Billy Hart is a stalwart drummer whose reputation is as noteworthy as a luminous full moon. His concentrated focus, playing style and fresh openness has led him to this spotlight in time.
Tonight (Thursday) through Aug. 20, Hart will carry on at the Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Ave. South at 11th Street).
William “Count” Basie, the prominent bandleader, composer and pianist, whose great orchestra added the “w” in swing left us for that big band in the sky back in 1984.
His spirit lives on through his Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, directed by Scotty Barnhart. Aug. 17 (tonight) to Aug. 19 at Birdland (315 W. 44th St.), they will demonstrate why the pianist from Redbank, N.J. was the leader of one of the top swing orchestras in the country.
Barnhart was the orchestra’s trumpeter for 21 years until 2013, when he became director. Trombonist Clarence Banks and vocalist Carmen Bradford (daughter of Melba Joyce) were the last two musicians Basie hired before he passed.
“All of our arrangements are from the Basie Book, but we also have some new music we’ve added from vocalist Kurt Elling, Adele and Earth, Wind & Fire,” said Barnhart. “We have a new CD coming out, the first 80 years of the orchestra, featuring Stevie Wonder on his ‘My Cheri Amour’ and organist Joey DeFrancesco on ‘April in Paris.’”
Two shows each night are at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. For reservations, visit the website www.birdlandjazz.com.
The question arises: Should Charlie Parker’s photo go under the word jazz or saxophone in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary? Although he died in 1955 at the young age of 34, people are still in awe when his name is mentioned. When you hear a tune by him, it is engrained in your subconscious for eternity.
His revolutionary harmonic ideas, including rapid passing chord, and his unique overall tone and style made him a genius.
The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival (free) is now five days, Aug. 23 through Aug. 27, celebrating its 25th anniversary. Aug. 23 will feature music from “Charlie Parker with Strings” (a string of standard jazz ballads), one of the most beautiful adventurous albums ever recorded and Parker’s most outstanding, at the New School Auditorium (66 W. 12th Street), 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The performance is under the direction of Keller Coker, dean of The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, with guest soloist Dave Glasser (alto sax). A chamber orchestra featuring musicians from the Mannes School of Music and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music will perform arrangements from Charlie Parker’s (1949-1950 Mercury recording), “Charlie Parker with Strings.” The standards will include “Summertime,” “I’m in the Mood for Love,” “East of the Sun,” “Everything Happens to Me,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
The musicians will be playing from the original scores. Parker’s music is so enchanting there is no need for any arrangement augments. “We are diving into a repertoire that has not been overdone,” said Coker. “There is a little pressure, but that makes it fun we have to challenge ourselves. We are always making music, and magic can happen at any moment.”
Glasser, the alto soloist for the evening, spent more than a decade with Clark Terry’s band, plus well-spent stints with Illinois Jacquet and Barry Harris, learning from the men who were there. “To perform this great music of Bird’s is an honor and challenge,” noted Glasser. “I am going to play what I hear. The love and respect I have for him will surface.”
Aug. 24, the festival moves uptown (for the next three days) to Marcus Garvey Park (124th Street and Mt. Morris Park West), with Jason Samuels Smith’s “Chasin’ the Bird” remixed, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Aug. 25, the clarinetist/composer Anat Cohen Tentet and the saxophonist Camille Thurman. Hopefully, she will grace the audience with a song or two (7 p.m.-9 p.m.).
Aug. 26 (3 p.m.-7 p.m.), an all-star line-up with saxophonist Lee Konitz and his quartet, the drummer/composer Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science, the celebrated drummer Louis Hayes and the vocalist Charenee Wade.
Aug. 27 the festival concludes downtown at Tompkins Square Park (East Seventh Street and Avenue A) with saxophonist Joshua Redman and his quartet; influential alto saxophonist, composer and humorist Lou Donaldson; Tia Fuller; and vocalist Alicia Olatuja (3 p.m.-7 p.m.).
Berta Indeed, a long time Harlem resident and jazz promoter, along with Patience Higgins and his Sugar Hill Quartet, are keeping the late bassist and composer Andy McCloud III’s legacy alive. They recently paid tribute to him at Farafina Café.
