In the annals of jazz, John Coltrane remains one of the most influential alto saxophonists and composers to hit the planet. His innovative sound, from ballads to soul-searching avant-garde spirituals, will always be an inspirational source for listeners, as well as aspiring students.  

In honor of his great contribution, the inaugural John Coltrane Jazz Festival will be held Sept. 24, at Marcus Garvey Park (124th Street & 5th Avenue) from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. The FREE all-day jazz event is part of state senator Cordell Cleare’s celebration of “First Jazz Appreciation Day.” It is also the day after Coltrane’s birthday (Sept. 23, 1926).  

The parade of incredible saxophonists to play will include Bill Saxton, TK Blue, Patience Higgins, Alvin Flythe, Todd Herbert, Sweet Lee Odom, and John S. Mannan. They will be joined by various rhythm sections to play the music of John Coltrane from his time with Miles Davis’ “First Great Quintet,” his recordings with Thelonious Monk and his own innovative recordings with both Atlantic and Impulse! Records. 

NEA Jazz Master bassist, composer and educator Reggie Workman, recognized for his work with Coltrane, will open the all-day festival, at 1:30 p.m.  Workman appeared on the saxophonist’s “Live at the Village Vanguard Sessions” and  recorded with a second bassist (Art Davis) on the album “Olé ” (Atlantic Records 1961). Workman will be joined by baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall, pianist Yayoy Ikawa, guitarist Omri Diora Bar, drummer Darrell Smith and vocalist Chi Westfelt. “I am going through all of Coltrane’s music and will select some special pieces that we played together,” said Workman.

Other performers on the lineup include tap dancer Omar Edwards, Sister Zoc, Akako, vocalist Lori Hartman, and Sweet Lee Odom among others. 

The theme, “Jazz Appreciation Day,” is a part of the effort of New York State Sen. Cordell Cleare “to nurture and sustain the beginnings of a positive new cultural renaissance in Harlem that promotes community dignity and distinction.”

The Blues is alive and shoutin’ at the 12th Big Eyed Blues Festival Sept. 22, 24 and 25 with performances in various Brooklyn venues. The Blues Festival was conceived by blues singer Beareather Reddy, to provide a showcase venue for talented blues singers.   

Her passion to help keep blues (Black music) striving, inspired her to form the non-profit organization, Brooklyn Blues Society. “In some way, I feel it is my purpose to open the gateway to some and to bring others back to the realization that blues music is an integral part of their rich heritage,” stated Reddy.

On Sept. 24, the “Command Performance” will take place at Brooklyn Commons (495 Flatbush Ave.  Brooklyn), 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. Featured artists will include singer/guitarist and emcee Michael Hill, singer/songwriter and guitarist Clarence Spady, Beareather & The Brown Liquor Sounds, the Antoinette Montague Experience, who sings for all seasons blues to jazz to soul and in between, and Brooklyn’s own soul/blues singer, The Alexis P. Suter Band, will end the evening. 

For more information contact: Brooklyn Blues Society 929-271-2259 or visit brooklynbluessociety.org.

The Jazz Legacy of San Juan Hill will unfold Sept. 22 at the David Rubenstein Atrium (61 W. 62nd St.), at 7:30 p.m. “Sounds of San Juan Hill” will venture back to the dance halls and jazz clubs of San Juan Hill of the late 1800s and early 1900s with host Loren Schoenberg (saxophonist and senior scholar at The National Jazz Museum) and special guest. 

San Juan Hill was the home and neighborhood for the creative spirits of many artists. James P. Johnson, Benny Carter, and Thelonious Monk (where he was visited by Randy Weston, John Coltrane and Bud Powell) are just three of the legendary artists who lived and played there, and it was where the Amsterdam News was founded by James Anderson, in 1909. He produced the paper in his home on 65th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, hence the name Amsterdam News

On Sept. 28 the San Juan Hill series continues, same time same FREE space. The Chilean-born, NYC-based visual artist María Verónica San Martín captures spirits of displacement and remembrance in her collage work.

On Sept. 29, it’s San Juan Hill Day: Connecting at the SeamsOnce home to the largest Black community in New York City and later a significant Puerto Rican population, San Juan Hill was demolished between the 1940s and 1950s as part of the “urban renewal” plan, now referred to as gentrification that created the Lincoln Center campus and other major developments. While many families were displaced to other neighborhoods in New York City and beyond, a sizable number of residents moved to the nearby Amsterdam Houses. 

