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2020 Winter JazzFest Marathons: A Survival Guide


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Believe it or not, it is that time of the year again! The holidaze are barely over and a new edition of Winter JazzFest is upon us. Knowing a jazz marathon is the perfect antidote to the holiday shopping and social marathons, producer Brice Rosenbloom and his cohorts have put together a program of gargantuan proportions. Jazz gluttony, after all, is the only binge that will help you burn the calories you racked up in the previous two weeks...

If Google Maps offered a time-lapse atlas of the venues involved since its 2005 launch, the WJF would look like a player poised to win a game of Risk: The Game of Global Jazz Domination. Steadfast in its geographical expansion out of its Le Poisson Rouge bastion, this year the JazzFest has added new venues—with the Zürcher Gallery and the Sultan Room being very welcome acquisitions—and is crossing into another borough altogether [a venue map is available at the bottom of the article].

The addition of Brooklyn to the WJF chart is a logical development and confirmed our impression that the BRIC JazzFest of late had become a dress rehearsal heralding the arrival of the JazzFest from across the East River. With the addition of a third marathon, on 17 January, Williamsburg and Bushwick will act as the landing pads for the WJF in Brooklyn.

The first two marathons will take place the previous weekend, in Manhattan, on 10 and 11 January. Between 8 and 18 January the JazzFest's program includes the usual countless stand-alone showcases, themed soirees, talks and performances—revolving around this year's focus on social justice and wellness—which, however, fall outside the scope of this article.

If you have ever run a real marathon you are familiar with how it feels. First you get very excited at the extravagance of the idea, then—as the date approaches—self-doubt and concern creep in. If you did not train enough, on the day of the race, after the initial elation, you start wondering why you signed up in the first place and shell out top dollars for such self-inflicted torture. But if you do it right... words cannot describe the joy and sense of accomplishment you experience.

With a total of 142 concerts involving hundreds of players across 17 venues, the three WJF marathons may feel just like that. And this is why your friends at All About Jazz are here to help you again with the three Ps of a rewarding WJF: Practicing, Planning, Pacing. As far as hydration is concerned, we'l leave that up to you. Last but not least, don't forget to take into account the weather conditions, the true wild card of every kind of marathon!

Needless to say, our suggestions reflect personal preferences, but we do our best to break down the JazzFest's extensive schedule to allow for maximum customization.

One final bit of advice, always check the JazzFest website for last-minute changes and for its neat "crowd watch" to make sure you're not leaving front-row seats in a comfy venue just to get yourself in the endless line of a club that is packed wall-to-wall.

Logistical Approaches

Hold On, I'm Coming!

a.k.a. The maximalist's approach

Compromises are not your thing. You don't settle for anything but the best. You also come equipped with a jet-pack, or at least an electric scooter or skateboard, to make sure you can zip from venue to venue in no time. You are unfazed by the prospect that in your pursuit of excellence you might not see every set from beginning to end. If we just described you, then those listed below might represent a few ways to match very promising performances with the realities imposed by the festival's schedule as well as the distances between venues. Where the time between shows is a bit too tight, we have marked the 'must see' shows with an asterisk to resolve your dilemmas.

Friday 10th [Manhattan]
Saturday 11th [Manhattan]
Friday 17th [Brooklyn]

Our Love Is Here to Stay

a.k.a. The stationary pragmatist's approach

If you like it comfy and easy and have never bought into the idea of multi-venue festivals, in particular during the cold winter months, then single out the venue that according to your taste has the largest number of appealing concerts, especially if they do not charge a drink-minimum at every set. Sit back and relax and, if you want to get closer to the action, take advantage of the crowds' thinning in between sets (by the third concert, at the latest, you will have made it to the front row). Below are our favorite options, in order of preference.

