Jazz In Brooklyn

Nick Catalano By

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There used to be a sign at the exit of the Verrazano Bridge that read "Welcome to Brooklyn—The fourth largest city in America." Actually, if each borough in Gotham were a standalone city, Brooklyn, with the present population of 2.5 million would now be the third largest city in the country. Most visitors to New York never even set foot in Brooklyn and most jazz fans who come to Manhattan have no idea that Brooklyn has become a hotbed of jazz activity with concert halls, clubs, and outdoor venues all featuring important musicians.

As I write this piece the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival kicks off a week-long series of performances at various locations throughout the borough. The festival is honoring Max Roach, a Brooklyn native who ran track at Boy's High School as a teenager and initiated his illustrious career in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of the borough's present-day jazz 'hoods. The centerpiece of the festival features Max's famous percussion ensemble "M'Boom" which gained notoriety for many years when Max was alive. The "M'Boom" concert is being held at his old school which is now called Boys and Girls High School.

One of the more interesting of the Brooklyn clubs is the Tea Lounge located at 837 Union St. between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Upcoming musicians include Eric Biondo who received favorable notices as a trumpeter with the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. Biondo's colleagues violinist Caleb Burhans and bassist Rob Jost will join him. Drummer Bobby Previte is celebrating his new CD release Set The Alarm For Monday (Palmetto) at the Tea Lounge with tenorist Ellery Eskelin, vibraphonist Bill Ware, and bassist Brad Jones. The club's web site is tealoungeny.com.

I chose to visit the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music for a jazz concert featuring The Steve Wilson Quartet. One of the oldest and largest nonprofit community schools of the arts in the nation, the Conservatory serves more than 25,000 people each year, of all ages and backgrounds, through free and subsidized music instruction. The Conservatory, located in the Park Slope section on 7th Ave. off Flatbush and surrounded by Brownstones, boutiques and cafes, symbolizes the neighborhood/ community ambiance of the Brooklyn jazz scene. Its website is bqcm.org.

Steve Wilson led an all-Brooklyn quartet of musicians whom he has been associated with in a long career as a saxophonist/composer/educator. With Wilson playing alto, soprano and flute accompanied by Bruce Barth on piano, Adam Cruz on drums and Corcoran Holt on bass the quartet wound its way through a retrospective of the leader's creations. The opening burner "Cisco" (referencing the Star Trek series) set the mood of the evening as it displayed Wilson's Coltrane-like stylings juxtaposed with Barth's Corea-inspired lines. Wilson has appeared on over 100 recordings alongside such luminaries as George Duke, Gerald Wilson, Joe Henderson, Charlie Byrd, and the aforementioned Chick Corea. The Ballad "Grace" from the CD Passages highlighted the opening set with a melodic line than ran outside AABA boundaries and contained charming trades between Wilson and Barth.

The interior Conservatory architecture is as cozy as the neighborhood buildings and the whole aesthetic of the Brooklyn jazz scene is as comfy as one would want. After the concert a delicious meal at the Convivium Osteria—one of the many worthwhile restaurants that have sprung up in the city's new art borough—and a quick look-see at the myriad shops and galleries, I left this lovely outer circle of Gotham determined to return soon.

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