Beat artists. His art has been somewhat overlooked, but it has still influenced generations of artists all over the world.
The evening will also feature the Roscoe Mitchell Trio with bassist Henry Grimes, pianist Connie Crothers and Mitchell on reeds. This is a dynamic trio that rarely plays in New York City. The show starts at 7 p.m., and Mitchell will perform at 10 p.m.
In 1965, Mitchell was one of the first members of the nonprofit organization Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians along with pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall and composer Phil Cohran.
He later formed one of the most important avant-garde groups in jazz history, the Art Ensemble of Chicago (1967-71).
On June 15, Reggie Workman will perform, featuring pianist Marilyn Crispell, tenor saxophonist Odean Pope, tablas player Tapan Modak and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. The legendary bassist Workman and his ensemble will perform at 10:45 p.m.
June 16 will close with an array of great music and events, including Hamiet Bluiett with his Bluiett Bio-Electric Ensemble and a panel discussion at 2 p.m. called “Decolonizing the Music” with panelists Baraka, William Parker, Juma Sultan, Darius Jones, Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky), Hetty Fox and moderated by Basir McHawi.
Festival passes are $140 online, and daily admission is $30 per day, $20 for students and seniors. For a complete listing and more information, go to artsforart.org or call 212-254-5420.
On June 18-19, the On Site Opera & Harlem Opera Theater will present the jazz opera “Blue Monday” at the Cotton Club (626 W. 125th St.). “Blue Monday,” written by composer George Gershwin, takes a stroll through the 1920s and makes a stop in a Harlem jazz club, where a love triangle goes wrong.
The cast features Alyson Cambridge, Chase Taylor, Lawrence Craig, Clayton Mathews and Alvin Crawford. The accompaniment will include members of the Harlem Chamber Players and the Cotton Club All Stars.
Each evening, the doors will open at 7 p.m. with an hour of cocktails and dancing before the opera at 8 p.m. The dance floor will be open and cocktails will flow as a prelude to Gershwin’s jazz-infused murder romance.
“Blue Monday” will be conducted by Gregory Hopkins (Harlem Opera Theater) and directed by Eric Einhorn (On Site Opera) with choreography by Tony Award winner George Faison and costumes by Candida K. Nichols. For more information, visit www.osopera.org or call 917-243-8340.