When young people and jazz come together, one can be assured it’s going to be a joyous fun-filled coaster ride. That will be the case when “JAZZLAND: in Concert” comes to the tiny but prestigious stage at the Harlem School of the Arts theater (649 St. Nicholas Ave.) on consecutive weekends, May 11 to May 13 and May 18 to May 20.
The musical was written by actor, producer, director Tamara Tunie and the author, playwright, lyricist Charles Leipart. The accomplished pianist Eric Reed composed the music and songs.
“JAZZLAND” is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” However, that is from a musical perspective. Tunie and Leipart’s interpretation is much hipper. It is set in Harlem during the 1930s at the end of the Harlem Renaissance. Forget falling down that long deep rabbit hole. No this set features the Rabbit Hole Nightclub, where
The cast features students from HSA’s theater program and Harlem Stage’s partner schools, including A. Phillip Randolph. Vocal direction is by Yolanda Wyns and choreography is by Aubrey Lynch II, two of HSA’s senior program directors.
Some of the performing students are Samantha Ortiz as Alice, Alexis Morrast as Della/Red Queen, Blair Murdoch as Mahalia/Miracle Sister Madam Hattie/Madame Sun/Ensemble, Justin Mensah as Chester the Cat/Chester Le Chat/Essence Brother and Josiah Fluker-McInnis as Mr. Whitey/The Colonel/Essence Bother/Ensemble.
JAZZLAND’s co-writer and director Tunie has played a variety of roles in films such as “Flight,” starring Denzel Washington, and “The Devil’s Advocate,” starring Al Pacino. She is best known for her portrayal of attorney Jessica Griffin on the CBS soap opera “As the World Turns,” and medical examiner Dr. Melinda Warner on the NBC police drama “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
“‘JAZZLAND’ is a personal journey, about self-discovery and finding one’s own voice in life,” said Tunie. “I fell in love with the students while working on this production. This is a workshop, concert series with staging and choreography. I have lived in Harlem for years, so working and sharing my experiences with the students is a chance to give back to the community.”
The co-writers are interested in creating a curriculum to accompany the production that could be used
When Tunie and Leipart wrote “JAZZLAND” approximately 10 years ago, it was their intention to have it produced as an animated film with the assistance of Scott Crockett, who was their animator. Ironically, with the script’s travels through agents and film studios, it eventually turned into this now youth provoking joyful production.
The pianist and composer Eric Reed was with the team from the embryonic stages composing the music. “Understanding the focal point was going to be Harlem during the 1930s, I wanted to capture the essence of that time-period without going the route of nostalgia or big band,” said Reed. “Living in Harlem at the time, I utilized the sounds and feeling of a very vibrant community.” The music has a contemporary sound with a variety of genres from Latin jazz, blues, ragtime and New Orleans swing.
JAZZLAND’s musical arranger is Sean Powell, and the music is being produced by Harlem School of the Arts, in partnership with Manhattan School of Music and Harlem Stage.
The shows are at 7 p.m. May 11, May 12, May 18 and May 19 and at 3 p.m. May 13 and May 20. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. For more information, visit the website
When the drummer and composer Winard Harper isn’t leading his own dynamic band Jeli Posse, he is called upon by such musicians as Avery Sharpe, Steve Turre, Wycliffe Gordon and Jimmy Heath.
In the midst of his playing, recording and touring schedule, Harper has turned Moore’s Lounge, aka Bill & Ruth’s (189 Monticello Ave., Jersey City, N.J.), into a happening home for live jazz, two nights a week.
Harper presents Friday Jam Session from 8 p.m. to midnight. It’s the night for aspiring jazz musicians and vocalists to take the stage and show their stuff. Spoken word artists are also welcome, as well as dancers.
Every Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Harper invites one of his great musician friends to drop by the lounge for a hard-hittin’ set followed by a Q&A, with these artists sharing life and career experiences.
Some of Sunday’s special friends have included Jazzmeia Horn, Paul West, Vanessa Rubin, Billy Hart, Charlie Persip, Phillip Harper, Richard Wyands and Regina Carter.
For more information, visit his website winardharperjazz.com.
Recently, the Tribeca Film Festival presented its only jazz film, “Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes,” by Swiss filmmaker Sophie Huber.
“Beyond the Notes” ignites a colossal sound that was set forth by a creative force of then young guns (Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Hank Mobley and Horace Silver). They shook the ears of American music, causing folks to jump up and listen, stand-up and dance or sit and snap their fingers while playing vinyl records until the break of dawn.
The documentary offers a rare insider’s view of the iconic Blue Note label as some of their influential artists work in the studio, with outtakes from the legendary Thelonious Monk to candid conversations with alto saxophonist and composer Lou Donaldson, Noah Jones and the label’s president, Don Was.
Huber has managed to put together a chronological documentary of Blue Note Records that swings with its artists’ sensitivity and their life experiences from Jim Crow to the present. It is so ingrained in their music that it is one of the most influential forces of the 20th and 21st centuries.
“Beyond the Notes” explores the unique vision behind the iconic jazz record label through rare archival footage, beginning with an introduction of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, who co-founded Blue Note Records in 1939. They were originally committed to recording traditional jazz and small-group swing, and money wasn’t a priority for them. They felt it was more important to record great music by giving their artists freedom to follow their own creative genius.
The 85-minute film portrays a musical brotherhood as the artists comment on their intimate interactions with the label’s co-founders and making music in a hip environment that made Blue Note such a profound legacy.
Blue Note’s stalwart artists such as Ron Carter and Dr. Lonnie Smith were omitted. “The hardest part to making a film like this is the stuff you have to leave out,” explained Huber. “We did reach out to Ron but there was a scheduling conflict, and unfortunately we did interview Dr. Lonnie Smith but we couldn’t fit it in.”
A “Beyond the Notes Part II” should happen. There are too many living artists who played an important part in making Blue Note shine. They deserve to be a part of this exceptional history that inspires present and future generations.
“I wanted to focus on younger musicians to bring the story of Blue Note full circle,” said Huber. “For the 75th anniversary, Blue Note planned a recording session at legendary Capitol Studios in Los Angeles with the current Blue Note All-Stars Ambrose Akinmusire, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Lionel Loueke, Kendrick Scott and Marcus Strickland. Luckily, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter accepted an invitation from Don to join the session. This session was a perfect opportunity to bring together different generations of Blue Note musicians to highlight a tradition in jazz, where one generation mentors the next generation of musicians.”
Glasper and the All-Stars contributed some strong statements on the connection to jazz and hip-hop from a cultural and political perspective and the importance of letting the music flow.
“In making ‘Beyond the Notes,’ it became clear that jazz musicians capture everything around them,” said Huber. “It’s their art and being. They have a sense of responsibility and obligation to make something better!”