The Jazz Improv Convention, NYC

Ernest Barteldes By

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The 1st Annual Jazz Improv Convention
New Yorker Hotel
New York, New York
October 25-28, 2007

Where is jazz headed these days? How can the music, especially when performed live, be marketed in the age of the iPod? These were two of many questions posed by participants at the first Jazz Improv Convention, which took place at The New Yorker Hotel, bringing together artists, promoters, journalists and other members of the international jazz community for a series of panels and plenty of music.

Performances took place mostly at the nearby Manhattan Center, but additional musical events were held at the Downtown Manhattan Virgin Megastore (with irregular attendance, as most participants preferred to remain at the midtown location) and at an impromptu "jazz club" set up at the Tir Na Nog Restaurant half a block away from conference headquarters.

The legacy of jazz was also on the menu. On one of the panels, legendary saxophonist Jimmy Heath recalled hilarious moments of his friendship with Kansas City-born Charlie Parker. He mentioned that "Earl Hines had the first bebop band but didn't know it," since at one time the ensemble included Monk, Dizzy and Bird. He also recalled that Parker often performed with a borrowed saxophone because his own could be found "at the pawn shop, where it usually was." Though he acknowledged Bird's drug use, he also mentioned the legendary jazz giant's great generosity, remembering that he did not think twice when invited to play a 1949 benefit concert for a Philadelphia boy who had tragically lost his legs in a traffic accident.

During another panel, New York-based club owners Gino Moratti (Kitano), Ron Sturm (Iridium) and Seth Abramson (Jazz Standard) discussed the dynamics of running a jazz club. Among other issues, they all agreed that it is "a labor of love." Moratti characterized his work as being "the booker and the maitre d'." All panelists concurred that they are able to turn a profit by efficiently managing the venues as restaurants and working side by side with talent and promoters.

Among the performers were luminaries like McCoy Tyner (performing in a trio with Stanley Clarke and Jack DeJohnette), JD Allen and Wallace Roney. One of the greatest thrills, however, was the opportunity to discover the lesser-known performers who offered up tantalizing sounds in smaller rooms throughout the festival, such as the humorous vocalizations of Dave Frank, the music of Capital Bones, the high-energy playing of Mokijam (a very loud jazz-rock outfit that played at Virgin Records), the virtuosity of bassist Rufus Reid (who also played alongside Amy London and Roni Ben-Hur on Sunday afternoon), and KJ Denhert, a mainstay at the small Manhattan venue Club 55 who mixes jazz, blues and soul influences into one package.

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