The sound of the Cuban influence in jazz began in 1933, when drummer and bandleader Chick Webb hired Cuban trumpeter Mario Bauza. That sound fermented into another genre of music under the collaborations of Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop and Bauza’s Cuban infusion become cubop, in the 1940s that blossomed into Latin jazz, or Afro Cuban jazz as Dizzy referred to the sound.

The swing of Afro Cuban jazz has grown into a most distinctive music form that continues to flourish 80 years later. As part of its 25th Anniversary Celebrations, the most absorbing little jazz club in all of Manhattan, the Jazz Gallery (1160 Broadway) will kick off “The Jazz Cubano Series” with the Osmany Paredes Quartet, curated by pianist and composer David Virelles, on Feb. 29.

Pianist, composer, and arranger Osmany Paredes began his career on classical piano in his hometown of Santa Clara, Cuba. He eventually joined the jazz group of Bobby Carcassés (a Cuban jazz legend and co-founder of the Havana Jazz Festival). He will be joined by a talented group of musicians; bassist Yunior Terry; congas & percussion Yusnier Sanchez, and drummer & timbale Keisel Jimenez. These noted musicians are well known in their homeland and are now earning reputations on the NYC jazz scene.

“When the Jazz Gallery’s artistic director Rio Sakairi approached me to curate their new installment series Jazz Cubano, I accepted immediately. This occasion represents an incredible opportunity to showcase some of Cuba’s thriving musical talent, ranging from legendary figures such as the maestro Hilario Durán and Xiomara Laugart, to younger generations of musicians,” said Virelles. “It will also give us another chance to honor the long legacy of ancestral brotherhood/sisterhood between Cuban musicians and luminaries of this improvisational African American form, a connection that has produced some of the most beautiful music ever created.” 

For the 2020 edition of the Jazz Cubano, pianist and ECM recording artist Virelles has curated a 10-concert series showcasing the Cuban music scene.

Afrofuturism is the new relevant topic being discussed from here to South Africa, from grassroots to culturally hip and intellectuals, who must be in the know. Simply put it is the intersection of African diaspora culture with science and philosophy of history. The film “Black Panther” is an example, although the science fiction novels by Octavia Butler says it all.

When indulging in conversation of Afrofuturism the pioneer from the late 1940s must be prominently mentioned pianist, composer, bandleader and poet Sun Ra.

Picture a Black man Herman Poole Blount, born in Alabama, eventually moves to Chicago where he becomes part of that jazz scene and changes his name to Sun Ra (after Ra, the Egyptian god of the Sun). He called his ensemble “The Arkestra.” He was on a mission of peace from another planet, Saturn, he often stated with conviction. The Arkestra includes dancers and singers all dressed in ancient Egyptian costumes with a space age flair. It was his outrageous performance and eclectic music from avant-garde to ragtime, and African rhythms that hypnotized audiences.

In celebration and tribute of this cosmic pioneer; musician and author Nona Hendryx is serving as the artistic director for a yearlong, city wide celebration of Sun Ra and his legacy, The Cosmic Synthesis of Sun Ra and Afrofuturism series, on Feb. 29, at 7 p.m.

The event will be just as cosmic and hypnotic as Sun Ra’s Arkestra with the partnership of Harlem Stage Nona Hendryx and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue) to present “Nona Hendryx and the Disciples of Sun Ra in ‘The Temple.’” The performance will take place inside the museum’s Egyptian hall, The Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing. It will be a multidimensional, multidisciplinary exploration of the sound, visuals and movement of Sun Ra and Afrofuturism.   

The program will be led by trombonist, composer, arranger Craig Harris, featuring Sun Ra devotees and students from Berklee College of Music with vocals and chants by Nona Hendryx, and invocations by poet, playwright, novelist, director, singer/ songwriter. Carl Hancock Rux. The performance will feature Sun Ra’s songs, along with some original compositions. Costumes will be created by Pueblo artist, Virgil Ortiz, using inspiration from The Met’s Diker collection of Native American art. Famed choreographer Francesca Harper will choreograph the movements.

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The groovy soul sounds of the 1960s will blend with out/in avant-garde tunes from the 1940s to the present on March 4, as Arts for Art celebrates 25 years of programming with “Sounds of Justice,” a night of intergenerational music, at midtown Manhattan’s Town Hall (123 West 43rd Street), 7 p.m. Both the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen (longtime Arkestra member, who still swings the original banner of Afrofuturism); and William Parker’s “Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield” are steeped in a commitment to the ideals of music and art as agents of social change.

This boundary-breaking blend of jazz on the out/in, funk, R&B, and soul aesthetics looks back and into the future, bridging time and space to share warnings, hope and inspiration. Parker’s highly acclaimed, intensely free Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield builds upon both the text and music of the politically engaged and activist singer-songwriter.

This latest version of Parker’s ongoing project includes an expanded band with six horns, two keyboards, bass and drums. With four singers including vocalist Leena Conquest joined by Thomas Sayers Ellis performing Amiri Baraka’s and his own poetry. Filmmaker Moon Lasso’s impressionistic video portrayal of the texts and sounds of Mayfield and Parker will complete the experience.

The bassist, multi-instrumentalist, poet and compose Parker was born in the boogey down Bronx, so he knows all about soul music and beyond. “In the late ’60s people were listening to John Coltrane and Archie Shepp and when it came to R&B I was relating to music that was spiritual and uplifting and Curtis had melody, a groove, and poetry in his music,” stated Parker. “He was a legit songwriter from day one.” Parker pointed out that many of the jazz musicians during that period also played sessions and live R&B dates that included the great saxophonist Kidd Jordan and most of the musicians at Motown.

Parker and his ensemble have a wide selection of Mayfield hits to choose from such as “People Get Ready,” “I’m So Proud,” “Choice of Colors,” and his activist stance on the hit album Super Fly that included tunes like “Eddie You Should Know Better, “Freddie’s Dead,” and “Pusherman.” They will be reconstructing his compositions while keeping the essence of his soul and spiritual message. “We are applauding Curtis’ music, which is very hip without adding anything, noted Parker.”

Under the leadership of Allen, the Arkestra carries the Sun Ra experience of sound, dance, song, light, and color into the present. Allen uniquely moves this performance tradition forward, further cementing Sun Ra and the Arkestra’s twinned legacies as both progenitors and practitioners of the genre now called Afrofuturism. The Town Hall performance will include video art and painting by NYC artist William Mazza to create a synesthetic sight/sound experience of Sun Ra and his mind-bending view of the universe.

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