McCloud was an original member of Patience Higgins’ Sugar Hill Quartet. The quartet was in full force, playing a few of McCloud’s original tunes and his favorite “Red Top” by the Kansas City saxophonist Ben Kynard.
Higgins and keyboardist Marcus Persiani performed, but mainstays of the quartet, drummer Dave F. Gibson and bassist Alex Hernandez, were out of town. Sitting in were drummer Dorian Brake and bassist Donald Nicks.
“I have been doing a tribute since Andy passed away in 2010 because he meant so much to me and to the band,” said Indeed. “So when he passed, I had to keep his legacy and music going.”
McCloud and pianist Les Kurtz were the original members of Higgins’ quartet. At the time, Indeed had them booked into Harlem’s Mark IV until she made a deal with Earl Spain of St. Nicks Pub for the group to become the house band until the club’s demise.
The Sugar Hill Quartet always swings hard, but being inspired by their former member McCloud took them to a higher level closer to the late bassist’s new surroundings. Special guests included Annette St. John, who did a sultry rendition of “The Falling Leaves.” Lady Catrese from a youngster to a now established singer joined forces with Sister Zock as a rousing duo breaking out Nina Simone’s “Four Women.” The high-octane source of Sister Zock’s spoken word weaving about the high-fidelity phrasing of Lady Catrese led to a flaming good time.
Farafina Café & Lounge (1813 Amsterdam Ave. at 150th Street) is becoming the next happening eatery and jazz spot in Harlem. There is no music or cover charge.
It is a cross between the beloved St. Nick’s Pub and the Lenox Lounge that was demolished some months ago without even a plaque to
acknowledge such an influential establishment ever existed.
Farafina is much smaller. The main floor has a capacity for approximately 60 people. The cuisine is Afro fusion. The extensive menu is a combination of authentic West African food, as well as burgers, lobster BLT and chicken wings.
“Being in Harlem we wanted to respect the history of jazz,” said David Abreu, general manager. “We needed an extra draw like music, since we didn’t have a lot of foot traffic on Amsterdam Avenue. So we went with good food, good music and good drinks.”
The café is open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday. They are closed Sunday. Live music is featured every night and salsa nights are the last Friday of each month (there is a small cover charge for this event). The place is jumping. The music lives up to Harlem’s long-standing reputation. Some people dance in tiny spaces. Visit the website at http://farafinacafeloungeharlem.com.
The café’s downstairs was originally just a sloppy basement, but two years ago it was turned into a lounge with a cozy intimate setting. Last year Farafina management struck a deal with Harlem Late Night Jazz (a nonprofit organization). On the weekend they present live jazz in the lounge from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., and trust me, people are so caught up in the music and atmosphere they forget about going home.
Reminds me of St. Nick’s Pub, when the music refused to let you go and the musicians were just as inspired to stay. Dancing can’t be helped.
The young bluesman King Solomon Hicks had that gut bucket, cornbread blues going last week that rocked the house. The following night, drummer Kahlil Bell brought his noted band: bassist Lonnie Plaxico, keyboardist Onaje Allan Gumbs, guitarist Bruce Edwards and vocalist Ada Dyer (former singer with Norman Connors). “Man, I’m not used to this 4 a.m. gig, but I had a great time and can’t wait for another booking,” said Bell.
“We appreciate what these musicians are doing for us, because we could never pay them what they are worth,” stated Paul Griffin, partner Harlem Late Night Jazz. “Many of these musicians are bandleaders in their own right.”
Other members of Harlem Late Night Jazz include Robin Downs, C. Kelly Wright and Dakota Pippins. Last year Congressman Charles Rangel presented them with a Congressional Citation for “Keeping music alive in Harlem.”
Aug. 20 they will celebrate their anniversary at Farafina Lounge Downstairs. Aug. 18 the pianist Benito Gonzalez will appear. Visit their website at harlemlatenightjazz.com.
Farafina means “Africa” in reference to the land of people with dark/black skin in the Bambara language. Both the Farafina Café and Lounge with Harlem Late Night Jazz is an on-going collaboration of music bringing people of the world population together (from ages 25 to 65) to carry on in the swinging cradle of positivity.