Words by Hank Williams. Photos © Joyce Jones/SugaBowl Photography. | MAIN PHOTO: The Sun Ra Arkestra’s Marshall Allen @ Vision Fest. Used with Permission. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.

Over here in Suga in My Bowl headquarters, we’re gearing up for the 2018 Winter Jazz Festival (preview coming!), an annual gathering that brings an enormous amount of music to New York in January, with the centerpiece being two “Marathon” nights of music—this year on the 12 and 13.

This post, however, is about two scrappy festivals that might get lost in the shuffle, which would be a shame because you’d miss lots of good music.

The Nublu Jazz Festival’s been running since 2009 with an impressive roster of artists—originally in their postage stamp-sized East Village space at 62 Avenue C, which has been supplemented by a new, larger spot on the second floor of 151 Ave C, where this year’s activity will happen while the former space closes temporarily for a makeover.

The festival runs until December 17th. The selection of acts is strong and thoughtfully chosen. As with many festivals, it leans more toward the free/avant garde/ experimental (choose your preferred adjective) end of the scale, though it can be argued that that’s the corner of jazz that needs this sort of exposure.

With that out of the way, here are a few highlights of particular interest to listeners of our radio show. You can also just jump directly to the full schedule.

Trombonist Craig Harris makes an appearance on the 16th. Later that night, The Sun Ra Arkestra led by saxophonist Marshall Allen returns to Earth with two sets. They’ve also just been added to the bill at the Winter Jazzfest in January after a satisfying set at this year’s BRIC Arts Jazz Festival. To make what could be a long discussion short: go see the Arkestra if you can. Yes, there are some kitschy aspects to their shows, but it’s all in good fun. The 93-year-old Allen still has serious chops and no problems hitting the upper register of the sax or pulling out the EVI (which he’s become a master at as well) to liven things up. The setlists are a fascinating blend of favorites from the Sun Ra songbook, standards, and even the occasional Blues tune thrown in for good measure. Additionally, vocalist Tara Middleton has embraced her role as the Arkestra’s main vocalist and, along with other younger members, are invigorating the ensemble while carrying on the important traditions.

Meanwhile, slightly further downtown at the Clemente Soto Velez Center at 107 Suffolk St, Arts for Art, the nonprofit artist-centered organization responsible for the annual late spring Vision Fest, comes roaring back with a series spanning more than a month.

“Justice is Compassion: Action is Power” runs from December 7- January 12 in Clemente’s Abrazo Interno Gallery and features a surprisingly strong lineup of musicians working primarily in the free/avant grade mode, including many familiar names from Vision.

With sets nearly every night, there’s too much to mention here, but you can browse the full schedule and here are a few highlights.

The incredibly prolific bassist William Parker is part of several sets in the show. On December 21, he’s there with saxophonist Dave Sewelson and drummer Marvin Bugalu Smith. The next night, he’s back with saxophonist Andrew Lamb and joined by trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah. If you missed Parker’s “Songs for a Free World” suite earlier this year, there’s a chance to catch a version of it on January 10.

Drummer Francisco Mora Catlett brings a version of his AfroHorn ensemble for the early set on December 16 and has trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah joining him. It will be a rare chance to catch a very solid group that got stuck in a comically small space at last year’s Winter Jazz Fest.

One nice thing about Arts for Art is that they remember those who’ve passed on. Pianist Connie Crothers and poet Amiri Baraka will both be honored as part of the series. December 19-20 will feature several different sets dedicated to Crothers, while Baraka gets the focus on January 2-3.

Poet/vocalist (and Baraka’s widow—and frequent collaborator) Amina Baraka fronts drummer John Pietaro’s Red Microphone ensemble on the 2nd. Baraka will read several of her own poems with accompaniment by the group which includes saxophonist Ras Moshe. On January 3, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis brings a version of his Heroes are Gang Leaders ensemble for what promises to be a high energy set.

Both festivals showcase the type of innovative music that’s on offer beyond the jazz mainstream and do so in low-key settings and with affordable admission prices. So bundle up and see some live music this winter: once you get inside the vibe will keep you warm.


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. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot