Jazzmobile–it’s that famous flatbed stage that makes live performances so accessible to neighborhoods throughout New York City. For music lovers, seeing the Jazzmobile roll into a neighborhood is the same enjoyment that kids relish when they see the Mister Softee truck rolling up.
Both trucks bring enjoyment, but Jazzmobile is a unique experience in the art of creative improvisation. The musicians make it happen, and for kids, it is even more exciting; they are enchanted by the sounds of the instruments, and that swinging music make them dance and giggle every time. For them, it isn’t jazz, it’s just energizing dance music; there is no reason to explain the music to youngsters.
Children’s enjoyment watching jazz is the reason Jazzmobile was co-founded in 1964 by Dr. Billy Taylor and the late Daphne Arnstein to bring the music to the community and introduce it to everyone. So for Jazzmobile Summerfest 2013, bring the kids and young people out for their free introduction while the fans get a strong dose of jazz from some of their favorite musicians.
This summer’s nearly 30 scheduled concerts have two constants; every Wednesday, Jazzmobile will be in Harlem at Grant’s Tomb (122nd Street and Riverside Drive) and every Friday at Marcus Garvey Park (122nd Street and Fifth Avenue). The concerts begin at 7 p.m.
On July 12, noted vocalist Antoinette Montague, who can swing on a jazz note or belt a big blues tune, will perform at Marcus Garvey Park at 6:30 p.m.; on July 15, vocalist Cynthia Scott sings (as a former Raelette, she knows jazz likes the blues) on the small bandstand at City College of New York on the North Academic Plaza (Amsterdam Avenue and 136th Street).
Drummer-composer Winard Harper will make his appearance on July 17 at Grant’s Tomb. Harper is a rousing drummer with a big sound, which represents his jazz perspective. His latest CD, “Coexist,” says it all.
Saxophonist Patience Higgins and the Sugar Hill Quartet will perform on July 19 at Marcus Garvey Park. Higgins is a first-call saxophonist when he is not in or out of the country with his own band.
Percussionist Ray Mantilla performs on July 24 at Grant’s Tomb. He was a founding member of M’Boom with Max Roach. On July 26, it’s “Happy Birthday, Dr. Billy Taylor,” a celebration of the late co-founder’s 92nd birthday at Marcus Garvey Park with a performance by his protégé, pianist Christian Sands.
This year, Jazzmobile has partnered with the Riverside Theater, which means that in case of rain, there is now a place to go. Rain will no longer defeat upcoming concert dates.
The concerts are free, but the bands still have to be paid. For organizations like Jazzmobile—which offers other programs, including jazz education programs for professional artists, New York public school students and enthusiasts; Saturday workshops; and free public school lectures—the public can play a key role by keeping these programs thriving through donations.
For donations or a complete schedule, which includes August performances, visit Jazzmobile.org.
Duets these days are a rare commodity, but when one comes along like composer-trumpeter-vocalist Hugh Masekela and his longtime friend and playing partner pianist Larry Willis, it is well worth all the hoopla.
Their duet performance at the Jazz Standard was musical poetry. Masekela played flugelhorn for the evening. He has such a rich tone and sweet harmonic flow, while Willis filled in the musical gaps with soft, melodic injections. Together, they shared a compatible psyche, but after playing together for over 53 years whenever their schedules would allow, we would expect no less from them.
They opened with “High Fly” (a Randy Weston tune) and dedicated the engagement to Louis Armstrong and Miriam Makeba, noting “great people never die.” It was a memorial night of ballads, originals and South African songs, Armstrong covers, “Sleepy Time Down South” and Masekela’s incredible stories from New York, to his days living under the terrible regime of Apartheid.
Masekela informed the audience that he always wanted to play with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and other great bands, but his mentors Dizzy Gillespie and Harry Belafonte always told him to start his own band.
“Miles Davis put it together for me in his usual amount of words. ‘Hughie, if you put your African stuff and mix it with the stuff you learned in New York, you will never be a statistic,’” he recounted.
His South African roots and American musical experiences have kept him going for over five decades. Many of the stories are in his book “Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of High Masekela,” co-written with D. Michael Cheers (Crown Publishers, 2004).