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NYC Winter Jazzfest 2019: Captures the Magic of Old and New

Akinfe Fatou By

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Winter Jazzfest (NYCWJF) took New York City by storm, kicking off its 15th year with award-winning artists Bilal and MeShell NdegeOcello at (Le) Poisson Rouge (LPR). The energy at LPR was invigorating and truly indicative of what NYCWJF is all about. Bilal's performance was rousing and eclectic, opening up the space for what evolved into a surreal experience. Meshell's set re-envisioned a cohort of Prince classics ignited by Deatoni Parks' cleverly balanced avant-garde mixing and drumming that paired effortlessly with Meshell's hefty bass and intermittent vocals. Audience members, many of whom were clothed in purple garment, sang the words to every song. Meshell was the artist-in-residence this year, headlining four shows, and a panel discussion throughout the festival.

Winter Jazzfest is part of the PRS Foundation's International Keychange Programme championing an ambitious goal of achieving gender balance across all of its performances and panel discussions. This was a very important aspect of the festival and it's imperative that gender, racial, and economic equity be prioritized in every industry, across all venues, platforms, and institutions. Diversity and inclusion creates opportunities for representation, and enhances consumer experience, work conditions, and industry and business acumen. This is a step in the right direction to ensure that the creation, facilitation, and organization of Jazz becomes an intersectional practice. We can and must expand and redouble such efforts to realize collective and universal change.

Jazz fans from all walks of life enjoyed shows at LPR, Zinc Bar, Nublu, SubCulture, the Mercury Lounge, Sound of Brazil (SOB's), the Bowery Ballroom, Public Arts, the Sheen Center, the Bitter End, and the SoHo Playhouse with more than 140 groups converging on the city for a 9-day musical celebration. The multi-venue extravaganza featured some of the world's most talented Jazz musicians from January 4th through 12th, including Nubya Garcia, Gary Bartz, Fay Victor, Pharoah Sanders, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Charles Tolliver, Yazmin Lacey, JD Allen, Brandee Younger, Kassa Overall, Melanie Charles, Makaya McCraven, Junius Paul, Alina Engibaryan, Marcus Strickland, Amina Claudine Myers, Keyon Harrold, Jaimie Branch, Ezra Collective, Emma-Jean Thackray, and many more.

NYCWJF also featured two amazing British Jazz showcases, hosted by Gilles Peterson in collaboration with BBC Music Introducing and the PRS Foundation. Needless to say, the British musicians gave the audience exactly what they came for. Yazmin Lacey, Tawiah, Emma Jean Thackray, and the Ezra Collective's performance turned a sea of audience members into a dance party with improvisations that demanded equal response and merriment. Long after the showcases ended you could hear bellows from the crowd raving for a curtain call.

Gary Bartz' 50-year celebration of Another Earth at LPR alongside Pharoah Sanders and Charles Tolliver was exceptional. The show was a definite crowd pleaser and one of the many highlights of the festival with each musician playing with a rhythmic elegance and ageless joy that spread through the venue like wildfire. Opening act Nubya Garcia fascinated the audience with her powerful range and vivid extemporizations. She spoke briefly about what an honor it was to open for two of her heroes, referencing Bartz and Sanders. During her final performance at SOB's she wowed fans with her depth and edgy riffs. The crowd pleaded with her band if only to have one more song and to their delight she obliged with a smile. Mark de Clive-Lowe took the stage shortly thereafter debuting some incredible new music from his forthcoming album Heritage which is scheduled to be released on February 8th.

At Subculture, JD Allen and David Murray's interplay created the perfect musical parallelisms and juxtapositions that were seemingly angular yet adulatory and multi-dimensional. A swooning audience found the exchanges and comparability between the two pleasantly appealing.

On the final night of the festival, the Sheen Center was filled to capacity as drummer Makaya McCraven, harpist Brandee Younger, and bassist Junius Paul's instrumentation gave way to an entrancing performance that jazz enthusiasts will be talking about for some time. In addition to NYCWJF's tribute to the late legend Roy Hargrove, drummer Kassa Overall closed out the festival by dedicating his show to his dear mentor, giving an emotionally charged and riveting performance that invoked both tears and high applause from a packed crowd at SubCulture. Roy is also featured on La Casa Azul, the second song on Kassa's new album Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz.

NYC has long been revered as the Jazz mecca, but it becomes a bit more euphoric during Winter Jazzfest. An electrifying pulse moves about the city with Jazz lovers pouring through the streets and avenues, indulgent in an unprecedented number of shows spotlighting their favorite artists. Jazzfest is a reminder of the New York of old, honoring tradition, and hinging on the underpinnings of innovation whilst ushering in a new era. A nostalgic transcendence and becoming culminating in a two-night marathon that left concert goers eagerly awaiting what the next year will bring. For now, we can revel in the fact that NYCWJF has had yet another successful year. Overall, the curation of the festival made for a seamlessly compelling experience that captured the heart of a city steeped in the legacy of jazz.
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