The holidays are in bloom with joyous events taking shape like a dashing Harlem reindeer. Dec. 4, the Arts for Art nonprofit organization will host a holiday fundraiser paying tribute to the legacy and work of violinists Leroy Jenkins and Billy Bang.
The site will be Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the Lowline Lab, at 140 Essex St., 6 p.m. The composer and violin jazz improviser Jason Kao Hwang will direct the Spontaneous River Ensemble, a string ensemble performing the works of Jenkins and Bang.
The composer, violinist and violist Jenkins died in 2007 at the age of 74. He was active in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and led the Revolutionary Ensemble. William Vincent Walker, known as “Billy Bang,” died in 2011 at the age of 63. He was also a highly regarded violinist and composer in the extended music known as avant garde.
After leaving the Stockbridge School in Massachusetts, Walker attended Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, where we met. Years later, during an interview, he told me he never shared with us he played violin. He says, “I used to carry my violin in a brown shopping bag when I was taking lessons so the guys in the neighborhood wouldn’t think I was a chump or something.”
He was drafted into the army at age 18. After his discharge a few years later, he joined Sun Ra’s band. After that exhilarating experience in 1977, he co-founded the String Trio of New York (with guitarist James Emery and double bassist John Lindberg).
He later re-visited his experience in Vietnam in two albums: “Vietnam: The Aftermath” (2001) and “Vietnam: Reflections” (2005), recorded with several other veterans of that war. The latter album also features two Vietnamese musicians based in the United States.
There is also an auction of photographs of Jenkins and Bang. For full details, visit http://www.artsforart.org/fundraiser.html.
The singer/songwriter, rapper and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello was never a conformist. Her menu consists of staggering lyrics to stimulate the mind and good edgy music to feed the soul.
Dec 7-11, the genus instigator of soul will present her latest project, commissioned by Harlem Stage, “Can I Get a Witness,” a theatrical musical work inspired by James Baldwin’s novel “The Fire Next Time” and the Baldwin quote, “From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color and indeed no religion is more important than the human being.”
Theatrically structured as an African-American church service, the work features sermons and original musical compositions that will challenge audiences to engage in critical investigations of race, religion and sexual orientation.
While we celebrate the 103 years since his birth, Baldwin’s words remain essential to the ongoing American discourse.
The presentation will feature the folk and blues guitarist Toshi Reagon, performer Paul J. Thompson, poet Staceyann Chin and performer Justin Hicks. It is directed by Charlotte Brathwaite, known for her unique approach to staging classical and unconventional texts and music events.
In an interview with BroadwayWorld.com, Ndegeocello explained, “‘The Fire Next Time’ has been a tool in understanding the condition and experience of people of color all over the globe. It is a testament to what is often unspoken, misunderstood and painful to hear, it has revealed truths that needed acknowledgment and illumination.”
Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7-11 and 2 p.m. Dec. 10-11. Tickets are $35. Visit the website www.harlemstage.org for more information. The Harlem Gatehouse is located at 150 Convent Ave. at 135th Street.
The Oasis at Gitler &___ Art Gallery, 3629 Broadway (between 149th and 150th streets) in Harlem, is presenting an array of artists, showing their own interpretations of jazz legends. The exhibit on display now through Dec. 18 features more than 30 artists’ paintings of jazz greats, including David Allen on Jelly Roll Morton, Jason McLean on Sonny Rollins, Aaron Skolnick on Sarah Vaughan, Erin Smith on Ella Fitzgerald and owyBICS on Cassandra Wilson. For Gallery hours, visit the website gitlerand.com.
For those in Black theater and its many enthusiasts, the year’s most significant ceremony is the AUDELCO Awards, renamed the Vivian Robinson/AUDELCO Recognition Awards for Excellence in Black Theater.
The “VIV” Award was named in honor of its founder, Vivian Robinson. When it came to AUDELCO (audience development committee), her friends and family, Robinson was a fearless, persevering ball of loving energy.
She approached her daily commitment to AUDELCO with love, which is why it continues today. It was Robinson and Mary Davis who created the bus trips to the Black theaters in New Jersey and Brooklyn.
This year’s 44th annual presentation took place on Manhattan’s Upper West Side at Symphony Space. Co-hosts were R&B/jazz vocalist Alyson Williams; the producer, choreographer and director George Faison, whose comic relief kept the audience in stitches; and the music arranger Kenny Seymour.
Some of the many winners of the evening included the co-star of ABC-TV’s “Scandal,” Joe Morton, for “Best Lead Actor” for his portrayal of Dick Gregory in “Turn Me Loose”; Best Revival “In White America,” New Federal Theatre; Director/Dramatic Production, Ruben Santiago-Hudson (“Skeleton Crew”); Outstanding Performance in a Musical-Female, Tina Fabrique (“The First Noel”); Solo Performance, Reginald L. Wilson (“Sugar Ray”); and Lead Actress, Marjorie Johnson (“Dot”). The great hoofer Maurice Hines “Tappin’ Thru Life” won Outstanding Performance in a Musical-Male, Musical Production of the Year and Choreography.
Special Awards included Board of Director Award to Karen Allen Baxter, Special Pioneer Award to Walter Dallas and Charles Weldon and Special Award to Debra Ann Byrd and Lin Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”).
This year’s Rising Star AUDELCO “VIV” went to Shadhadi Wright Joseph. The young singer and dancer made history as the youngest actor (age 9) to play Young Nala in Disney’s “The Lion King” on Broadway.
In Fall, 2015, Shahadi joined the original Broadway cast of “School of Rock,” playing the role of Madison. Dec. 7, she will co-star in the NBC-TV performance of “Hairspray Live!”
In recognition of AUDELCO’s president Grace L. Jones, AUDELCO multi-winner Rome Neal serenaded her (as she sat onstage) with a Shirley Horn signature “Here’s to Life,” accompanied by Kenny Seymour on piano, and a reading of Adalia Raye’s poem, “A Woman With Grace.” The show was directed and produced by A. Curtis Farrow.