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Winter JazzFest's Weekend Marathon: A Survival Guide

Ludovico Granvassu By

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With each passing year, Winter JazzFest—New York's premiere jazz festival—has expanded the number of venues presenting an increasingly diverse array of musicians. There are several ways to approach a programme as dense and exciting as the 2019 edition of the two-day Marathon spanning January 11th and 12th. Thanks to an embarrassment of riches, festival goers face some difficult choices but your friends at All About Jazz are here to help ensure you have the best possible experience. Our suggestions reflect personal preferences, but we do our best to break down the festival's extensive schedule. If you have a different approach than those suggested here, please share it in the comments section below.

The most important tip for a festival as expansive as Winter JazzFest is to never dwell on the concerts you'll miss. Rather, bask in the awareness that you will catch a bunch of incredible concerts over a mere 48 hours, and there's no other place on earth where one can start the jazz year better. And, before you make a move, check the JazzFest's website for any changes in programme, which are always a concrete possibility in a festival so large, and for its neat crowd watch to make sure you're not going to a venue that is packed to the rafters.

Logistical Approaches

The stationary pragmatist's approach

If you don't like to wait in line, especially if it's cold, raining or snowing, your best bet is to identify the venue that offers the highest number of appealing concerts. Sit once and get comfy for a long evening of musical rewards. If there are no good seats upon arrival, count on crowd's thinning after sets with opportunities to move up as folks make their way to the exits. Below are our favorites options, in order of preference.

Friday 11th: Best alternative: go for a combo by splitting the evening across two venues, a good compromise between not having to move too much and getting more flexibility. To accomplish that, in addition to mixing the concerts from two of the venues listed above, consider: Saturday 12th: Best alternative: do the combo. In addition to mixing the concerts from two of the venues listed above, consider the ECM Record Stage/Sheen Center Combo. Le Poisson Rouge, 6:20PM-8:10PM. Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn; Mathias Eick; then a dash down Bleecker Street to the Sheen Center, 8.20PM-midnight: Pocket Science with Gary Bartz, Kahil El'Zabar, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Robert Irving III; Impressions of Pepper Round Robin (Mark Guiliana, Liberty Ellman, Makaya McCraven, Brian Jackson, David Virelles, Keyon Harrold, Brandee Younger, Clark Gayton, Matthew Whitaker, Nate Wood, JD Allen, The JuJu Exchange); Amina Claudine Myers.

The maximalist's approach

You do not accept compromises and intend to catch as many highlight shows as possible since you are undaunted by the thought of running from venue to venue and you've mastered the art of making your way through lines and crowds. If that's you, then these might represent a few ways to match very promising performances with the realities imposed by the festival's schedule as well as the distances between venues (speaking of which, check the festival's map at the end of this article):