Friday 11th [Manhattan]
Best alternative: go for a combo by splitting the evening across two venues, a good compromise between not having to move around too much and getting more flexibility. To accomplish that, in addition to mixing the concerts from two of the venues listed above, consider:
Saturday 11th [Manhattan]
Best alternative: do the combo. In addition to mixing the concerts from two of the venues listed above, consider:
Friday 17th [Brooklyn]
Best alternative: do the combo. In addition to mixing the concerts from two of the venues listed above, consider:
  • The House of Yes/National Sawdust combo: House of Yes, 6:30-9:15PM, HUCK; People's Champs; Mwenso & the Shakes; then walk to National Sawdust, 10PM-1:15AM, Sasha Berliner, Morley: Sphere Ensemble feat. MeShell NdegeOcello, Elio Villafranca, Chris Bruce; The Quantic Soul Orchestra.
  • The Brooklyn Bowl/Music Hall of Williamsburg combo: The Brooklyn Bowl, 7:30-9:30, Kendra Morris; Felix Pastorius & Hipster Assassins; then switch to the Music Hall of Williamsburg, 10:45-2AM, Phony Ppl; Kneebody + Mark Guiliana; Shigeto; Daedelus.

World-View Approaches

(Way More than) Four Women

a.k.a. The gender inclusiveness approach

WJF's commitment to gender-inclusive programming has been a welcome trait of its last editions. With 46 female leaders in this year's line-up, the JazzFest has met again the gender-inclusiveness goals set in keeping with the international campaign Keychange. The concerts listed below will make it clear to anyone who still harbours doubts that, if women had more performance opportunities, we'd have a healthier jazz ecosystem. If, after seeing these bands, you feel that they were invited just to meet an affirmative action quota, you might want to consider seeing a therapist at your earliest convenience.

Friday 10th [Manhattan]
  • 6:45PM. Kristina Koller (The Bitter End)
  • 7:00PM. Angela Morris' Skellettes (NuBlu)
  • 7:15PM. Jamie Baum & Short Stories (Zinc Bar) *
  • 8:30PM. Nikara and Black Wall Street (The Dance) *
  • 8:45PM. Connie Han (Subculture)
  • 9:45PM. MAE.SUN (The Dance) *
  • 10:30PM. Michael Mayo (The Bitter End)
  • 10:45PM. Halvorson & Dieterich (NuBlu) *
  • 12:15AM. Jaimie Branch (The Dance) *
  • 1:00AM. Claudia Acuna (The Bitter End)
  • 1:30AM. Simona Premazzi Sextet (Zinc Bar) *
Saturday 11th [Manhattan]
  • 6:15PM. Naïssam Jalal (The Bitter End) *
  • 6:30PM. Becca Stevens (LPR)
  • 7:00PM. Brandee Younger's (Webster Hall) *
  • 7:15PM. Sara Serpa & André Matos (Zürcher Gallery)
  • 7:30PM. Anne Paceo (The Bitter End)
  • 9:30PM. Dominique Fils-Aimé (NuBlu) *
  • 10:00PM. Kat Edmonson (Subculture)
  • 10:45PM. Nite Bjuti feat. Val Jeanty, Candice Hoyes and Mimi Jones (NuBlu) *
  • 11:15PM. Rene Marie (Subculture)
  • 12:15AM. Anna Webber (The Dance)
  • 1:15AM. Jessica Jones Quartet (NuBlu)
An equally rewarding alternative:
  • 6:15PM. Leila Biali (Subculture)
  • 7:00PM. Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci (NuBlu) *
  • 7:15PM. Helen Sung (The Dance)
  • 7:30PM. Tia Fuller (SOBs)
  • 7:45PM. Lakecia Benjamin (LPR)
  • 7:45PM. Samantha Boshnack (Zinc Bar) *
  • 9:45PM. Susan Alcorn Quintet (The Dance)
  • 11:00PM. CUP feat. Nels Cline and Yuka C. Honda (The Dance)
  • 12:15AM. Anna Webber (The Dance)
  • 1:30AM. WIJO Jam hosted by Roxy Coss & WIJO All-Stars (The Dance)
Friday 17th [Brooklyn]
  • 6:15PM. Big Terminal: Tim Berne, David Torn, Aurora Nealand (The Sultan Room) *
  • 7:30PM. Jessica Pavone (The Sultan Room) *
  • 7:30PM. Kendra Morris (Brooklyn Bowl)
  • 8:15PM. L'Rain (Music Hall of Williamsburg)
  • 7:45PM. Aneesa Strings (Rough Trade)
  • 8:45PM. Wayne Horvitz, Sara Schoenbeck Duo (The Sultan Room)
  • 10:30PM. Sasha Berliner (National Sawdust)
  • 11:15PM. Salami Rose Joe Louis (The Sultan Room)
  • 11:30PM. Morley: Sphere Ensemble Ft. Meshell Ndegeocello, Elio Villafrance, Chris Bruce (National Sawdust) *

