New York's New Music And Arts Series M.A.K.

New York's New Music And Arts Series M.A.K.
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New York City has a brilliant new arts foundation, and a related music series. Nikka Arts is a music and arts foundation, founded by New York singer and composer Lola Danza and her business partner JB, of aboptv.com. The organization aims to provide a space where musicians and artists can present their creative work, and also attract money to record inventive musicians who, like most artists now, are not offered contracts by major labels.

Nikka Arts is also inaugurating a music series called M.A.K. (Music and Kreation), the opening night of which is on Sunday April 3rd, 2011 at 7 pm. The series will reveal leading creative musicians to the public. Danza is focusing primarily on a new kind of music being made by musicians who are generally jazz-oriented, but are adding other influences to the mix such as rock, world and classical music. The elements involved in this vibrant form will be there for all to see at the music series, which will be held at the Manhattan Lower East Side club Fat Baby, at 122 Rivington Street (under East Housten Street between Norfolk and Suffolk Streets. F, J, M, Z Trains to Delancey St., Essex St. stop). Details of both Nikka and M.A.K. can be seen at Nikka Arts, including the ubiquitous Facebook—Danza warmly invites music lovers to "Like" the page—and Twitter links.

The M.A.K. series is actively supported by many leading artists including vocalists Sheila Jordan and Judi Silvano, drummer Kendrick Scott, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Albey Balgochian, violist Mat Maneri, and saxophonist Noah Preminger, to name a few. A unique feature of the series is that each night, which will begin at 7pm with a cocktail happy hour, will schedule six one-hour sets of strongly contrasting music. Given the star nature of many of the performers, this will effectively make M.A.K. a series of one-night festivals.

Danza, who will also soon be performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC (on May 13, 2011), says that she and her colleagues are very excited about the many brilliant artists who are coming from all over to participate in M.A.K., "some famous, some maybe to be famous." She says the foundation's short-term goal—and, indeed, its long-term goal—can be simply stated: to help musicians and visual artists get the word out about their art, and M.A.K will be a major vehicle to accomplish this objective.

The name of the foundation itself, Nikka Arts, was inspired by the Horace Silver tune, "Nica's Dream," written for the "Jazz Baroness," Baroness Nica de Koenigswater, who helped many jazz artists in the '40s and '50s. The connection is that de Koenigswater's efforts in supporting musicians provides a model and an example that Danza hopes to emulate in some way with Nikka Arts.

Nikka Arts began in a singular way. Being a vocalist, and spending so much time with her fellow musicians on the scene, naturally led Danza to hear their stories about their lives—some enthusing, but others stories where it seemed as if the world had forgotten brilliant talent, even stories of musicians becoming homeless. When singing at the Joe Maneri Tribute Concert, which son Mat Maneri and his wife Lucy Walters-Maneri were hosting, Danza met a brilliant musician who was living in his car. She saw, however, that his spirit for the music was keeping him going. As she puts it, he believed so much in the music, and she knew that the music would stir him again and pull him back from the brink...which it did. So Danza began to look for ways to improve the environment for creative musicians, and Nikka Arts came into being.

Danza seeks to open up possibilities for musicians so that, as she says, they can do what it is that they do best, which is create and present. The emphasis is on the word "create." Danza says that she can't promise to solve all the problems that musicians and visual artists face in their day-to-day lives, but she can help them create. If that makes them wake up smiling, or gives them hope for a better future in the art world, then she says Nikka Arts has accomplished its goal.

Nikka Arts will also be seeking public donations, and donors will, no doubt, be very welcome at the Foundation's website Nikka Arts.

Danza points out that it's important for people to support the arts, because the arts allow us to dream and create. Some, including Danza, feel that a lot of people have forgotten the importance of art in our culture and that this is a shame. She says that the Renaissance Italians were quite aware of it, and, accordingly, they have a brilliant artistic legacy. Prominent families, like the Medicis, knew the importance of investing in artists. They invested in Leonardo da Vinci, who then created the Dome in The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. Other artists were funded, too, with similarly stellar results. Other examples were in Vienna, where Beethoven, for one, received stipends from various princes and so on, many of them themselves amateur composers.

Danza's business partner, JB, has a cable TV show in Manhattan, through aboptv.com, which shows music videos with art. Danza says aboptv.com will work with Nikka Arts to show jazz and visual art with music videos, featuring various artists from the M.A.K. series.

Evolver Records will also be working with Nikka Arts, to help musicians document their work. That aspect—new recordings, in an artist-friendly environment—promises another significant outlet for musicians. Albums will generally only be available digitally, though a limited amount will be pressed as CDs, for certain select artists. The album's digital download cards will, of course, have artwork design on them.

The most immediate aspect of the Foundation is the opening of the M.A.K. series at Fat Baby, on Sunday April 3, 2011 at 7pm. Danza describes M.A.K. as a grassroots music series. She says it's to be a series that runs on its own, with the thought behind it being "For the musicians, by the musicians." Nikka Arts will also follow John Zorn's ideology for the Stone, having guest curators, thereby allowing as many different artists to perform as possible.

The central three hours of the M.A.K nights will be what has been referred to as "rock jazz." This is not, however, as Danza makes clear, a definitive term, but many feel that there is a new music in jazz that is developing. As more and more musicians grow up listening to a broad range of music, it seems inevitable that those who play in the jazz field will bring other influences in and ultimately create a new music. For example, people like Darius Jones write pieces that sound like "Billy Strayhorn on top of Nirvana"; Vijay Iyer playing "Hey Joe" and "Imagine"; and Danza, Little Women and Noah Preminger playing jazz styles over an electric guitar rather than a piano—a blending of the different musical rivers.

