arts_for_art_logoWe’ve been on a bit of a hiatus here, but we’re going to give this neglected blog a dose of summertime TLC, starting with one of my favorite jazz festivals of the year: NYC’s free/ avant garde/ experimental jazz showcase Vision Fest, now celebrating its 18th year of ruckus courtesy of Arts for Art, the nonprofit that keeps everything rolling.

They’re far from the only thing happening in NYC this summer — the Blue Note Jazz Festival, many events at the City Parks Foundation’s Summerstage (including the well-known season-ending Charlie Parker Jazz Fest), Celebrate Brooklyn, and even MOMA’s Summergarden. Vision is unique, however, in that it concentrates everything into a week of performances, all centered around their definition of avant jazz. Without getting into the often testy debates around the label of jazz itself (or Vision’s own definition of avant jazz), it does attempt to push the boundaries of the music and recalls Wayne Shorter’s definition of jazz as a challenge: “I dare you.” Vision also includes visual art, poetry, and dance as key parts of the festival, recalling artist collectives, several iterations of the jazz loft scene, and bygone outposts such as Baraka’s Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School and Brooklyn’s The East Cultural and Educational Center.

Each year, Vision bestows a lifetime achievement award on a different musician and this year’s honoree is drummer Milford Graves. Graves has a place in the free jazz and Black Arts movements, having been part of the legendary 1964 October Revolution concerts organized by the late trumpeter and educator Bill Dixon, playing with several key people, and writing about the movement and musicians’ role in it.

Graves is far from the only one at the festival, and is joined by several musicians, poets, and dancers; many of whom are fixtures and perform annually. Key people I’ll be keeping an eye on are bassist William Parker, saxophonist Kidd Jordan, wordsmith and activist Amiri Baraka, poet Steve Dalachinsky, and drummer Hamid Drake, just to name a few. Former Suga’ in My Bowl guests bassists Reggie Workman and Christian McBride are scheduled to appear, as is saxophonist Marshall Allen, who keeps the Sun Ra Arkestra’s legacy alive.

We have a few posts from the festival in the works. Suga’ host Joyce Jones did some short interviews and took several photos; we’ll post some of each. I’m taking all (well, most…) of the fest in and will write a few thoughts on it. We’ll be getting up in the next week. Stay tuned! Were you at Vision Fest? Let us know in the comments.

Bio: Hank Williams is 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.