Young and (Not) Foolish (At All)

a.k.a. The generational approach

You like to discover new names and support the careers of young musicians from early on, in part because you're that kind of person that likes to boast that "you saw them in this little club in Bushwick when no-one else knew them" to everyone sitting around you at their Carnegie Hall debut. If that's the case you're in luck since the JazzFest has an established track record of devoting a substantial share of its programming to promising young artists. Here are some suggestions for you.

Friday 10th [Manhattan]
  • 6:45PM. Kristina Koller (The Bitter End)
  • 7:00PM. Angela Morris' Skellettes (NuBlu) *
  • 7:15PM. Godwin Louis presents "GLOBAL" (The Dance)
  • 7:15PM. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (SOBs) *
  • 7:30PM. Matthew Whitaker Quartet (SubCulture)
  • 8:30PM. Nikara and Black Wall Street (The Dance)
  • 8:30PM. Kokoroko (SOBs) [Update: due to visa issues Kokoroko will not be able to be in New York for the JazzFest -their slot will be taken over by the Resistance Revival Chorus]*
  • 8:45PM. Connie Han (Subculture)
  • 9:45PM. MAE.SUN (The Dance)
  • 10:30PM. Braxton Cook (Mercury Lounge)
  • 11:45PM. Butcher Brown (Mercury Lounge)
  • 1:00AM. Madison McFerrin (Mercury Lounge)
Saturday 11th [Manhattan]
  • 6:15PM. Naïssam Jalal (The Bitter End)
  • 7:00PM. Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci (NuBlu) *
  • 7:30PM. Anne Paceo (The Bitter End)
  • 7:45PM. Samantha Boshnack (Zinc Bar)
  • 8:30PM. Nduduzo Makhathini (Zürcher Gallery) *
  • 8:45PM. Plume (The Bitter End)
  • 9:30PM. Dominique Fils-Aimé (NuBlu) *
  • 10:15PM. Pasquale Grasso (Zinc Bar)
  • 11:15PM. Jonathan Jurion (The Bitter End)
Friday 17th [Brooklyn]
  • 6:45PM. Keyon Harrold (Rough Trade)
  • 7:45PM. Aneesa Strings (Rough Trade)
  • 8:15PM. L'Rain (Music Hall of Williamsburg)
  • 8:45PM. Felix Pastorius & Hipster Assassins (Brooklyn Bowl) *
  • 10:30PM. Sasha Berliner (National Sawdust)
  • 11:15PM. Salami Rose Joe Louis (The Sultan Room)
  • 12:00AM. J. Hoard (Rough Trade)

Geographical Approaches

WJF continues to offer a welcome opportunity to discover bands from out of town, be it the legions of foreign musicians that rarely perform in the US due to the administrative and financial burdens rooted in its cultural protectionism, or those from other hot US jazz scenes (this year the emphasis seems to have shifted a bit from Chicago to the West Coast, and Detroit).

The French trail

In partnership with Paris Jazz Club, for years the WJF has been showcasing some of the best young talents on the vibrant French scene. As always, the headquarters is The Bitter End, which on Saturday 11th has one of the most exciting lineups of the festival: at 6:15PM the original fusion of middle-eastern music and jazz by Franco-Syrian flutist Naïssam Jalal; at 7:30PM the kaleidoscopic music of France's "Musician of the Year," drummer Anne Paceo; at 8:45PM the energizing saxophonist Plume with special guest Kush Abadey on drums; at 10:00PM one of the highlights of the festival, Thomas de Pourquery & Supersonic with special guest Jaimie Branch; at 11:15PM a tribute to the music of Marion Brown by the Franco-Caribbean pianist Jonathan Jurion with Jowee Omicil & Josiah Woodson, and at 12:30AM the hypnotic EYM Trio.

