As part of its regular Thursday series, the Jazz Foundation of America will present a tribute to Billie “Lady Day” Holiday at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (58 West 129th St.) April 7, 2 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Performing will be one of the busiest drummers on the scene, Craig Holiday Haynes & Friends. His group will include vocalist Marva King, pianist Terry Burrus, and bassist Jennifer Vincent.
As the pandemic eased a bit and travel opened up, Haynes began performing quite often in Germany. He also has regular gigs in Las Vegas. During those healthy pre-COVID days the drummer could be seen at Harlem’s historic Cotton Club as a member of the Cotton Club Orchestra and Cotton Club All-Stars. Haynes can jump and swing and play the blues if need be which for Lady Day will be the case.
Admission is free, suggested donation; RSVP at jmih.org or call 212-348-8300.
Haynes will also be playing the following evening, April 8, at Brownstone Jazz/Sankofa Aban, in Brooklyn at 107 Macon St., at 7 p.m. Visit website sankofaaaban.com.
The pianist, composer, vocalist and producer Melvis Santa is creatively adding to the Afro Cuban movement set forth by her Cuban ancestors, who brought an assortment of colorful rhythms and melodic beats to the sounds of New York City.
On April 7, Santa performs “Celebrating 105 years of Mongo Santamaria” at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (58 West 129th St.), 7 p.m. The native Cuban percussionist and bandleader came to New York in 1950 shortly after bandleader Machito and singer Graciela (made her debut at the Apollo Theater the same night Billie Holiday was performing) and Celia Cruz, arrived in the Big City in the 1960s, where she became one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century and was anointed the Queen of Salsa.
Ramon “Mongo” Santamaria Rodriguez was a member of the Fania All-Stars and is best known for his Latin interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” He enjoyed a long stint with vibraphonist Cal Tjader recording on at least eight of his albums. He was a pioneer of the Latin Boogaloo and Salsa movements that jumped off in the Bronx. In his later years he recorded for Concord Jazz and Chesky Records.
The 2018 GRAMMY nominee along with her young but established ensemble will include vocals, batá, piano and artistic director Melvis Santa, congas, percussion Rafael Monteagudo, percussion Dylan Blandchard, piano Osmany Paredes, bassist Rashaan Carter, drummer EJ Strickland, and flautist Colette Michaan.
“For me, Mongo Santamaria is a source of great inspiration and a prime example of creative musicianship, perseverance and self-realization. He knew closely Candido Camero, who I have the honor to meet and perform for. Also Francisco Aguabella, Armando Peraza and Chano Pozo, his idol. All experts on the sacred language of drumming in their own distinctive way. Chano and Mongo were born and made a career first in Havana (just like me),” said Santa. “They worked at Tropicana. So did I, a few generations after. Today in New York, I can see their path being continued by my mentor master percussionist Roman Diaz and virtuoso Pedrito Martinez—both from Havana, as well. Hence, there is this strong sense of respect for cultural lineage and tradition in my work that brings me to our shared roots. Mongo also loved to support young musicians (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea) and female artists. Actually, he recorded with two of my favorite Afro Cuban singers, La Lupe and Merceditas Valdes.”
Santa brings her own interpretation of the Afro Cuban sound transformed into her own time and space. For tickets and information, visit website jazzmuseuminharlem.org.
Many of his fans national and international know him as Radio Rob, their knowledgeable on-air host on the 24-hour jazz station WBGO-FM. In New York City jazz clubs and at his many hosting gigs around town he is Rob Crocker, the native New Yorker of Brooklyn. He graduated from Boys High School (called the High) which at the time was one of the top high schools in the city boosting such graduates as jazz greats Randy Weston, Max Roach and Dewey Redman. He was also a musician whose career took a turn towards broadcasting when injuries, sustained in the Vietnam War, cut short his future as a performer.
Born in 1945, Crocker is a jazz radio host, programmer and producer whose broadcasting career spans five decades and stretches across three continents. He did two tours of Vietnam (in the central highlands with both the 25th Infantry Division and with the 155th Assault Helicopter Company). After returning to New York, Crocker took to the New York City jazz scene hanging out at clubs like The Village Vanguard and Slugs. He bonded with the popular jazz radio DJ and writer Ed Williams who (along with pianist and DJ Billy Taylor, the first black on-air radio personality at WNEW), both encouraged him to consider a career in radio. He started his broadcasting career as a programmer in Europe; he co-hosted the Holland based show “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” by Radio Free America.
After returning to the U.S., Crocker became entrenched in radio as a producer, news reporter and hosted jazz programs for the Pacifica Network’s WBAI. New York area listeners are sure to recognize his familiar voice as having hosted shows on every NYC Jazz station from 1970 until the present and even KISS FM (Crocker introduced the pop audience to jazz in the late 1980s). He was also instrumental in bringing back the captivating beat of Brazilian music to New York during the ’70’s.
He has also written lyrics for a number of CDs for the Brazilian artist Tania Maria. In the early 1990s, Rob relocated to Tokyo where he worked as a disc jockey in the Tokyo market. Crocker has the singular distinction of being the longest-running jazz disc jockey in the history of New York City radio. In 2020, the mid-Manhattan branch of the NAACP awarded its Roy Wilkins Award to him, citing this “singular distinction.”
Aside from FM Radio, Crocker also produces jazz CDs, including “Alto Memories” (that featured jazz greats Sonny Fortune, Gary Bartz, Kenny Barron, Buster Williams and Jack DeJohnette); “UK Underground” from Japanese alto saxophonist Malta; the 1st & 2nd CDs from Japan’s premier jazz vocalist and trumpeter Toku (whom Crocker discovered in Tokyo); “Philly Sounds” (with Randy Brecker, Jay Hoggard, Joe Ford, Uri Caine, Buster Williams, Nabaté Isles and Grady Tate) and “Dread Rooster,” Babi Floyd’s reggae CD featuring Keith Richards on guitar.
When it comes to Crocker’s studio style of producing CDs, trumpeter Randy Brecker (of The Brecker Brothers), says “in the studio with the musicians, Rob is…well, he’s one of us” and “when he directs…the results are so much better!”
As a New York City based jazz programmer over the decades, he has designed musical concepts for such cultural organizations as The Burgess Collection of Fine Art, The National Museum of Sports, The Brooklyn Museum and Roy DeCarava: Light Break exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery in 2009.
Grammy Award winning Bassist Ron Carter praises both Crocker’s mood-inducing announcer’s voice and what he does with it. “He brings in the listener in a way that makes it seem you’re right there with him.”
Photo credit: Adrien H. Tillmann
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