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2023 Winter JazzFest Marathons: A Survival Guide

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The fact that New York City's Winter JazzFest (WJF) is back to in-person performances may very well be among the most meaningful signs, at least for jazz die-hards, that life is returning to normal.

The overall number of concerts may not be as high as in the past, with the 170+ performances of 2020 representing the historic peak. The mere fact, however, that producer Brice Rosenbloom and his team had the resolve not to let the soul-crushing, last-minute, Covid-related cancellation of the 2022 edition get in the way and assemble 100+ concerts is, in and of itself, a cause for celebration.

The festival is progressively losing its West-Village-centric soul, and the distances among venues are increasing. Lesser venue-hopping accessibility is therefore compensated by an overall greater festival accessibility, as the programming is more likely to come closer to where you live. As in 2020, the WJF Marathons will touch two boroughs, Manhattan on 13 January and Brooklyn on January 14. For those Manhattanintes who cannot wrap their heads around having to cross the East River, on January 14 NuBlu offers a very strong alternative WJF program featuring Michael Leonhart in a duo with JSWISS as well as with his celebrated Orchestra; the legendary Brian Jackson; Kahil El'Zabar; Dezron Douglas and Ilhan Ersahin.

Perhaps you have been at the JazzFest before and loved how two evenings of non-stop music brought you into a utopian, yet short-lived existence in which your only concern in life was what concert to see next. You may recall how that was the best antidote to get over the holidaze.

But it has been three years since anyone has had to digest the festival's huge list of performances, mentally geo-reference them, match them against metabolism levels (sedentary or powerhouse?), concentration levels (ADHD or hyper-focus?), fitness levels (sprinter or long distance runner?) and social inclinations (pack leader or lone wolf?), and come up with a personal WJF Algorhythm. As a well-seasoned jazz cat will know, there are many ways to skin this JazzFest.

Here is where we come in to help you, flagging a few possible ways to unpack this new year jazz bonanza and suggest what may suit you best.

Needless to say, our suggestions reflect personal preferences, but we do our best to break down the Winter JazzFest's extensive schedule to allow for maximum customization while keeping in mind the distances between venues, some of which are conveniently clustered (in Manhattan: Le Poisson Rouge / The BitterEnd Club / Zinc Bar; City Winery -New York / City Winery Loft. In Brooklyn: National Sawdust / Loove Labs; Superior Ingredients / Brooklyn Bowl; The Opera House / Baby's All Right), the timing of shows, and various threads which can be discerned through the programming. Maps and schedules are available at the end of the article.

One final bit of advice, always check the Winter 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

You scoff at having to make compromises. You always wondered why one has to choose between chocolate or ice-cream when you can get a cup of ice-cream and load it with chocolate on top. Your adrenal glands are always jacked up and your friends think you're the MacGyver of public transportation problem-solving. Leaving a concert before its end, or arriving a few minutes after its start, is no deterrent to your pursuit of the Winter JazzFest Grand Slam. If this is who you are... here may be a few ways to go.

Friday 13th [Manhattan]
An alternative start of the soiree could be with the following two concerts during the 6:30-8:30PM slot:
Saturday 14th [Brooklyn]
An alternative during the 8:30-10:30PM slot:

Our Love Is Here to Stay

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

Before making a choice you ponder, and ponder, and ponder... But once the choice is made you are committed. Nothing makes you change your mind. After all, you are still using the deodorant brand you chose for prom night, 19 years ago. Staying power is your middle-name. You are not easily swayed. When you invest in the market you don't get depressed when stocks go on a free-fall and don't get too bubbly during a bubble because you know that the long run is the only way to play. If that's the case you probably look at a multi-venue festival and go for the club where the overall programming assessed against the pleasure of not having to move around strikes your practical ego. That's because you find esthetic beauty in pragmatism. And once you get to a venue you probably look at the "comers and goers" with a condescending smirk aware of the fact that the crowds' thinning in between sets will soon grant you a pole position seat. One thing you may need to consider, though, is that if you're staying at a venue where they might charge a minimum at each set (i.e. Bitter End, City Winery, Zinc Bar), you may need to be ready to drink, or eat, quite a bit (practical tip: after the second consecutive burger consider a doggy bag option, and don't forget to tip the staff appropriately or they may end up resenting jazz crowds)... Below are our favorite "stationary" options, in order of preference.

Friday 13th [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 the venues listed above, consider starting the evening at Le Poisson Rouge and then after Joel Ross's performance move to one of the following venues:
Saturday 14th [Brooklyn]

World-View Approaches

(Way More than) Four Women

a.k.a. The gender inclusiveness approach

You always disagreed with Paolo Conte's contention that women hate jazz, but when you are not talking in public and grand-standing about how many women in jazz you admire, you know that the majority of concerts you attend still feature mostly male musicians. Or simply you are not familiar with the new generation of forward-looking female jazz composers that are changing the scene. WJF is the perfect place to fix that, thanks to its ongoing commitment to gender-inclusive programming and the championing of women in jazz who are pushing the envelope. In addition to the concerts below, you should also check out WJF's opening night, 12 January, when Terri Lyne Carrington will bring her "New Standards" project to City Winery, and the talk at the National Jazz Museum on Gender Equity in Jazz on 17 January.

