Matthew Whitaker, the 16-year-old pianist/organist and composer, can easily captivate his audience within minutes. He is that good. I met the child prodigy about six years ago when he was perfecting his craft and had an interest in video games.
May 19 (7 p.m.-10 p.m.), Whitaker will demonstrate the results of those long hours of practice and perseverance as he celebrates his debut recording “Outta the Box” (Passion Music Group) performing live at The Great Hall, 15 Washington St., Newark, N.J.
The multi-instrumentalist has put together a competent ensemble that includes guitarist Matt Oestreicher, alto saxophonist Julius Tolentino, tenor saxophonist Mike Lee, trumpeter Nathan Eklund, trombonist Peter Lin, bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Otis Brown III.
“Outta the Box” features six original compositions out of 10 tracks that spotlight Whitaker’s composing and arranging skills on tunes such as “Matt’s Blues” and “Neighborhood Park.” For his favorite jazz influences, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Rhonda Scott he, offered his own arrangements of their songs “Back Track” and “Pistachio.”
For the recording of “Outta The Box,” Whitaker was flanked by an outstanding cast that included the bassist, arranger and composer Christian McBride, the guitarist Dave Stryker, the eclectic drummer Will Calhoun, the percussionist Sammy Figueroa and the CD’s producer Ray Chew.
The concert is free and open to the public. You must RSVP for admission at Eventbrite.com/matthew-whitaker-isouttathe box.
The Miles Davis legacy remains just as potent as a Jack Johnson knockout and inspiring as his influential recording “Kind of Blue” in 1959.
The four talented musicians who keep the Miles Davis legacy moving straight-ahead are the members of Four Generations of Miles, which features the drummer Jimmy Cobb, guitarist Mike Stern, alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune and bassist Buster Williams.
May 23 to May 27 at Birdland (315 W. 44th St.), these four musicians will revisit some of their musical explorations taken with Davis.
Davis was the architect of the jazz evolution. His ensembles were deemed the best in jazz history. As a trumpeter, composer and bandleader, his recordings became the standard for cool, post-bop and fusion as evidenced by these four generations of artists who played under his helm.
Cobb appeared on “Kind of Blue” (1959), and Stern (“We Want Miles”; 1981), Williams (“Directions”; 1960-1970) and Fortune (“Big Fun”; 1974) have the post-bop and fusion bases well covered.
“Five or six years ago Buster and I took Ron Carter and George Coleman’s place,” said Fortune. “We are playing the music that Cobb was associated with and the concept that we were associated with fusion. For me Elvin Jones and Cobb were my biggest influences. They were magical. Cobb still sounds the way he did in the 50s. Buster and Jimmy make the music crystal clear.”
For reservations visit the website www.birdlandjazz.com.
In 1957, three iconic jazz singers (Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae) performed consecutive nights at the Newport Jazz Festival (in Rhode Island). Most recently, the Apollo Theater presented its own exceptional Women of the World Festival.
The final night featured three of this generation’s prominent jazz vocalists: Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater and the bassist, composer Esperanza Spalding with the drummer Teri Lyne Carrington as the music director in a spirited tribute to Abbey Lincoln, the late (Aug. 6, 1930-Aug. 14, 2010) vocalist, songwriter, actress, civil rights advocate and activist.
These three vibrant singers were just as diverse as their earlier counterparts at Newport and their individual performances were as varied as the stars assembled in the Milky Way Galaxy.
The spirit of Abbey Lincoln moving in the Apollo ignited these ladies to an even higher level of song. Bridgewater, who was still wearing a leg cast and walking with a cane, was wearing one of Lincoln’s hip hats, and one of her colorful scarfs was on the chair that Reeves often held as she sang.
They were accompanied by proficient ensemble, with the saxophonist Edmar Colon, bassist James Genus, guitarist Marvin Sewell, drummer and percussionist Mino Cinelo and pianist Marc Cary.
The concert opened with the gifted trio singing “The River” (a song inside a poem). Their voices were in complete union soaring on a cloud. “This is the music of activism about our lives, our culture and pain,” said Bridgewater.
From there Bridgewater moved into “The Music Is the Magic.” There is a message in Lincoln’s music. This song has a call and response blues element that Bridgewater totally exploited with her distinctive soulful voice, with vocals from Reeves and Spalding.
Reeves’ version of “Bird Alone” was a forceful heart-grabbing moment. Her mid-timbre range with crystal clear pronunciation is breathtaking. “The beautiful melodies that she wrote to these touching words is great,” said Reeves. “She is always telling the truth and giving us sage advice for healing and wellness.”
Spaulding kept the soulful blues flowing with “Straight Ahead.” This song was a great song for the young bassist because some may not have been aware of her boundless singing ability. She sings the blues with sincere intensity, taking the high notes in stride and bringing it down to a sweet dream. “We are all children of Abbey,” said Spalding.
The audience responded with outrageous sounds of enjoyment, three standing ovations and shuts of “Encore! Encore!”
They returned with “Blue Monk.” What could be more apropos than a Thelonious Monk tune done by these exciting ladies of song?
It was a great night to be present in the world famous Apollo Theater, where musicians leave audiences reveling in their performances.
The buzz quickly became as loud as a siren when it was learned the renowned South African trumpeter/composer Hugh Masekela was injured during a concert in Morocco and would not be appearing at Town Hall.
This April 27 concert was a groundbreaking reunion that celebrated the Jazz Epistles 1960 album “Jazz Epistle Verse 1.” It was the Jazz Epistles, featuring Abdulah Ibrahim and his jazz ensemble Ekaya on South Africa Freedom Day.
In 1959, South Africa’s top musicians, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, alto saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko, created the first all-Black modern South African jazz recording.
It was revolutionary for the time period, but only 500 albums were printed. The apartheid government viewed jazz as an inherent threat to authority and forced its musicians into exile. The Jazz Epistles disbanded. Their music was burned and almost lost.
Now, half a century later, at Town Hall, this recording was revisited by Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya, with the New York-based South African trumpeter Lesedi Ntsane sitting in for Masekela. “The Jazz Epistles are legendary,” said Ntsane. “They are the blood of the soil. They gave us life and this is historic.”
The singer Dorothy Masuka, who has been a star in South Africa since 1950, also performed, along with her bassist Bakithi Kumalo, best known for his recordings and tours with Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”
On performing in New York on South Africa Freedom Day, Masuka noted, “I have no words for it. It’s something one was waiting for all of one’s life. Freedom Day means life.”
Masuka opened the celebration with Kumalo. She was originally a member of The Skylards with Miriam Makeba and Dolly Rathebe. She kept the audience on the edge of their seats as she sang and danced to African rhythms with a flow of folklore melodies.
Some of her songs, such as “Mandela” and “Kikelemawene,” were audience favorites from her many recordings. Other members of her group included drummer Rodney Harris and guitarist Beledo.
Ibrahim’s eight-piece ensemble, Ekaya, interacted like an intuitive straight-ahead locomotive with melodies of classical music in the mix. Guest trumpeter Ntsane had a nice sound, a low breezy sound a tad reflective of Miles Davis at times. Abdullah the master pianist’s solos went from straight-ahead jazz to core African rhythms and cascading classical chords.
“Abdullah Ibrahim is South Africa’s Mozart,” stated Nelson Mandela.