Blazing sun rays are in full force, radiating this summer’s first heatwave as jazz fans lie peacefully in wait for early evening to make their way to Jazzmobile.
Fridays, Jazzmobile swings at Marcus Garvey Park (124th Street and Mt. Morris Park West). July 29, 7 p.m.-8 p.m., the first lady of Jamaica jazz, vocalist Myrna Hague will perform.
Hague and her husband, trumpeter/bandleader Sonny Bradshaw (now deceased), founded the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival in 1991.
In October 2015, she received a doctorate in cultural studies from the University of the West Indies, her dissertation examining jazz in the Caribbean.
She is known for her love songs, but swinging is a happy option she welcomes. She will be joined by Harlem’s own tenor saxophonist, Patience Higgins.
Aug. 3, the trumpeter/composer Jeremy Pelt performs at Grant’s Tomb (122nd Street and Riverside Drive). He is a straight-ahead musician who burns in the tradition of no chaser, just good music.
Aug. 5, the last of the true beboppers, jazz elder pianist/composer Barry Harris, will honor the Mt. Morris Park stage. His classic jazz style follows the flow of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Coleman Hawkins.
As a native of Detroit, Harris worked with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt and Thad Jones. Between 1965 and 1969, Harris often performed with Coleman Hawkins at the Village Vanguard. During the 1970s, he lived with Monk at the Weehawken, N.J., home of the jazz patroness, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter.
He will be joined by the Voices, a choir that he founded and continues to instruct on a regular basis.
Shows are 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For a complete schedule visit the website jazzmobile.org.
SummerStage, another free outdoor festival, is celebrating the jazz centennial this season with its largest jazz lineup to date. Aug. 5, one of its most significant performances will feature trumpeter, composer and arranger Terence Blanchard, with his new quintet, E-Collective.
They will be performing Blanchard’s latest record, “Breathless” (Blue Note Records), which was written in response to social tensions and inspired by Eric Garner’s resounding last words: “I Can’t Breathe.” The performance takes place in Staten Island at Cloves Lakes Park.
It is significant this concert is taking place in Staten Island, where Garner lost his life at the hands of the NYPD.
Cuepoint, on the web publishing site, Medium, published Blanchard’s essay, “Using Music to Underscore Three Words: I Can’t Breathe,” which details Blanchard’s revulsion at the death of Garner and how the subsequent “I Can’t Breathe” campaign inspired the series of songs the E-Collective created for the album.
With E-Collective, Blanchard interacts with the fused genres of funk, R&B and blues. The album is a musical statement of activism the title references. The words “I can’t breathe” have echoed across the country in protest of police brutality and discrimination.
The E-Collective includes guitarist Charles Altura, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Donald Ramsey and drummer Oscar Seaton. The adventurous 13-track recording has several Blanchard originals and covers, sung by vocalist PJ Morton (a member of Maroon 5), including a restructured take on the jazz funk composition “Compared to What,“ by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. Blanchard’s son, T. Oliver Blanchard Jr., aka JRei Oliver, contributed his song “Shutting Down” and spoken-word excerpts on others.
With the recording of “I Can’t Breathe,” Blanchard joins other musicians who have used their music to project their activist voice against racial inequality: Archie Shepp’s “Attica Blues” (Impulse 1972), Max Roach’s “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite” (Candid Records 1960), Herbie Hancock’s “The Prisoner” (Blue Note 1969), the hardcore in your face NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” (Ruthless Records 1988) and Miles Davis’ “Jack Johnson” (Columbia 1971).
In 2006, Blanchard composed the score for Spike Lee’s four-hour Hurricane Katrina documentary for HBO entitled, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” Blanchard later created an album titled, “A Tale of God’s Will: A Requiem for Katrina” (Blue Note). He recreated some pieces from the documentary and created others that provided audiences with the opportunity to sympathize with those who were affected by Hurricane Katrina.
When it comes to composing film scores, Blanchard is Spike Lee’s go-to guy. He has composed scores for the filmmaker since 1991, some for the films “Malcolm X,” “Jungle Fever,” and “4 Little Girls.”
With more than scores to his credit, Blanchard is the most prolific jazz musician to ever compose for movies, surpassing Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones and Benny Golson.
SummerStage presents more than 115 free performances to Central Park and 15 neighborhood parks throughout the five boroughs. For a complete listing now through Sept. 23, visit the website summerstage.org.
When speaking of outdoor free concerts, one name has to be mentioned: Dr. Billy Taylor, the co-founder of Jazzmobile. It was his shared concept to bring jazz to the community, particularly to Harlem that brought Jazzmobile to fruition. He felt music was an inspiration to people of all ages, and price shouldn’t prohibit communities from enjoying the best music available.
The renowned pianist, composer and educator Taylor would have been 95 July 24, so a day earlier the Harlem Cultural Archives had a tribute concert in his honor.
“We wanted to pay tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor by hosting a concert where he lived; where he presented and popularized jazz to an entire generation,” said the non-profit organization’s co-founder and co-executive director Glenn Hunter.
The concert was held at the Riverton Complex in front of Taylor’s former building 2265 on 138th Street and 5th Avenue, where he wrote the now standard anthem, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” That street was named Dr. Billy Taylor Way in his honor July 13, 2014.
The concert featured the Marcus Miller Quartet. This Miller plays a mean alto saxophone and is not related to the noted bassist. The quartet of young guns featured keyboardist Chez Lewis, bassist Tassili Bond and drummer Camille Gaines-Jones.
With only a few hours of rehearsal, they had an instinctive groove, a hard-bop straight-ahead force. A performance that would have impressed the master, Taylor.
Harlem’s own Annette St. John, guest vocalist who has performed with George Benson, Lou Donaldson and Dr. Lonnie Smith, tantalized the audience with her rendition of “Tenderly.”
“It was a wonderful day,” said Kim Taylor-Thompson. “The Marcus Miller Quartet played so beautifully. I know my dad was smiling.”