The drummer and composer Jonathan Blake has come a long way since sitting on the bandstand as a teenager with his idol Elvin Jones. Since moving from his home of Philadelphia, he has become one of the proficient drummers of his generation, which means he’s monstrous. That’s why he is on jazz’s evolutionary record label Blue Note Records, which has boasted artists such as Freddie Hubbard, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson and Horace Silver. He contributed to Dr. Lonnie Smith’s “Breathe” in 2021 and Kenny Barron’s “Concentric Circles,” in 2018 and has been a vital member of the latter for approximately 15 years.
On February 10–11, Blake will perform at the spot he calls home: the Jazz Gallery (1158 Broadway). His group TRION + 1 features tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Gilad Hekselman and bassist Kanoa Mendenhall.
Blake’s drumming style is a complement of fast-paced fierceness while his brushes on ballads are as soft as a kiss. His repertoire rolls in straight-ahead with twists and turns bouncing off the edges with an intuitive group in hard bop swing mode.
Two sets each night at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
For reservations, visit the website jazzgallery.org.
The novelist, columnist, music cultural critic and NEA Jazz Master Stanley Crouch, who transitioned on September 16, 2020, is remembered for his quick wit and fiery criticism that often scorched the halls of jazz and Black culture (although jazz is the sound and interpretation of the Black cultural experience).
On February 13, Dizzy’s Jazz Club (10 Columbus Circle, 60th Street and Broadway) will pay tribute to the critical thinker with “Victory Is Assured: An Evening in Honor of Stanley Crouch.” There will be one show at 7 p.m. with a consortium of all-stars featuring Sean Mason, Christian McBride, Jeff “Tain” Watts, David Murray, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Charlap, Cyrus Chestnut, Peter Washington and Kenny Washington, among others. Wynton Marsalis will offer opening remarks, followed by words from Dean of Columbia Journalism School Jelani Cobb and Glenn Mott.
Marsalis, who is managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC), credits Crouch as co-founder of that program and playing an integral role in the organization’s direction and impact. “His teachings on jazz history, culture and literature continue to influence JALC content and education programs.”
Crouch was influenced by Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, two elder critical thinkers who moved him in a direction less centered on race. Of Murray’s impact, he said, “I saw how important it is to free yourself from ideology. When you look at things solely in terms of race or class, you miss what is really going on.”
When Crouch arrived here in New York from California, he had intentions of continuing his career as a drummer. He played with multi-instrumentalist David Murray—the two shared a loft in the East Village above the Tin Palace, where they, along with other musicians, became part of the underground loft scene. He eventually became a writer.
Some of Crouch’s early fans still recall his days as a columnist at the Village Voice; his writings were brilliant. His is also acknowledged for “Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979–1989” and the “All-America Skin Game,” a collection of his reviews and writings on jazz; “Considering Genius” (2007); and “Charlie Parker, Kansas City Lightning,” a biography of the jazz alto saxophonist icon (2013).
For reservations, call 212-258-9595 or visit the website jazz.org.
What joy for vocalist Samara Joy. For the world of jazz, she was the belle of the ball last night. Well, in this instance, she was the belle of the 65th Annual Grammy Awards. She was the elated winner of two Grammys: Best Jazz Vocal Album and New Best Artist (out of 10 nominees)—she accepted the latter onstage during primetime. A jazz artist hasn’t won in that category since 2011, when Esperanza Spalding won over the likes of Drake and Justin Bieber.
Joy, a Bronx native, was a rising jazz star even before she won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2019 and was named Best New Artist by Jazz Times for 2021.
Her performances are consistently refreshing and her creative source offers imaginative twists to storied standards like “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Social Call” and “’Round Midnight,” all of which appear on her Grammy-winning album “Linger Along” (Verve, 2022).
Ironically, the iconic pianist, composer and NEA Jazz Master Barry Harris introduced me to this young singer when she was in high school. At that time, she was using her full name—Samara Joy McLendon. She did sing one song with Harris that evening, proving, as the master noted, she had that something. As Harris spoke with Joy and me, he predicted she was going to be a superstar and suggested I take her number because she would definitely warrant an interview at some point. Would you believe: The number is there with Harris as the reference.
While the jazz world was thrilled about Joy’s win, it actually brings up a few sore points of concern. In 2023, if jazz is an “American Treasure,” “America’s Home-Grown Music” and “America’s original art form” then why did it take 12 years for a jazz artist to step on that prime-time stage to accept a Grammy?
It’s probably correct to say the average person, even a jazz fan, isn’t aware of the nine jazz categories for the Grammy Awards. Every year, many jazz artists are presented with awards earlier in the afternoon—before the primetime festivities, red-carpet interviews, paparazzi, limos, and—most of all—the cheers and applause from their many peers in all genres of music in the big auditorium. Nope, jazz artists aren’t there, but hey, don’t forget: Jazz, you are an American Treasure, America’s original art form.
Damn that! Jazz wants to hang out at the Premiere Ceremony. Jazz would like to be sitting upfront with the likes of Lizzo, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Harry Styles, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, Bad Bunny, Steve Lacey, Adele, and Queen Latifah. Jazz wanted to be there celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, another root of black music, just like jazz. How can jazz ever be recognized and accepted by the masses if the genre can’t be seen or heard during the largest music event of the year?
With Joy the only jazz musician accepting a Grammy on stage, no one there would know of the winners in other jazz categories, such as Wayne Shorter & Leo Genovese (Best Improvised Jazz Solo); Terri Lyne Carrington for “New Standards, Vol. 1” (Best Jazz Instrumental Album); Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra featuring the Congra Patria Son Jarocho Collective for “Fandango at the Wall in New York” (Best Latin Jazz Album). And although conductor Yannick Nezet-Sequin was awarded Best Opera Recording for “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” that recognition also goes to others on the team, including jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard, who scored the opera. The question is how long will the Recording Academy continue to ignore jazz as a mainstream genre when it comes to the premiere ceremony?
This is exactly how I felt and still feel. These points have been my sentiments for years. I have expressed this countless times wondering just when they are going to wake up and give Jazz the respect it deserves. As a Jazz radio host, curator and educator for over two decades, I find it appalling that Jazz continues to be marginalized. If one subtracts it from the equation, much of the music presented would vanish because Jazz is the core!
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