There are some great names scheduled for these segments at M.A.K. But Danza says that, though Nikka acknowledges the existence of new music and that, as an artist, she's always looking for new and exciting territory, Nikka Arts itself is wholly independent of genres or waves of music. Nikka Arts is here to celebrate all music and art in an open and non genre-based manner; in other words, be prepared to find anything and everything featured at M.A.K. in time. Danza says the Foundation makes no judgment on what's good and what may not be, in the sense of musical categorization. She says the Foundation will be neutral, kind of "like Switzerland," but instead of neutrality in war and money, there is neutrality with music and art.

The Foundation, Danza says, invites everyone to share its voice and will do its best to get those voices heard.

Regardless of varying views on genres or labels for music trends, it is an exciting time: after every rough and ready period, there appears to come a spreading out of the music in a new style. Miles Davis decided he wanted to make music that was more tender-sounding than bebop so he did; The Beatles took the rawness of rock and roll and added melody, Cole Porter-style; and even The Police broadened out from its original punk ethic, with big chordal guitar sounds and reggae bass (and both Sting and Andy Summers came out of jazz, like Miles). Is this moment, now, another example of a trend of broadening out from an earlier kind of texturally narrower field, in this case avant-garde? Many of these artists, amongst others, will certainly be featured at M.A.K.

The name M.A.K.—Music and Kreation—was thought up by JB. It's a descriptive and dynamic name, implying that the music featured will always be developing and on the move, whatever its category.

M.A.K.'s set structure is brilliant: six sets covering four different stylistic areas. There will be literally something for everyone, as Danza and her colleagues intended when they created the series. They want music lovers to have something to be excited about, and to be able to go out to hear and support their favorite artists in a "cool hang" environment. They also want to make it a place where musicians want to come and share their artistic creations.

The M.A.K. schedule, every Sunday, will be:

7pm: Cocktail Hour (Happy Hour): Half off on all drinks, with what Danza describes as beautiful traditional jazz.

8pm: Half off one on-tap beer all night. Rock, funk, world, fusion and jazz; as Danza says, something to dance to, but usually original music, written by the musicians—or covered in very intriguing, cool ways.

9pm: Half off one on-tap beer all night. Rock, funk, world, fusion and jazz.

10pm: Half off one on-tap beer all night. Rock, funk, world, fusion and jazz.

11pm: Half off one on-tap beer all night. A DJ that spins (DJ Nastee, who has produced twelve platinum albums) a dance party that's also creative.

12am: Half off one on-tap beer all night. Avant-garde, late night music, and a jam session after that.

The cocktail hour happy hour will feature Danza first, singing such innovative standards as "Everytime We Say Goodbye," "My Foolish Heart," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "I've Got the World on a String," and "Skylark."

On April 17 there will be a famous cabaret singer at 7pm, Aaron Bond. Bond worked with Philip Springer, the writer of "Santa Baby," and "How Little We Know," for Frank Sinatra. Bond has also worked with Marvin Hamlisch, the orchestra manager/orchestrator for Barbra Streisand, and even worked with Yip Harburg, who wrote the lyrics of "Over The Rainbow." Mat Maneri, and his wife Lucy, will curate April 17. As well as Aaron Bond, there will be some special guest artists. The complete line up is presented at Nikka Art's website Nikka Arts .

April will include Danza, Ben Monder, Judi Silvano, Noah Preminger, Fay Victor, DJ Nastee, Mat Maneri, Sean Conly, Ben Gerstein, Albey Balgochian, Jon De Lucia, Angelica Sanchez, Katie Bull, and others. Danza says to on the lookout for Kendrick Scott (drummer for Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard) and Sheila Jordan, who will also be featured soon.

Trombonist Ben Gerstein will kick off the first evening of late night avant-garde music (the 12am slot) with his group, comprising Jonathan Mortiz, Chris Welcome and Mike Pride. Gerstein has a very authentic tone, kind of like the '40s swing trombonists, but playing modern music. He is another great choice for the series.

Danza is pleased to acknowledge the suggestion that M.A.K. is like a weekly festival.

M.A.K. has already received considerable interest: Danza and JB are enthusiastic and grateful for the way that the Nikka Arts concept has been supported by the jazz community, including several famous names. Danza says it's amazing how people have responded to the concept, that so many fellow musicians have stepped up to support Nikka Arts and M.A.K., in different ways. Sheila Jordan, a jazz icon, is behind it. John Zorn has been very supportive, and Danza says he has acted like a mentor to her musically, artistically and also on the whole concept behind Nikka Arts and M.A.K. She adds that Bill Laswell has also been very supportive, saying he has been another mentor. Laswell will also be featured at M.A.K in the future.

Alto saxophonist/composer Darius Jones will also be featured at M.A.K., and has also stepped up to help support the series. Looking ahead, the foundation will also have a marathon day in August, with lighting sculptures, poetry, dance and music. This will be a fundraiser event for the Foundation. And stay tuned for Kendrick Scott's feature dates.

Nikka Arts and its star-filled M.A.K. series are a great concept and a great cause. With cocktails at half price at 7pm, one on-tap beer always at half price all night and a constellation of talent, the M.A.K. series at Fat Baby is something not to be missed.

Photo Credit

Scott Friedlander

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