Most recently, pianist and composer Bertha Hope was the center of attention while enjoying a most exciting Jazzmobile birthday celebration performing before a packed house in Harlem’s Interchurch Center.
For this big celebration, the pianist was indulging in bold melodies, showering crescendos, a tad of stride and some Hope improvisational magic. Some audience members were up dancing the lindy and Harlem two-step. Her repertoire included Hank Mobley tunes like “Soul Stick” and his jazz standard “This I Dig of You” which allows for the pianist to stretch out and Hope went all out. Together the band members bassist Kim Clarke, saxophonist Gene Ghee, and drummer Lucianna F. Padmore were an intuitive locomotive moving forever forward. The band members’ names should be much more recognizable since their playing is so definitive. Hope’s rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now” was simply mesmerizing. She says, “Playing with young people keeps me energized,” and it seems everybody on the bandstand served as high-voltage energizers. “I am so grateful to have such a great band,” said Hope. Hopefully, she will record with them before, as she says, “They get snatched up.”
“This party was so wonderful. I am grateful to Robin [Bell-Stevens, director of Jazzmobile] for putting this concert together. I received so many flowers, cards and birthday gifts from the audience,” stated Hope. She plays as though she is 25 years old but she is an elder pianist with wisdom and experience at age 85. She is a great musician to be reckoned with and still learning as she pointed out.
Currently, she is writing new music for a few commissions and working on a new video project. She can be seen with featured vocalist Terri Davis, live every Sunday afternoon from 12 noon – 3:30 p.m. at Alvin & Friends Restaurant (14 Memorial Hwy) in New Rochelle, N.Y. Visit her Facebook page for more information.
When Benny Golson’s mother stepped off the streetcar with a package in her hand, the young teenager thought saxophone but knew she couldn’t afford to spend that much money. To his wild surprise it was a brand-new Martin tenor saxophone. Once he and his mother went around the corner to a neighbor’s house, who showed Golson how the parts fit, there was no stopping him. The NEA Jazz Master is one of the most prolific jazz composers in the spectrum, following in the footsteps of his mentor Tadd Dameron.
In 2020 The Jazz Gallery in NYC awarded Golson a Lifetime Achievement Award in celebration of his illustrious career as a composer, saxophonist and educator. Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented TJG from celebrating its annual Gala, where the awards would have been presented. With vaccinations a must and live performances resumed, The Jazz Gallery paid tribute to Golson featuring a host of young musicians he inspired or played with over the years. The abled rhythm section included pianist David Virelles, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Jonathan Blake (reflected on his relationship with Golson as a youngster through the friendship with his father violinist John Blake). Featured saxophonists who played Golson originals were: Jaleel Shaw flyin’ high on “Stablemates,” Ron Blake was in a mellow groove on “Whisper Not” (described Golson as a mentor, friend and confidant), Dayna Stephens composed the ballad “We Hear You Benny” built on Golson’s “I Remember Clifford” (he noted, Benny was a well-rounded musician, whose sound blew my hat off), tenor saxophonist John Ellis hit “Step Lightly,” Donny McCaslin on tenor came up blazing (he thanked Golson for inspiration and being totally killing). The set ended with everyone joining in for Golson’s greatest hit “Killer Joe.”
The musicians’ testimonials took the same course; he is totally committed to the music and shares his knowledge with his peers and younger musicians, always asking, “Do you have your publishing in order?” A word of wisdom: “Never get satisfied, there is always something to learn.” At age 92, Golson and Sonny Rollins are the only two surviving musicians from the iconic photograph “A Great Day in Harlem.”
Recently, the 57-year-old Harlem School of the Arts was the site of a historical evening. The organization’s executive leadership, invited guests, parents and students gathered for the long delayed official unveiling of the $9.5 million dollar renovation known as the Renaissance Project and the return of in-person classes.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the organization to close its doors March 14, 2020. In the absence of in-person classes, an online platform enabled students to continue their creative endeavors. HSA finally reopened Sept. 27, 2021 for a full session of in-person fall classes. The space was transformed into a 21st century cultural hub. The brick wall that blocked the public view was eliminated with a makeover that included an angled glass wall, allowing for sunlight and public view.
HSA announced the addition of new staff member trumpeter W. Lee Hogans, as chief education officer. As a well-rounded musician, he has worked with Prince, Lauryn Hill, saxophonist Maceo Parker, and bassist Marcus Miller. He studied with jazz composer and trumpeter NEA Jazz Master Clark Terry. Over the past 20 years, Hogans has been an educator, and administrator. Most recently, he was the director of education at Jazz House Kids in New Jersey.
Hogans’ visionary outlook for HSA will include a strong jazz program with contributions from Herb Alpert. “We are trying to figure out what will be best to put us on the map,” said Hogans. “We are looking at a community jam session involving Harlem musicians and others within the boroughs to perform in our space. We are planning more master classes that will add to our community’s rich history dating back to the Harlem Renaissance. We want to be more involved in the community.” The school will also offer free classes that include instruments.
Hogans will engage with all department heads to formulate a curriculum for all disciplines (dance, music, musical theater, and media design) and build opportunities that serve and support the artist community in Harlem and surrounding areas (community partnerships). One exciting program still being discussed is a performance relationship with the new jazz club The Porch which is due to open sometime in December.
“We want to offer HSA students an opportunity to experience the real world by performing in front of live audiences and being paid,” explained Hogans. “Our college prep classes will invite various professionals and professors teaching skills in professional development. The school has worked with Jazz at Lincoln Center and Julliard presented the course ‘How to Audition and What to Expect.’ This is more than the site of training and educating the next wave of young creatives, but a place where professional artists will come and perform, mentor and immerse our students with experience and expertise.”