Saxophonist, composer, and NEA Jazz Master Donald Harrison is an innovator who from the beginning chose not to follow that well traveled, traditional path. Instead he stayed true to his native New Orleans soul, a gumbo music whose recipe could not be duplicated. In the early ’80s he created Nouveau Swing, a combustive blend ignited with modern jazz rhythms, sizzling funk, hip hop beats hittin’ big doses of soul. Little did quantum physicist John Dalton realize that jazz would be active in his realm of reality. Harrison connected the quantum leap with jazz in 2000, when he understood how to move music from a two-dimensional state into a four-dimensional state. Quantum physics underlies how atoms work, and so why chemistry and biology work as they do. Yeah, sounds real deep but the truth—you, me and the gatepost at some level at least, we’re all dancing to the quantum tune, dig.
For a limited engagement Feb. 22-26, Harrison will bring his quartet into Birdland (315 West 44th Street), the jazz club named after his jazz hero Charlie Parker. Big Chief Donald Harrison Quartet consists of multi-generational members: pianist Dan Kaufman, bassist John Benitez and drummer Mike Clark (a former member of Herbie Hancock’s fusion funk jazz ensemble The Headhunters). The multi-faceted band will play everything from Harrison’s quantum physics concept to Nouveau Swing, a taste of his Big Chief New Orleans culture to some down home Second Line throw down and of course some mean jazz riffs representative of Charlie “Bird” Parker.
For reservations visit the website birdlandjazz.com or call 212-581-3080.
The bassist, singer/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello continues to be a lightning rod, drawing from her limitless reservoir of music that reflects her ongoing experiences as a Black woman existing and interacting on this planet. Ndegeocello’s journey is a funk ride of soul with jazz rhythms flying down the rails on hip hop speed taking reggae curves, yeah mon with some rock to keep it all in perspective. She can’t be categorized and why try, her canvas is an abstraction of varied colors, Black music crossing genres with joyful abandonment.
Ndegeocello will offer various shades of her music as she performs a three-night residency at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway at 95th Street), Feb. 24-26. Her music repertoire is most apropos for these enduring times that has us involved in a 21st century Black power movement while still battling the COVID-19 pandemic. “The music presented for the coming nights focus on my well-being,” explained Ndegeocello during a phone interview.
“Selfishness plays a part in how we feel but it gives us a chance to feel better to help others. Mental health is real; we have a right to be healthy and have joy, self-care is very important.”
Ndegeocello will kick off her residency on Feb. 24, performing music inspired by jazz activist drummer and composer Max Roach’s “We Insist: Freedom Now Suite” (Candid Records, 1960), a swinging food for immediate thought album, addressing slavery, emancipation, and civil rights. “Max’s ‘We Insist’ was recorded in real time, a strong deliberate statement similar to our present situation,” said Ndegenocello. “I insist that people look at things in a certain way, we haven’t dealt with the trauma of our history and now I must insist we resist this negative part of society. The media is filled with doom and gloom but offers very few answers on how to make it better. We have to create new rituals for ourselves to get this trauma off our minds and body.”
On Feb. 25, Ndegeocello presents The HawtPlates, a family singing group consisting of Justin Hicks, Jade Hicks, and Kenita Miller-Hicks. They play within and outside of the tradition of Black singing styles, repetition, experimentation with text, and deep listening; their style pays homage to how soul music and the Black voice can be heard. “Jason and I worked on the [James] Baldwin music a few years ago,” says the bassist. “Their music is along the lines of Max’s ‘We Insist,’ acapella, shouts, hollas and improvisational moments.”
The singer/songwriter’s creative activism sojourn closes Feb. 26 with No More Water/The Fire Next Time, a tribute to revolutionary wordsmith, playwright, novelist and essayist James Baldwin. The music will premiere songs from her Baldwin project that began in 2016, delivering the same deliberate rocking awareness projected in his works. Inspired by Baldwin’s empowering written word, the songwriter persists with bold lyrics which often examine dark interpersonal issues, and then her kickbutt badass bass playing.
“I wanted to play some good music to a live audience, my first opportunity since COVID broke out, and celebrate our resources, women, food and water.” That should be repeated, some seem to forget without women there is no life, without Black women there are no warriors. She is also celebrating her good friend and journalist and author Greg Tate. “He was my first champion, the first person in my life I chose to love,” said the songwriter. “I feel as though I have woken up from the illusion. I am no longer reacting and no longer being distracted by you.” Her music will be just as potent and just as swinging.
For tickets visit firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-864-5400.
For Black History month (which is celebrated daily throughout the year) Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin Jazz will present “A Tribute to our Father Who Art in Heaven…Dr. Barry Harris.” Neal has brought together a variety of students who attended Harris’ workshops dating back to 1974, in Manhattan. The virtual event will take place Feb. 27, at 6 p.m.
Some of the former students performing will be Ray Blue, Bahati Best, Kate Cosco, Eugene Ghee, Daralyn Jay, Kim Clarke and Richard Clements. Neal was one of Harris’ many students, and under his tutelage he became a serious vocal student and singer.
The pianist and composer boasts a host of prominent students from John Coltrane, Rodney Kendrick, Frank Foster, Bill Saxton and Motown Records’ cookers bassist James Jamerson and pianist/organist Earl Van Dyke. Harris was keeper of the bebop tradition, educator and inspiration to seven generations of aspiring musicians with more yet to come from his spirited music magic.
To watch the free virtual live stream visit Youtube:
https://bit.ly/RNBPJ or www.romeneal.com