Even on an average week, New York City boasts an abundance of jazz concert opportunities that few cities could even hope to rival. Then you add to the mix the festivities related to the annual conference of the International Association for Jazz Education and the preponderance of musical activities is such that even the seasoned veteran of these types of things finds himself overwhelmed. For this writer, it was the first time out at an IAJE event in NYC and the urge to take in other sites around the city mixed with an active conference schedule definitely led to a good case of a jazz overdose. What follows in no way will serve as a comprehensive recounting of every event, but instead a sampler of my own bites taken from the Big Apple.
Wednesday, January 21
After winging into La Guardia on Wednesday evening, my buddy (a high school jazz band director) and I checked into the Sheraton New York Towers, one of the hotels that served as a hub for conference activities. Quickly grabbing a cab, we wasted little time in making our way to Smoke to catch an 11 p.m. set by the Hot Pants Funk Sextet. Featuring B3 organ champ Adam Scone and drummer Joe Strasser, this tight ensemble let loose with a danceable mix of tunes from the soul cannon, including James Brown numbers and AWB’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” Up and comer Ian Hendrickson-Smith usually makes the scene with this group but was not on the bandstand this particular evening. Sill, with a good seat at the bar and after a few glasses of Riesling, you couldn’t help but enjoy the hang and guitarist Al Street amused all when in the middle of a solo he took his wireless guitar into the backroom for an extended jam.
Thursday, January 22
After sleeping in for a few extra hours and then grabbing some breakfast, it was off to a clinic by trumpeter Brian Lynch that offered a substantial introduction to the importance of the clave within Latin music. As a veteran of the bands of Hector Lavoe and Eddie Palmieri, Lynch is more than qualified to speak to the demands that the clave holds for jazz musicians hoping to master the challenges of the Latin genre. With the help of a percussionist, Lynch demonstrated with his horn how to adapt the Miles Davis line “Solar” to the Latin idiom, showing how important it was to change the placement of the accents to fit the clave. Lynch served up valuable lessons that surely benefited the novice and gave the initiated something to chew on as well.
It was a quick walk down the street over to the New York Hilton to take in the conference opening that would feature IAJE and ASCAP commissions honoring Quincy Jones. 17-year-old pianist Pascal Le Boeuf premiered his composition “Ray’s Brother’s Other Mother: Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” with the help of his brother Remy on alto saxophone and guest musician Chris Potter. Both the piece and the advanced soloing of these young brothers impressed the crowd and surely we’ll be hearing more form them in the future. Then, in the first of many such instances, I had to split this event if I wanted to make it over to Paquito D’Rivera’s Blindfold Test sponsored by Down Beat and led by writer Dan Ouellete. Although D’Rivera first quipped that the premise of this event was “kind of like taking a shower in public,” he proved to be a knowledgeable participant. Nailing one track after another, D’Rivera spoke fluently about Eddie Daniels, Chico O’Farrill, Danilo Perez, Benny Goodman, and Diego Urcola while being witty and entertaining to boot.
Following an afternoon of networking and then a break for dinner, it was back to the conference with a 7 p.m. concert by the Walt Weiskopf Nonet. A distinguished writer and saxophonist, Weiskopf has made a name for himself via his series of substantial Criss Cross recordings that include such nonet sides as A Song For My Mother and Siren. In a front line that included alto man Jim Snidero, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and trombonist Conrad Herwig, Weiskopf hit his stride early on with an incendiary set that made the most of some challenging originals and the encouraging support of drummer Billy Drummond. Pieces such as “Outsider,” “Three Armed Man,” “Turncoat,” and “End of Year So Soon” boasted performances that seamlessly married the composed with the improvised and each musician had more than his fair share of solo space. This was state of the art stuff that also spoke to the heart with its visceral punch.