The British trail

The UK scene does not show signs of slowing down. WJF's collaboration with DJ, producer and catalyst of this British jazz new wave, Gilles Peterson, the PRS Foundation and BBC Music, reaches the third consecutive year and promises to provide again some of the festival's highlights. This is not really part of the marathons, since it takes place on January 9th, but you should not pass on the opportunity to experience the live performances of Kokoroko [Update: due to visa issues Kokoroko will not be able to be in New York for the JazzFest -their concert will be replace by Ashley Henry], Moses Boyd, Poppy Ajudha and Sarathy Korwar! In addition, Kokoroko, will perform also at SOBs on Friday 11th, at 8:45PM.

The Dutch trail

This year marks the addition of a third national showcase, again outside of the marathons. "Sounds of the Dutch Underground" will feature a host of young Dutch musicians at Nublu on Sunday 12 January at 7PM. Moving away from the trail blazed by iconoclasts like Willem Breuker, Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink, this young crop seems to be as interested in electronica as they are in improvised music, as in the case of Binkbeats and of Niels Broos & Jamie Peet. Of special interest are Tin Men & The Telephone, a rare case in which the political connotations of a jazz project are as strong as its musical side thanks to an original blend of compelling piano trio music with voice samplings of the world leaders that have been shaping the international discourse, for the better or the worse. Theirs promises to be one of the most rewarding sets of the festival. To complete this soiree the compelling new project by saxophonist Tineke Postma, with Jonathan Finlayson, Matt Brewer and Dan Weiss.

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What is Jazz? Mark Guiliana Ludovico Granvassu winter jazzfest Nasheet Waits Nduduzo Makhathini Immanuel Wilkins Rashaan Carter Sunny Jain Steven Bernstein Catherine Russell Kokoroko Gilles Peterson Makaya McCraven Ali Jackson Aaron Goldberg Omer Avital Todd Sickafoose Simona Premazzi Steve Lehman Craig Taborn Brandee Younger Gil Scott Heron Bill Laswell Dominique Fils Aime Thomas De Pourquery Uri Caine Tommaso Cappellato James Brandon Lewis Tim Berne David Torn Aurora Nealand Jessica Pavone Mwenso & The Shakes Ben Williams Kneebody Morley Sphere Meshell Ndegeocello Elio Villafranca Chris Bruce Chris Lightcap Ron Artis Gretchen Parlato Joey Alexander ambrose akinmusire Igmar Thomas Terrace Martin Nicholas Payton Kalia Vandever Petros Klampanis Ted Poor The Era Footwork Crew Hypnotic Brass Ensemble Hailu Mergia Jamie Baum Kendra Shank Abbey Lincoln Quiana Lynell Christian Sands David Kikoski Angela Morris nate wooley MAE.SUN Marc Ribot Ikebe Shakedown Cousin from Another Planet Michael Mayo Claudia Acuna Robert Glasper Karriem Riggins Naïssam Jalal Anne Paceo Plume Kush Abadey Jonathan Jurion Jowee Omicil Josiah Woodson EYM Trio Amirtha Kidambi Lea Bertucci Laraaji Nite Bjuti Val Jeanty Candice Hoyes Mimi Jones Jessica Jones Marquis Hill Nir Felder Kassa Overall Theo Croker Steve Dalachinsky Daniel Carter Dave Liebman Matt Shipp Ellen Christi Cooper Moore Gerald Cleaver Ingrid Laubrock Kris Davis Samantha Boshnack Jim Snidero Susan Alcorn Nels Cline Yuka Honda Anna Webber Becca Stevens Lakecia BENJAMIN Reggie Workman Regina Carter Kat Edmonson Rene Marie Gregg August Wayne Horvitz Sara Schoenbeck Dan Weiss Salami Rose Joe Louis Keyon Harrold Aneesa Strings Taali Jose James J. Hoard Sasha Berliner Quantic Kendra Morris Felix Pastorius Paris Jazz Club Marion Brown Moses Boyd Poppy Ajudha Sarathy Korwar Willem Breuker Misha Mengelberg Han Bennink Brinkman Niels Broos Jamie Peet Tin Men & the Telephone Tineke Postma Jonathan Finlayson Matt Brewer Winter JazzFest Marathon Winter JazzFest 2020 Jaimie Branch



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