New York City officials demolished Seneca Village, a vibrant community where prosperous Black landowners resided. That community was demolished to build Central Park like the building of Lincoln Center complex at the expense of Blacks and people of color being forced out of their homes. These two major constructions constitute a pattern of demolition and displacement of people of color. Just a point to remember during all this celebration.  

This multi-part observance of the inheritors of San Juan Hill’s history will bring Amsterdam Houses’ elder residents to the Atrium to publicly build creative oral histories in collaboration with Sydnie L. Mosley Dances. 

For a complete listing of the San Juan Hill Series visit the website: lincolncenter.org

Smoke Jazz and Supper Club (2751 Broadway between 105th & 106th Streets), the only jazz club on the upper westside, recently celebrated the grand opening of its newly renovated expansion since opening in 1994. The club with the addition of two adjacent storefronts is obviously more spacious but there was never a concern over being crowded at Smoke. Although many regulars will miss hanging out in the back little corner behind the bar, somewhat squeezed but happy standing next to co-owner Paul Stache, who often served as the club’s soundman. Well, forget that corner—the long mahogany bar is now located in the outer lobby, on the right as you enter. Customers can no longer enjoy the show from the bar, there is a beautiful velvet (burgundy/red) curtain separating the main room from the entrance and bar. 

Stache says he is looking for a chef but for now, he has taken on the chef duties which is what he did when the club first opened in 1994. He looks good in his chef outfit and hey his salmon is smokin’! On the evening of my visit the Eddie Henderson Quintet was in full force, with alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, pianist George Cable, bassist Gerald Cannon, and drummer Lenny White. That’s an all-star band no matter how you slice it with swinging tunes from Lee Morgan, saxophonist Joe Henderson and original Henderson compositions.

September 29-Oct. 2, Smoke welcomes Elio Villafranca and the Jazz Syncopators, two shows each night with three shows on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. The pianist Villafranca brings his native Cuban rhythmic roots to the stage infused with Caribbean sounds and straight-ahead jazz. His ensemble will include alto saxophonist, soprano and flute Steve Wilson, alto/tenor and flute Vincent Herring, trumpeter Steve Norris, bassist Edward Perez, drummer Dion Parson, and percussionist Mauricio Herrera.

For reservations visit the website smokejazz.com or call 212-864-6662.

During the pandemic, The Jazz Gallery, the small little jazz club with the big sound where creativity flourishes, took time to renovate and expand their space. What they are now presenting is a much more spacious area, a modern lounge with comfortable seating and a small bar (wine and non-alcoholic beverages only) all totally separate from the performance area space. There is also a VIP room and most importantly a spacious area for musicians to relax, change or just practice a few notes. The club, located at 1156 Broadway, has a new entrance on 27th Street,  located on the 5th floor; it is one of those elusive NYC institutions with no signage up since the building is landmarked and it isn’t allowed.

My most recent Jazz Gallery visits demonstrated the total commitment to the music and its introduction to the sounds of jazz that aren’t witnessed at your average jazz club. The cornetist Graham Haynes featuring percussionist Adam Rudolph, who enlisted electronics, as well as Graham’s playing a bass version of the kora (African instrument). The duo went over the edge of jazz realism music that awakened and inspired. 

The bassist and composer Dezron Douglas presented his long awaited TJG Fellowship Commission entitled “Not Too Suite.” Hopefully, it will be recorded for the world to hear. “The title is a play on words. I used this title because as a composer this is my first suite, as a Black man I grew up in a culture that put way too much sugar in their coffee, and the obvious…coffee!” Well, in a play of words the band was hot, they were steaming, they didn’t use cream only organic ingredients, serious instrumentation jazz in and out swinging in all dimensions with award winning drummer Jonathan Blake, pianist Glenn Zaleski and vocalist Sachal Vasandani. Douglas moved in and out, his basslines walkin’ and talkin’ with rhythmic deliverance, the reason why Jackie McLean mentored and kept him as his bassist. He, like his mentor, is introducing young musicians to the stage like his trumpeter Akili Bradley along with saxophonist Chris Lewis, two young musicians to keep abreast of—they are on their way to becoming jazz staples.

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