Friday 13th [Manhattan]
The West Village Option:
  • 6:15PM. Esthesis Quartet (Zinc Bar)
  • 6:45PM. Abraham Reunionn (Bitter End)
  • 7:30PM. Endea Owens & The Cookout (Zinc Bar)
  • 7:45PM. Jeanne Michard Paris Jazz Session (Bitter End)
  • 10PM. Marta Sanchez Quintet (Zinc Bar)
  • 12:30AM. Chien Chien Lu & Richie Goods (Zinc Bar)
The Chelsea Option:
  • 6M. Miho Hazama & m_unit (City Winery)
  • 8:30PM. Sara Serpa (City Winery Loft)
  • 9:45PM. Hera (City Winery)
  • 11PM. Lakecia Benjamin (City Winery)
  • 11:30PM. Linda May Han Oh (City Winery Loft)
An alternative during the 6:30-8:45PM slot, go to NuBlu and catch Caroline Davis at 6:30PM and Nathalie Joachim at 7:45PM.

Saturday 14th [Brooklyn]
A great alternative:
  • 6:15PM. Black Lives from Generation to Generation (feat. Stephanie McCay and more) (The Opera House)
  • 7:45PM. Sarah Elizabeth Charles (Baby's All Right)
  • 9PM. Brandee Younger (The Opera House)
  • 11PM. Irreversible Entanglements (Superior Ingredients)

The Jazz Spirits Are Marchin' In

Syncopation caused you anxiety, so the rediscovery of a more meditative dimension in jazz has brought you much needed relief. Or maybe you are trying to determine whether spiritual jazz is a movement in which musicians' inner practice has found a honest artistic outlet, or just the latest bandwagon. Perhaps you are curious about what degree of state-alteration is optimal to appreciate the nuances of this genre. You may also wonder why all the spiritual concerts will be hosted in Brooklyn (except Nate Mercerau at 11:30PM on Friday at NuBlu): is Manhattan's manic energy harmful to jazz spirituality or are Brooklyn music connoisseurs hip to something Manhattanites have not quite grasped yet? And why are all these concerts held towards the end of the day? Is spiritual jazz best consumed after a good meal and drink? Either way, if you follow the trail below you should be able to find answers to these nagging questions. Don't forget that after the Marathons, Nate Mercerau will play again on 17 January, at Public Records, performing the music of one of spiritual jazz's spiritual fathers: Pharoah Sanders' Elevation.

Saturday 14th [Brooklyn]
  • 9PM. Brandee Younger (The Opera House)
  • 9:30PM. Surya Botofasina (National Sawdust)
  • 10:15PM. Dawn Richards, Spencer Zahn (The Opera House)
  • 12AM. Photay with Carlos Nino, Randal Fisher, Celia Hollander (National Sawdust)

Geographical Approaches

Back in the day all roads led to Rome. Today all jazz roads continue to lead to New York, especially some pretty large thoroughfares from Chicago, Los Angeles and Paris, which every year are taken by a number of emerging musicians whose final destination are the stages of the WJF. Oddly, the JazzFest seemes to have been Brexited. This year the London-New York express did not deliver its usual cool contingent, with the exception of the omnipresent Gilles Peterson who will be DJing and hosting at Superior Ingredients. If you go out very often to see live jazz in New York, it may well be that the main reason of excitement at the WJF are not the concerts by musicians who live in the Big Apple (wherever they might be originally from), but the rare sightings of artists that will share not only their music but also an insight on the scenes they belong to. Below you may find a number of trails through the WJF's program which should satisfy this cosmopolitan compulsion of yours...

The Paris trail
The Paris Jazz Club did it again. As partners of the WJF they're taking over The Bitter End for the whole evening of Friday 13th and bring six concerts featuring young and emerging talents like the trio Abraham Reunion, three siblings who offer a compelling personal syntehsis of jazz and their Guadeloupian heritage; saxophonist Jeanne Michard's brand of latin jazz; the electro-acoustic virtuosity of the Armenian-born Paris-based pianist Yessaï Karapetian, and the youth and urban vibes of Bada Bada, Ishkero and TISS+. Fans of the French scene will have plenty to celebrate on the opening night of the Festival, 12 January, at Le Poisson Rouge, when two of its most promiment representatives, saxophonist Emile Parisien with his quintet and accordionist Vincent Peirani with his trio Jokers, will hit the stage and no doubt mesmerize the audience. These concerts are also a chance to see two leading European guitarists in action, Manu Codjia and Federico Casagrande, respectively.

The Los Angeles trail
If you want to get an insight in the ever expanding LA scene, especially its more meditative aspects, don't miss: on Friday Nate Mercerau (11:30PM at NuBlu), and on Saturday, Surya Botofasina (9:30PM at National Sawdust) and Photay with Carlos Nino, Randal Fisher, Celia Hollander (12AM at National Sawdust).

The Chicago trail
There cannot be WJF without a healthy dose of Chicago jazz. This year it's up to two drummers who have released key albums on International Anthem in 2022: Daniel Villareal (Saturday, 8:45 at Club Curious) and Makaya McCraven (Saturday, 9:45PM at Superior Ingredients). They'll be preceded by saxophonist Isaiah Collier, who by now is as active in New York as in Chicago, featured very early on Saturday (12:45 AM) at NuBlu. Most importantly, WJF will pay homage to another musician that graced both the Chicago and New York scenes, and whose untimely passing a few months ago shocked both fans and fellow musicians. On 15 January, Jeff Parker, Chad Taylor, Caroline Davis, Luke Stewart, Jason Nazary, and many more will be honoring the one and only Jaimie Branch at NuBlu.

View the Schedule and Maps!

13 January: Manhattan Marathon





January 14: Brooklyn Marathon



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