Friday 11th:
  • 6:20PM. Michael Formanek (Le Poisson Rouge)
  • 7:40PM. Ezra Collective (Bowery Ballroom)
  • 8:20PM. Nate Wood (Subculture)
  • 9PM. Makaya McCraven (Bowery Ballroom)
  • 10:20PM. Ben LaMar Gay (NuBlu)
  • 11:40PM. Louis Cole Big Band (Sheen Center)
  • 12AM. Susan Alcorn (SoHo Playhouse)
  • 1AM. Late Night JAM Session led by Jaimie Branch (NuBlu)
A good alternative:
  • 6PM. Howard Fishman (Public Arts)
  • 6:40PM. Ingrid Jensen (Zinc Bar)
  • 8PM. Maria Grand (Zinc Bar)
  • 9PM. Makaya McCraven (Bowery Ballroom)
  • 10:20PM. Ben LaMar Gay (NuBlu)
  • 11:40PM. Joshua Abrams (NuBlu)
  • 1:20AM. Tomas Fujiwara (Zinc Bar)
Saturday 12th:
  • 6:20PM. Vijay Iyer-Craig Taborn (Le Poisson Rouge)
  • 8PM. Jenny Scheinman & Allison Miller's Parlour Game (Subculture)
  • 9:20PM. Nubya Garcia (SOBs)
  • 10:40PM. Allison Miller and Carmen Staaf 'Science Fair' (Subculture)
  • 11:40PM. Celebration of Life: Roy Hargrove Tribute (Bowery Ballroom)
  • 12:20AM. Stephanie Richards (SoHo Playhouse)
  • 1:20AM. Kassa Overall Trio feat Mark Shim
A good alternative:
  • 6:20PM. Vijay Iyer-Craig Taborn (Le Poisson Rouge)
  • 8:20PM. Pocket Science with Gary Bartz, Kahil El Zabar, Jamaladeen Tacuma, Robert Irving III (Sheen Center)
  • 9:40PM. Impressions of Pepper Round Robin (Mark Guiliana, Liberty Ellman, Makaya McCraven, Brian Jackson, Davíd Virelles, Keyon Harrold, Brandee Younger, Clark Gayton, Matthew Whitaker, Nate Wood, JD Allen, The Ju Ju Exchange) (Sheen Center)
  • 11PM. Amina Claudine Myers: (Sheen Center)
  • 12AM. JD Allen Encounters David McMurray (Subculture)
  • 1:20AM. Kassa Overall Trio feat. Mark Shim (Subculture)
Yet another good alternative:
  • 6PM. Evan Christopher's Clarinet Road (Public Arts)
  • 7PM. Sisterhood of Swing Led by Bria Skonberg (Sheen Center)
  • 8:40PM. Camille Bertault (Zinc Bar)
  • 9:40PM. Irreversible Entanglements (SoHo Playhouse)
  • 11PM. Jon Irabagon (SoHo Playhouse)
  • 12:20AM. Stephanie Richards (SoHo Playhouse)
  • 1:20AM. Kassa Overall Trio feat Mark Shim

The gender mainstreaming approach

After hosting a panel entitled "Jazz and Gender: Challenging Inequality and Forging a New Legacy" in 2018, this year the Winter JazzFest has furthered its commitment towards a more gender-balanced program by endorsing the Code of Conduct of We Have a Voice and partnering with the British initiative Keychange. As a result, the presence of female musicians at the festival has increased. The concerts listed below make it clear that if women had more performance opportunities, we'd have a healthier jazz ecosystem. Since it's never too late to correct past biases, here is what you should check out:

Friday 11th:
  • 6:40PM. Ingrid Jensen (Zinc Bar)
  • 8PM. Maria Grand (Zinc Bar)
  • 9:20PM. Borderlands Trio with Kris Davis, Stephan Crump and Eric McPherson (Zinc Bar)
  • 10:20. Meshell Ndegeocello & Jeff Parker (Bowery Ballroom)
  • 12:20AM. Sarah Elizabeth Charles & SCOPE (Subculture)
  • Saturday 12th 1AM. Late Night JAM Session led by Jaimie Branch (NuBlu)
A good alternative:
  • 6:40PM. Ingrid Jensen (Zinc Bar)
  • 8:40PM. Mary Halvorson Code Girl (Sheen Center)
  • 10:20 Meshelle Ndegeocello & Jeff Parker
  • 11PM. Amirtha Kidambi Elder Ones (Subculture)
  • 12:20AM. Sarah Elizabeth Charles & SCOPE (Subculture)
  • Saturday 12th 1AM. Late Night JAM Session led by Jaimie Branch (NuBlu)
Saturday 12th:
  • 6:40PM. Fay Victor's Mutations for Justice (SOBs)
  • 8:20PM. Jen Shyu (SoHo Playhouse)
  • 8PM. Jenny Scheinman & Allison Miller's Parlour Game (Subculture)
  • 9:20PM. Nubya Garcia (SOBs)
  • 10:40PM. Allison Miller and Carmen Staaf 'Science Fair' (Subculture)
  • 12:20AM. Stephanie Richards (SoHo Playhouse)
A good alternative:
  • 6:40PM. Fay Victor's Mutations for Justice (SOBs)
  • 8PM. Anteloper (SOBs)
  • 9:20PM. Nubya Garcia (SOBs)
  • 10:40PM. Allison Miller and Carmen Staaf 'Science Fair' (Subculture)
  • 12:20AM. Stephanie Richards (SoHo Playhouse)
Also a very good, more mainstream, alternative:

Geographical Approaches

New York has the highest density of daily jazz performances in the world, but they mostly feature the countless, and very busy, musicians that belong to the local scene. The Winter JazzFest has traditionally offered a welcome opportunity to check out acts that rarely perform in the Big Apple. These are bands that come either from abroad (e.g. London or Paris) or from Chicago. If you live in New York, here are a few 'trails' you can follow to compare and contrast what you know about the scene you're familiar with vis-a-vis the best of what's going on around the world.

