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Rebellion and Respect: Kennedy Center Celebrates Blue Note's 75th Anniversary

Rebellion and Respect: Kennedy Center Celebrates Blue Note's 75th Anniversary
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Jazz has always been socially conscious music, these [players] were renegades. —Terence Blanchard
Blue Note Record's significance to modern music is as inarguable as its story is remarkable. Over its 75 year lifespan the label has recorded many of jazz's defining artists, its evolution tracing the trajectory of America's most significant musical form from its beginnings to its present day diverse manifestations.

It is therefore especially auspicious that the celebration of its 75th anniversary took place at the Kennedy Center just as the center welcomes experimentalist Jason Moran
Jason Moran
Jason Moran
b.1975
piano
as its now long-term artistic director, fulfilling a commitment to the musical form begun by the groundbreaking Billy Taylor
Billy Taylor
Billy Taylor
1921 - 2010
piano
when he established a jazz program at the Center over two decades ago.

When the Kennedy Center initiated its jazz program few major arts centers had so thoroughly embraced jazz. The importance of this infiltration into the country's dedicated forum for performance art cannot be overstated. Jazz was now being regaled in the same halls as more traditionally lauded forms like Opera, classical, and dance. Yet, under Taylor's guidance, jazz was always presented as a living, breathing art form grounded equally in the concert hall as the club. In fact, the Kennedy Center took the innovative step of erecting a jazz club smack in the middle of the Center. The KC Club quickly established itself as a premier venue for cutting edge performance in a comfortable, relaxed setting. Under Moran's guidance, the Kennedy Center continues to balance casting a spotlight on jazz's history, educational outreach, and more than ever, avant-garde experimentation.

These three themes were evident during the entirety of the Blue Note celebration which emphasized the label's historical contributions while putting its current artists front and center. Over the course of the week a huge cast of performers spanning multiple jazz styles occupied every corner of the Kennedy Center, including its main stages, the free daily Millennium Stage, exhibit spaces, and the recently established Crossroads Club.

On tap were Fabian Almazan
Fabian Almazan
Fabian Almazan
b.1984
piano
, Brian Blade
Brian Blade
Brian Blade
b.1970
drums
, Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
b.1962
trumpet
, Lou Donaldson
Lou Donaldson
Lou Donaldson
b.1926
saxophone
, Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
b.1978
piano
, Derrick Hodge
Derrick Hodge
Derrick Hodge
b.1979
bass
, Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
b.1941
vibraphone
, Norah Jones
Norah Jones
Norah Jones
b.1979
piano
, Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
b.1973
guitar
, Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, John Patitucci
John Patitucci
John Patitucci
b.1959
bass
, Danilo Pérez, Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
b.1956
vocalist
, Kendrick Scott
Kendrick Scott
Kendrick Scott
b.1980
drums
, Marlena Shaw
Marlena Shaw
Marlena Shaw
b.1942
vocalist
, Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
, Dr. Lonnie Smith
Dr. Lonnie Smith
Dr. Lonnie Smith
b.1942
organ, Hammond B3
, McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
, and others. Many of these artists performed multiple times in differing configurations, showcasing jazz's trio, quartet, and larger ensemble formations, as well as its current stylistic diversity.

Audiences heard straight ahead jazz, modernist masters like the Wayne Shorter Quartet, and genre-colliding experiments from Derek Hodges and the Robert Glasper Experiment. An example of the Kennedy Center's evolving programming, Glasper performed in the Crossroads Club. Built inside the Center, the dance club—replete with dance floor and multiple bars—provides a platform for modern, multi-genre music and mirroring Taylor's KC Club innovation breaks the mold by placing jazz's more electric players in their natural context. A perfect set piece for Glasper's genre busting music, the silvery drapes and custom white sofas echoed the bands disco inflections, robotic vocals, and art-soul contours.

The celebration's musical series culminated in an extended concert that delivered an aural portrait of Blue Note jazz via multiple performances from some of jazz's most prominent artists. Live streamed by NPR, the music unfolded against a backdrop of Blue Note album covers presented in chronological order, with Moran and Blue Note president Don Was
Don Was
Don Was
b.1952
bass
presiding. For the opening piece, Moran and Glasper performed a stellar piano duet of "Boogie Woogie Stomp," the first Blue Note recording. Their take heralded the ensuing night of music which deftly melded historical perspective with contemporary style as it marched from one memorable tune to another. Lou Donaldson
Lou Donaldson
Lou Donaldson
b.1926
saxophone
and Dr. Lonnie Smith
Dr. Lonnie Smith
Dr. Lonnie Smith
b.1942
organ, Hammond B3
delved into the blues with "Blues Walk," "Whiskey Drinkin' Woman," and "Alligator Boogaloo." Smith's distinct organ sound, the band's low and slow swing, and Donaldon's humorous repartee crafted an inviting picture of sixties jazz's straight ahead roots. Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
regaled the audience with a combination of "Fort Worth/ I'm All for You," while National Endowment of the Arts Masters Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
b.1941
vibraphone
and McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
performed a commanding series of selections ending with the dynamic "African Village." Dianne Reeves assumed the stage for renditions of "Dreams" and a dramatic Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
b.1962
trumpet
arrangement of "Stormy Weather." Blanchard then led a standout performance of his textured "Wandering Wonder."

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