Suga’ in My Bowl host Joyce Jones and I refer to the annual Vision Fest as the high holy days of jazz and we’re only half-kidding. The festival has managed to outlast competing fests with much deeper pockets and big name corporate sponsors behind them while still managing the delicate balancing act between being a smaller artist-focused event willing to take risks and keeping up with the times and technology. So while you can now buy tickets online and follow their various social media feeds, Vision is unafraid to feature poets in prime time slots or book quirky acts. It’s all part of the scene and that’s why we’ve been going for several years now and have featured numerous performers as guests on the show. In full disclosure, WBAI Radio returns as a media sponsor this year and happily so: it fits the station’s vibe fairly well.
Suga’ in My Bowl previewed this year’s festival in our last show, interviewing festival organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker for a “big picture” view, along with pianist Geri Allen (in her first time Vision appearance), guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Andrew Cyrille and composer/vocalist Lisa Sokolof all speaking on the influence and importance of bassist Henry Grimes. If you missed that, be sure to catch WBAI producer Basir Mchawi’s Education at the Crossroads show on Thursday June 9 st 7 PM EST, where Patricia Nicholson Parker will be giving an update.
Vision started on Sunday June 5th with 3 classic films celebrating the 60th year of the Sun Ra Arkestra at Anthology Film Archives. While none of the film’s are new, provided a good opportunity to see John Coney/Sun Ra’s Space is the Place, The Magic Sun, or Robert Mugge’s Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise again. Mugge’s documentary has aged well and does about as good a job as anyone could of giving a broad overview of Ra himself and the Arkestra. Coney’s film, on the other hand, is pure fun: a sci-fi/Blaxploitation mashup that’s the ultimate fan experience.
Vision settles in for the week at Judson Memorial Church from the 7-12 with nightly performances highlighting the career of bassist Henry Grimes. It retains its usual informal atmosphere and you’re likely to see musicians hanging out and checking out other sets. Everything happens in the main upstairs space, while the basement houses a marketplace and food vendors. It’s a good place to pick up some of the music you’ll hear over the course of the week and you can usually even get your CD autographed, too!
Tuesday night is all about this year’s Vision honoree: bassist/violinist Henry Grimes. Grimes leads two groups over the course of the evening and participates in a third. Pianist Geri Allen and drummer Andrew Cyrille join Grimes for the first set, while the final set of the night features a Grimes-led septet as an expended version of Marc Ribot’s trio with Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor, whose collaboration was captured in the 2014 Live at the Village Vanguard release.
Grimes’s story is a remarkable one. He was in high demand in the 1960s, especially in the free jazz scene, where he played with notables like Sunny Murray, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor — to name only a few. Grimes suddenly dropped out of the music scene after getting stuck in Los Angeles with a broken bass he had no money to repair before being rediscovered. Bassist William Parker sent Grimes one of his basses and Grimes practiced feverishly to prepare for his reemergence on the jazz scene. Appropriately enough, his big return to New York was punctuated by a performance at the 2003 Vision Fest and he’s been a regular ever since.

Wednesday night has poet Quincy Troupe (who we talked to in May for a Miles Davis birthday show) given his own slot to read some of his work in prime time. Pianist Connie Crothers then leads a trio as a lead-in to the night’s closing act: the Sun Ra Arkestra led by the 92 year old saxophonist Marshall Allen.
While the Arkestra can be wildly uneven in the quality of their performances, they’ve been solid lately, including at last year’s Vision where they closed an evening with a phenomenal show, at the Winter Jazz Fest earlier this year, where they brought the house down with a midnight set at Judson Memorial Church, and an inspired performance at a Red Bull Music Academy-sponsored “Night of Spiritual Jazz” earlier this year. Much of what I wrote for their Winter Jazz Fest date still applies, including the vitality that vocalist Tara Middleton has brought to the ensemble. I’d add that the Arkestra is actually a perfect intro for people new to jazz and while they have showmanship and performance honed to a science, their level of performance lately has been high. Fortunately, you won’t have to stay up all night to see the Arkestra do their thing this time, since the scheduled descent to Earth is at a relatively early 9:40 PM.

Thursday night’s lineup starts with multi-instrumentalist Bill Cole, who leads his “UnTempered Ensemble” featuring saxophonist Ras Moshe–who channels the spirit of John Coltrane with nearly every breath he takes–followed by Vision veteran saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc’s ensemble and a first Vision appearance by poet Tonya Foster.
Trombonist Steve Swell leads a trio as a lead-in for the night’s closing set with drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake (who we profiled in 2014) backed by an all-star cast of saxophonist Kidd Jordan, pianist Cooper-Moore, and bassist Michael Bisio.
Friday night’s lineup has early sets of ensembles led by drummer William Hooker and pianist Cooper-Moore before a closing set with pianist Michele Rosewoman’s “New Yor-Uba” ensemble. We profiled Rosewoman in 2013, for the CD release of her New Yor-Uba project. Look for an inspired spiritual set from Rosewoman, as she blends Yoruba songs with jazz improvisation and expect a special touch of freedom for the Vision crowd.

Saturday night’s lineup highlights saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, each leading ensembles. Bluiett wrapped up last year’s Vision on the last night leading a rousing performance with a cast so large that it spilled off the stage and needed to commandeer space on the floor to accommodate everyone. It was a grand vision (pun unintentional) of swirling sounds that captured much of what the festival is about. The enormity of the sound produced nearly shook the building at times. Expect a slightly less magisterial treatment this year, as he “only” leads a quartet, however, with solid backing from pianist DD Jackson and drummer Hamid Drake, expect a wild ride.
Sunday night’s lineup has saxophonist Kidd Jordan’s ensemble given the duties of closing out the festival: an honor Jordan’s been tasked with before and handled brilliantly.
I can only scratch the surface here while keeping this a readable length (and may have failed in the latter already). Check the full schedule to see all the acts with our preliminary recommendations in mind. My ultimate recommendation is to show up, watch, listen, and just get lost in the atmosphere. I always walk away from Vision blown away by someone I was vaguely aware of beforehand, but that’s the magic of this festival.
We wrap our coverage with a show interviewing drummer Andrew Cyrille on Sunday June 12 from 11 PM – 1 AM EST on WBAI. If you scoot home quickly after the Kidd Jordan set, you’ll be able to catch the tail end before calling it a night and wrapping it all up until this time next year. If you miss it, not to worry: we archive shows on our website.
Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York.