The British trail

For decades the United Kingdrom has had one of the most vibrant European jazz scenes. The media (and a much younger than usual audience) seem to have suddenly woken up and (re)discovered this reality, thanks to an alignment of brand new British talent that has emerged over the past few years. Here's how you can experience this thrill without having to travel to London's cutting edge venues:
  • Friday 11th 7:40PM. Ezra Collective (Bowery Ballroom)
  • Saturday 12th 7:20PM. Tawiah (Mercury Lounge)
  • Saturday 12th -9:20PM. Nubya Garcia (SOBs)
In addition, don't miss the showcase hosted at Le Poisson Rouge on Wednesday 9 January at 7PM. For the second consecutive year, famed DJ and producer Gilles Peterson, in collaboration with the PRS Foundation and BBC Music, will present some of the most prominent names emerging from today's London new jazz scene: Ezra Collective, Tawiah, Yazmin Lacey and Emma Jean Thacray's Walrus.

The French trail

France is another European jazz pole of the Winter JazzFest. In partnership with Paris Jazz Club, it has been showcasing some of its best young talents. This year the Bitter End and the Zinc Bar turn into a French Quarter according to this schedule:
  • Friday 11th 8:40PM. Baptiste Trotignon -Yosvany Terry (Bitter End) 'Ancestral Memories'
  • Friday 11th 10:00PM. Jacques Schwarz-Bart 'Hazzan'
  • Friday 11th 11:20PM. Blick Bassy
  • Friday 11th 12:40PM. Florian Pellissier Quintet 'Bijou Voyou Caillou' w/ Shola Adisa-Farrar & Roger Raspail
  • Saturday 12th 8:40PM. Camille Bertault (Zinc Bar)
  • Saturday 12th 12:40am: Arnaud Dolmen 'Tonbé Lévé' (Zinc Bar)

The Rest-of-The-World trail

The largest foreign legions at the Festival might be British and French, but there's plenty of other foreign musicians who are not based in New York and will be playing rare concerts:
  • Friday 11th 11:40PM. ÌFÉ (Bowery Ballroom)
  • Saturday 12th 6:40PM. Tuomo & Markus featuring Verneri Pohjola (Subculture)
  • Saturday 12th 7:40PM. Mathias Eick (Le Poisson Rouge)
  • Saturday 12th 10PM. Takuya Kuroda (Mercury Lounge)

The Chicago trail

The Chicago scene's vitality and vibrancy is so strong that its performers have often stolen the show at previous editions of the Winter JazzFest. So, if you have a chance, do not miss the Chicago Oveground sub-festival curated by Piotr Olov, which will take place for the whole Marathon Weekend at NuBlu as well as, of course, Makaya McCraven and Jaimie Branch:
  • Friday 11th 7:40PM. Angel Bat Dawid & The Brotherhood (NuBlu)
  • Friday 11th 9PM. Makaya McCraven (Bowery Ballroom)
  • Friday 11th 9PM. Michael Patrick Avery's PLAY (NuBlu)
  • Friday 11th 10:20PM. Ben LaMar Gay (NuBlu)
  • Friday 11th 11:40PM. Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society (NuBlu)
  • Saturday 12th 1AM. Late Night JAM Session led by Jaimie Branch (NuBlu)
  • Saturday 12th 7:40PM. Jeremy CunninghAM. (NuBlu)
  • Saturday 12th 8PM. Anteloper (SOBs)
  • Saturday 12th 9PM. RESAVOIR (NuBlu)
  • Saturday 12th 9:20PM. Hamid Drake, Dave Liebman, AdAM. Rudolph (Subculture)
  • Saturday 12th 10:20PM. Akenya (NuBlu)
  • Saturday 12th 11:40PM. The JuJu Exchange (NuBlu)
  • Sunday 13th 1AM. Late Night JAM Session led by Marquis Hill (NuBlu)

2019 Winter Jazzfest Map

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