New York’s longest running jazz concert series, Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz,” kicks off its 43rd season with a 42nd anniversary gala Feb. 19, featuring vocalist Catherine Russell and her band making their debut appearance.
The gala takes place at 8 p.m. at Tribeca Performing Arts Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, 199 Chambers St. Returning series artists appearing in an all-star quartet will be the pianist Gordon Webster, clarinetist and saxophonist Dan Levinson, singer and trumpeter Bria Skonberg and bassist and vocalist Nicki Parrott.
“We are honored to celebrate Jack Kleinsinger’s 42nd Highlights in Jazz anniversary. I’m fortunate to be on the program with some of New York’s top musicians,” Russell noted.
Her latest CD, last year’s “Bring It Back,” was named runner-up in the 2014 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. “Bring It Back” returns to the swing era when vocalists and big bands were all the rage. With new arrangements for the 10-piece band, Russell keeps listeners in the present while offering an earful of music that wouldn’t let people just sit down and listen. Her vocals are intertwined with the sassiness of Pearl Bailey and a blues style that was nurtured by her father, the great bandleader Luis Russell, and his collaborations with Louis Armstrong.
Speaking of the first time he performed with Skonberg, Webster and Parrott back in 2011, Levinson recalled, “The chemistry was magical. After three years, I’ve finally succeeded in bringing the four of us together again.”
Kleinsinger noted, “I’ll probably bring them together with Russell because, as a producer, that’s what producers do.”
For tickets and information, call the box office at 212-220-1460.
Allan Harris’ recent one-night engagement at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola once again proved his ability to leave his audiences desperately yelling for more. He is an exciting entertainer—a magnifying singer entrenched in jazz who consistently chooses material that escapes the well-traveled roads of most jazz vocalists.
His Dizzy’s performance included songs from his latest CD, “Black Bar Jukebox” (Love Productions Records, 2014), such as Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot.” His interpretation was a burning, bluesy, swinging, up-tempo melody. He turned “My Funny Valentine” into a breezy, almost spiritual ballad with the help of Pascal Le Boeuf on organ. He ended the song with scat intonations.
“Miami,” an original ballad, set Harris’ baritone loose with warm tones that stimulated the listener’s palate. His “You Make Me Feel So Young” is his tribute to Frank Sinatra. He understands the significance of telling a story regardless of the song. He brings it home from beginning to end.
Harris shows traces of Nat King Cole and Arthur Prysock, two cats whose voices and showmanship kept their audiences attentive at every turn. This is something Harris has done from Harlem to France and Italy. Harris’ trusted musicians included guitarist Yotum Silberstein, percussionist Samuel Torres, bassist Leon Boykins and drummer Jake Goldbas (all appeared on the CD). On his original “Rosie,” Harris took to the guitar—his instrument of choice when he requires another personal voice.
On “Black Bar Jukebox,” Harris noted, “There are songs that have an R&B beat along with the chord structure and rhythms of jazz. Some songs have a lyrical value to them that talk about not just pain but wanting love. On this CD, we wanted the songs to remind people of sitting in a saloon or a bar where people could hear some great music in a comfortable environment.”
The Grammy Awards usually treat the category of jazz like a mistress, but this year, legendary vocalist Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga performed “Cheek to Cheek”—the title track from their latest duet recording. There was also the unique pairing of guitarist Ed Sheeran with the drummer Questlove, pianist Herbie Hancock and John Mayer on lead guitar on Sheeran’s guitar-driven “Thinking Out Loud.”
Before the Grammy Awards’ live presentations, George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last summer, was presented with the Grammy Trustees Award. Wein pioneered the concept of corporate sponsorship. His “Schlitz Salute to Jazz” and “Kool Jazz Festival” were the first jazz events to feature title sponsors. Under his company, Festival Productions, and the banner JVC Jazz Festival, Wein produced festivals in New York City, Chicago, Paris, Warsaw and Tokyo.
LL Cool J, the host of the 57th annual Grammy Awards, gave Wein a hearty shout-out from the stage, and the jazz impresario, prominently seated in the front row, stood up and waved to the audience. Ironically, LL Cool J never really mentioned how the gentleman is a jazz legend who founded the most noted jazz festival in history.
With Wein’s contribution to jazz, and jazz being America’s original art form, it was fitting for him to be incorporated into the live stage presentation. He too should have the option to wear a tuxedo and anxiously stand before the huge crowd and thank all those important people who contributed to this great music called jazz.
Even with Dianne Reeves receiving her fifth Grammy this year for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her CD, “Beautiful Life,” it seems she has earned a walk on the red carpet and stage. The same goes for Wayne Shorter for his Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as Billy Childs, winning his fourth Grammy, this time for Best Arrangement, Instrumental and Vocals with “New York Tendaberry.”
Jazz is still considered a beer and wine lady. She’s cool to take to the club at night, but when it comes to the big awards, the red carpet and dressing up, jazz never quite makes primetime.
Hey, jazz, listen, I got to go to the Grammy Awards with R&B, pop, country, best rap, alternative rock and metal. You know we will be posing on the red carpet, accepting awards on stage and hanging after hours at the parties, drinking champagne and stuff. But listen, jazz, you know how I feel about you, America’s original music. Can I meet you later tonight at the club?