Jazzmobile and the Central Park Conservancy return with one of Harlem’s favorite jazz affairs—the Great Jazz on the Great Hill returns Aug. 13 in Central Park (West 106th Street). This year’s event will feature the Jimmy Heath Legacy Band, Antonio Hart Quartet and Chicago songtress Tammy McCann (4 p.m. – 7 p.m.).
The late Jimmy Heath, saxophonist, composer and arranger (who passed in 2020), was a familiar and welcomed regular leading his self-titled big band on the Great Hill. In recognition of Heath as a longtime contributor to Jazzmobile as a performer and instructor, the Jimmy Heath Legacy Band with musical director Antonio Hart will continue in preserving his legacy. Saxophonist Antonio Hart, a protégé of Heath, will perform with his quartet.
In a jazz sea of saxophones Hart has effortlessly managed to find and maintain his own unique alto sax voice. He refuses to rely on his laurels and each performance demonstrates yet another side to his musicianship. He toured and recorded with his good friend, trumpeter Roy Hargrove for three years. In his 20 year-career he has performed and recorded with a variety of musicians from Nancy Wilson to Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner and Dave Holland.
While the Chicago vocalist Tammy McCann is not a stranger to the Apple, having performed at Dizzy’s jazz club and Carnegie Hall, this will be her debut performance for Jazzmobile’s Great Jazz on the Great Hill. She arrives with a reputation that precedes her with a host of accolades from Chicago to Europe. Her sultry timbre paints pictures and tells stories by merging classical vocal technique and gospel esthetic with jazz to create a sound that is completely her own.
The concert is free; bring chairs or a blanket for a nice jazzy picnic.
HARLEM WEEK began as Harlem Day, the international family event returns for its 48th anniversary Aug. 12-21, for a 10-day live virtual experience celebrating the historical culture of Harlem, its people, arts, and entertainment, the mecca of the Harlem Renaissance and international Black cultural capital of the world.
The first weekend of HARLEM WEEK will conclude Sunday, Aug. 14 with “A Great Day in Harlem,” which will include performances and appearances by R&B artist Kenny Lattimore, salute to 90-year-old Caribbean Legend Lord Nelson (aka The Soca Daddy), Uptown Dance Academy, Artz, Roots & Rhythm, Impact Repertory Theater, The Mama Foundation’s Sing Harlem Choir, Isn’t Her Grace Amazing Choir, and a Concert Under the Stars Salute to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album (51-year anniversary) featuring Ray Chew and the Harlem Music Festival All Stars.
Centered around the theme, “Inspiration, Impact, and Legacy,” this year’s celebration will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the NBA, legendary Rucker Park and Harlem inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“All New Yorkers are invited to take part in the HARLEM WEEK experience from Aug. 12-21 as we pay tribute to key elements of our city. Both seniors and children will be able to celebrate local education, restaurants, technology, and theater,” said Lloyd Williams, chairman of HARLEM WEEK. You’ll hear music ranging from jazz, gospel, R&B, hip hop, soca, Latin, Caribbean, Afrobeat, and more. Remember—you haven’t done this town ‘til you’ve done it Uptown, so do it up in Harlem.” For more info, visit www.harlemweek.com.
When discussing jazz we have to reiterate, hey y’all we talking about Black music, it overlaps the blues to funk, R&B and gospel up and down the genre tree. The point, who is MonoNeon? Never heard of him until this morning upon receiving a link to an Instagram which stated “is this what the Blue Note has come to? Wow.” The link was to a recent Blue Note jazz club performance by MonoNeon, as a band member in a jumpsuit quickly stripped down to his briefs, and offered a wild tirade about farting, as the band played fart notes. Yes, after seeing such an outrageous video one would earnestly ask what at the Blue Note is not possible, on the same sacred stage where Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McRae, Stanley Turrentine, Oscar Peterson, Roy Haynes and Sarah Vaughan performed.
So, who is this group with the audacity to sprout such bathroom language on Blue Note’s storied stage? MonoNeon is the stage name of the bandleader, bassist, lyricist and singer Dywane Thomas Jr. He is by my research the most impressive electric bassist on today’s music scene (Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has referred to Mono as “the greatest f**king electric bass player”). He recently made his debut performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. No, he isn’t a jazz musician but be assured he plays a crazy bass and that’s my opinion after watching a string of his Youtube videos. While not present at Newport, MonoNeon probably gained new fans just based on the earlier success of the group Snarky Puppy, who infused jazz rhythms to their multi-textured sound of rock and world music. The Memphis-born Thomas is an experimental musician, his colorful videos take you back to the days of MTV. His music is a combination of rock, funk, blues and R&B (he comes out of a Buddy Miles, Jimi Hendrix, 21st century Memphis funk thing). He was inspired by his father Thomas Sr., who was the electric bassist for the Bar-Kays funk group. Aside from the group’s hits, the band molded the great Memphis sound (the studio band) that became the dynamic soul for Stax Records and its many artists.
“I don’t think of myself as a bass player—I just play, this bass calms me down,’ said Thomas on his video short “Try to Blend In.” “I just play and put out stuff sometimes I don’t even like it but it’s part of me so I let it go. I first started playing stuff from the Bar-Kays, the SOS band, blues and funk.” During his brief stay at Berklee College of Music he studied with David Fiuczynski, who he says was his primary influence for the experimental microtonality. In 2015 MonoNeon began playing bass with Prince and also became a member of Prince’s Paisley Park After Dark Jam Sessions. In some circles he’s called an avant garde musician. He doesn’t care he just wants to play bass badass music.
Thomas, who has a heavy online YouTube cult following, has recorded more than 20 solo albums as a leader including “Basquiat & Skittles Album” (2021) and “Put on Earth for You” (2022). He is a Grammy Award-winner, for his participation on the 2020 Nas album “King’s Disease.”
“They see me with the bright hood and they think it’s a gimmick but it’s me. I wanted to stand out,” says MonoNeon. “I wear a high visibility beany and bright colors to be seen from far away. I think the bright colors are like a force field for me.” The sock on his bass, he says, was inspired by the artist Marcel Duchamp from a parody painting he did of the Mona Lisa.
Now, we know MonoNeon but without the crazy audacious antics at the Blue Note, we wouldn’t be here. And as my friend explained, he can play, it’s the gimmicks and the Blue Note acceptance. Maybe pre-COVID-19, the young bassist would have never been booked. But isn’t it musicians, who take us out and into the gone, it’s the world of social media not always in good taste or respect. Maybe being a young cat he just wanted to go off at the world established Blue Note just for the laughs and shock of it all. His playing is most refreshing, his riffs sound as though he took personal music lessons from Jimi Hendrix. I am looking forward to seeing him perform but please no guy in briefs screaming about farts. Go to YouTube and check him out performing “Invisible” or his single “Breathing While Black,” very insightful. It’s MonoNeon, a voice worth checking.