(L-R): Danny Mixon, Robin Bell-Stevens, Mark Fransman (Ron Scott photo)

Harlem Stage (130 Convent Avenue) is celebrating its 40th anniversary and remains at the forefront of revolutionary thought, music as a mind stimulus, poetic words that motivate action, and dance to invigorate the soul. 

On October 20–21, Harlem Stage will feature renowned trombonist, didgeridoo player, and composer Craig Harris presenting Tongues of Fire (in a Harlem state of mind). It’s a concert of music featuring musicians bassist Calvin Jones, keyboardist Henry Jeria, and drummer Damon DueWhite; four poets, including nine-year-old Kayden Hern, Luther Isler aka Anubis, Cordell “Ngoma” Hill, and Naomi Extra; and four vocalists and one dancer, plus visuals.      

It’s a concert of music, poetry, and movement that explores the evolution of the Harlem community from the mid-1970s to the present day. “We need to document what went on during that period or that part of our history could be misinterpreted or eliminated altogether,” said Harris. “During the 1970s, poets had a stage presence and could sit in with bands. This performance is dedicated to Harlem native Sekou Sundiata, who I worked with on many occasions. He often performed with his own band, like Amiri Baraka, the Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Ntozake Shange, Sonia Sanchez, and Imhotep Gary Byrd.”

These poets had a stage presence—they became part of the band, like Babs Gonzales. Poets and music date back to the collaboration of  Charles Mingus and Langston Hughes on “The Weary Blues,” and his poetry collaboration with Randy Weston. At the time, poetry was so hip in Harem that the popular night club that graced 125th Street often had poetry readings.    

“Tongues of Fire” relates to having a fiery tongue, being very direct, a boldness of speech. “This production is a balance of stage and the page and dance. I call it TAI, Total Art Integration,” said Harris during our phone interview. 

One show each night 7:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m. For tickets, visit the website harlemstage.org.

Pianist, arranger, composer, and songwriter Robert Glasper premiered at the Blue Note Jazz Club in 2018, which has become his annual month-long residency. These residencies have consistently been sold out. If a music lover goes through October without going to see Glasper at least once, they are missing out on an incredible musical experience. The night I attended, it was wall-to-wall people from the deep crevasses behind the bar to the door. Most astonishing was the clientele: an abundance of young folks in their 20s, which is amazing to see in any jazz club, and older jazz fans, all in attendance to hear great music despite the mixed genres.      

Glasper’s residency is a uniquely curated improvisation of twists and turns; a testimony to the extensiveness of his musical kaleidoscope. His bandmate collective always adds another perspective to the music, such as the band with Yaslin Bey and a trio with Esperanza Spalding. But most of all, it’s the element of surprise guests who show up, who have ranged from Black Thought to Angela Davis and Ilyasah ShabazzDave Chappelle, and Tiffany Haddish, many of whom have performed with Glasper as well as watching the show.

The exciting residency of Glasper continues now through October 29 at the storied Blue Note jazz club (131 West 3rd Street). October 19 will feature Robert Glasper X with multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Amber Navran (of the alternative R&B band based in L.A.), the configuration will include bassist Burniss Travis, drummer Justin Tyson, and DJ Jahi Sundance (a multi-instrumentalist who’s created a sonic experience, drawing from a number of sources such as samples of songs, YouTube clips, and his vast knowledge of breaks and music history). 

On October 20–21, Glasper X presents his super group (formed in 2020) Dinner Party, featuring rapper and singer Terrace Martin and saxophonist/composer Kamasi Washington. On October 22, Dinner Party returns with their fourth group member, 9th Wonder, a DJ and hip hop record producer. On October 25–26, Glasper pays tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Glasper closes out his residency on October 27–29 with D Smoke (a rapper and songwriter from CA, whose debut album Black Habits earned him nominations for Best Rap Album).  

For more information and reservations, visit the website at bluenotejazz.com or call 212-475-8592.

Jazzmobile has become a New York City staple, with its principal locations—Marcus Garvey Park and Grant’s Tomb—becoming weekly jazz shrines during their annual Summerfest. Robin Bell-Stevens, Jazzmobile director and executive producer, also has access to Harlem’s InterChurch Center and Aaron Davis Hall during fall and winter months. 

Most recently, Jazzmobile debuted “Sessions in the Gallery” at a new venue that is much smaller than what Jazzmobile fans are accustomed to. This fine-looking Artful Walls Gallery (246 Lenox Avenue) presents an intimate cozy ambience, as if you were experiencing this live music in the comfort of your own living room.  

The one-hour introduction featured pianist and composer Danny Mixon and his Trio, bassist Bryce Sebastien, and drummer Chuck Ferruggio. The trio took the audience on a jazz journey, playing such standards as Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island,” Wayne Shorter’s beautiful “Infant Eyes,” and Duke’s “Take the A Train” with a little Mixon soul. Every time Mixon performs, it’s easy to see what an exceptional pianist he is. For me, he has that Count Basie flair and as a native Harlemite, he adds a deep soulness to anything he plays, a bluesy tone with a bit of stride piano chords. 

The rainy evening quickly became sunny with Mixon’s music that was accented with his stage invitation to visiting South African multi-instrumentalist Mark Fransman, who joined the trio in a rousing version of Sonny Rollins’s “Blue Seven.” They all stretched out on this one, with Fransman getting an opportunity to show off his stuff. His long solo demonstrated his chops, great phrasing, and daring improvisational skills. Ironically, just last week, Fransman had the pleasure of playing the great Sonny Rollins tenor saxophone during a visit to Hartsford, CT, where he met with his former music professor, the prominent saxophonist/flautist and composer Rene McLean. The saxophone was given to McLean by his godfather Sonny Rollins. 

“It was awesome to see and hear Mark play on this side of the Atlantic as the first recipient of the Transatlantic Jazz Exchange after many years having taught and mentored him during my sojourn in South Africa teaching at UCT (1993-99),” said McLean. “It’s a wonderful feeling to see the fruits of your labor and the seeds you’ve sowed in the Motherland come to fruition.”   

Fransman, aka “Sonik Citizen,” is enjoying his first visit to the States and most specifically to Harlem and greater Manhattan. He is visiting as a residency recipient of the Transatlantic Jazz Exchange. The embryonic nonprofit organization aims to foster artistic growth, share cross-cultural music and history, and forge lasting bonds between musicians from South Africa (Cape Town) and the African Diaspora and Chicago and New York City. 

The organization was 10 years in the making and is the brainchild of South African bank executive Nasia Seria and jazz writer Ronald Scott. “We are delighted to introduce our pilot artist, Mark, who embodies the spirit of this extraordinary initiative,” said Seria. “Join us for an unforgettable experience as we launch the Transatlantic Jazz Exchange. It’s not just about the music—it’s about cultural connections, celebrating diversity, and embracing the universal language we call jazz.”

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