Saxophonist-composer Henry Threadgill has been a significant member of the avant-garde movement. However, if one is to avoid such categories, then it is clear that Threadgill is an innovator, who, over the past four decades, has created his own distinctive sounds and concepts, adding another influential voice to the jazz choir.
Threadgill fans and those who just like the thrill of reading an Octavia E. Butler novel will appreciate “Very Very Threadgill: Celebrating the Genius of Henry Threadgill,” a two-day festival of music taking place Sept. 27-28 at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, 150 Convent Ave. at 135th Street. The festival is curated by a younger, spirited explorer, the pianist and composer Jason Moran.
Over the years, Threadgill has led a variety of ensembles, including the trio Air with Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall, the seven-piece Sextett, Very Very Circus, the 20-piece Society Situation Dance Band and his current group, Zooid.
For these two days, Moran and Threadgill have enlisted artists from these groups and others, including Henry Grimes, Craig Harris, Darius Jones, Graham Haynes, Frank Lacy, Greg Osby, Pyeng Threadgill, Linda Oh, J.T. Lewis, Antoine Roney, Tyshawn Sorrey and Fay Victor.
Sept. 27 at 7 p.m., Cassandra Wilson joins the Harriet Tubman Band as a special guest vocalist. Air and Sextett will also perform. Sept. 28, “Dig Deeper,” a free event, begins at 3 p.m., featuring a conversation with Threadgill and Moran moderated by Brent Edwards, co-author of an upcoming memoir about Threadgill. Threadgill’s chamber ensembles will include Very Very Circus and end with a dance party featuring Society Situation Dance Band.
Consistently looking to expand the jazz perimeters, Threadgill used rare instrumentation for Very Very Circus by implementing two tubas, two electric guitars, a trombone or French horn and drums. He also variated with violins, accordion, and Latin percussion, thus the group’s name was “very, very” apropos.
Tickets for each night are $35, and $60 for both days. For a complete listing and information, visit HarlemStage.org.
Bebo Valdes is known as the father of Afro-Cuban jazz. He was part of the first generation in Cuba to grow up under the influence of jazz. The current exhibit “Bebo Valdes Giant of Cuban Music,” running at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (104 E. 126th St.), pays tribute to this pianist and arranger.
Valdes passed away last year on March 22 at the age of 94. In Cuba, he was the pianist and arranger for the Tropicana Club Orchestra. He later led his own orchestra, Sabor de Cuba Orquesta, at the Tropicana, backing such American musicians as Sarah Vaughan, Roy Haynes, Nat King Cole and Stan Getz.
In 1960, Valdes defected from Cuba to Mexico, then lived briefly in the United States before settling in Stockholm, where he died. His last recording was with his son Chucho Valdes, “Bebo y Chucho Valdes: Juntos Para Siempre” (“Together Forever”). The album won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2010.
Sept. 30, the exhibit will present “Jazz for Curious Listeners,” with the theme of “Bebo’s Greatest Student: Chucho Valdes.” This session looks at the career of Chucho Valdes, who, like his father, became an influential pianist carrying the tradition of Cuban and Afro-Cuban music around the world. The event takes place at 7 p.m. and is free to the public. The exhibit can be seen weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
At age 89, the drummer Roy Haynes has not lost that snap, crackle and pop that became his trademark over the past seven decades. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola was packed during his recent engagement with his trusted band the Fountain of Youth, featuring pianist Martin Bejerano, saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and bassist David Wong.
On the tune “Green Chimneys,” Haynes took an extended solo on the high hat. One could hear a pin drop as the master worked his magic on the cymbals. “Roy puts a fire under us every night,” said Shaw. “With him, we always have to be ready.”
After playing together for years, the band is an intuitive, swinging force, never missing a beat. Haynes offered some background information on his days playing with Sarah Vaughan, as well as showing off a few of his tap dance moves.
Haynes arrived in New York in 1942 on a one-way ticket from Boston, sent to him by Luis Russell, the big band leader, who was waiting for Haynes at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Max Roach, upon leaving Charlie Parker’s band, told him “get Roy Haynes.”
The drummer has played with everybody from Lester Young to Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Chick Corea, Sarah Vaughan (1953-1958), Dizzy Gillespie, Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Oliver Nelson, Alice Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck and Archie Shepp.
As a leader, he formed a trio with pianist Danilo Perez and bassist John Pattitucci. He also formed the group Birds of a Feather: A Tribute to Charlie Parker, with Roy Hargrove, Dave Holland and Kenny Garrett.
The New York Columbia University radio station WKCR-FM broadcasted various conversations and configurations that Haynes had played in during his career, which covered 301 hours of programming. The Christian McBride Trio, with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., is one of the best swinging jazz trios on today’s set.
Sands, a protege of Dr. Billy Taylor, got loose on “Day By Day.” The trio’s arrangements took the tune in a new direction, restructuring it with cascading piano melodies. As Owens’ brush work entered the conversation, McBride rode on top with deep, rolling chords.
Under McBride’s arrangement, the Latin-tinged “Caravan” took on a ferocious tone, as it was given a 2014 conversion, complete with a monstrous piano, roaring drums and rapid bass lines. Gillespie and Blakey would have been proud of their young predecessors.
“I call him my American Express card because I don’t leave home without him,” stated McBride during his introduction of Owens. This trio has been together for four years, and this was their debut engagement at Manhattan’s Birdland. This trio revitalizes well-traveled tunes with an intense vigor that moves with uninhibited freedom.
“My Favorite Things” opened with a soft piano, as everyone gradually upped the speed limit, going off in improvisational solos before returning to the bridge and closing on soft shoulders. McBride is an exploratory musician who keeps his musicians inspired to cook.