Archives for posts with tag: Harriet Tubman

Words by Hank Williams

In New York City this week, it’s cold, wet, gets dark insanely early, and unending service changes lend a Chess-like complexity to late night or weekend subway trips. Such is the state of winter in the Big Apple, but just when we get close to peak Seasonal Affective Disorder, the annual Winter Jazz Fest blows in to give you a reason to rush out and brave the cold for a weekend. 130 reasons, in fact–the number of acts the festival boasts spread across its multi-day span—with some 600-odd musicians making things happen.

The 14th edition of the ever-expanding annual showcase follows a familiar format: two marathon nights of music in venues scattered around the heart of Greenwich Village, with a few standalone opening and closing events – some of which are already sold out—and we’re told that tickets for even the marathon nights are going fast.

As we’ve done for the past few years, we’ll go through a shows with a viewers’ guide to some of our preferred picks, with an admitted lean toward former guests on our Suga in My Bowl radio show.

I’ll point you toward the full schedule for Friday January 12 and Saturday January 13 marathon nights and artist lineup, but hopefully this will help wade through the myriad choices available each night. Obviously, there are several ways to experience the festival. You can either pick and choose key acts, take a more eclectic approach and see what you find, or some combination of the two. It’s all good.


Following the lead of last year’s event, the festival again tackles themes of social justice. This is most clearly addressed through three different talks during the course of the festival.

“Jazz on the Border” will highlight issues around US visa laws and their impact on musicians. Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington moderates the “Jazz and Gender” panel, which includes Angela Davis and pianist Vijay Iyer among the panelists.

“The Long March: a Conversation on Jazz and Protest” on Tuesday the 16th is the only one with an admission fee, but is easily worth the price. Saxophonist Ras Moshe, who’s becoming well known in free and avant garde jazz circles, moderates the talk among saxophonist Archie Shepp, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and pianist Samora Pinderhughes.

The above talk immediately precedes a concert by Nicole Mitchell, who is this year’s resident artist. Mitchell will present a new release, Mandorla Awakening II, a sci-fi themed Afrofuturist composition. She also fronts Maroon Cloud with vocalist Fay Victor on Wednesday the 17th at Le Poisson Rouge.

Mitchell has a couple of appearances during the Friday/Saturday marathon nights. “Art and Anthem for Gwendolyn Brooks” honors the late Chicago poet and features pianist Jason Moran.

If you (understandably) don’t want to wade through the wall of words here, you can just scroll to picks for the first marathon day on Friday or second day on Saturday.


WJF has several options available for the standalone shows, marathon nights (either one or both) or full festival passes for the hardcore enthusiasts. The one constant is that we strongly recommend tickets in advance, since even with the expanded venues at the New School, it’s possible to get closed out of nights–and you save some money over buying at the door. The “marathon” nights on Friday the 12th and Saturday the 13th are sold for the entire night only: not for individual shows. They’re still a pretty good deal for how much music you get if you see more than a single show, and there’s likely something to suit almost everyone’s taste. 2-day passes and full festival passes get entrance to the marathon days as well. Separate tickets are available for the opening and closing events, with the exception of events that sell out.

Recommendation: Consider the 2-day marathon pass even if you can only make it for parts both evenings since that saves you even more.


The WJF’s heart is still in the center of the Village: with venerable institutions Zinc Bar, The Bitter End, and Le Poisson Rouge returning. The New School continues as a festival sponsor and provides several spaces for the festival in its campus clustered around 13th Street off Fifth Avenue, including some much needed larger venues. All of these are close enough to comfortably (though maybe briskly) walk between for sets. Zinc Bar is small and popular, so be warned that seeing an act scheduled there means getting there very early, and possibly skipping something else in the process. Quite frankly, last year I opined that it needed to be dropped. WJF has simply outgrown the venerable space and it’s unfair to stick artists in there.

On the western frontier of the Village and Tribeca are SOB’s and the Django at the Roxy Hotel.

Nublu’s new(ish) second location at 151 Avenue C, between 9-10 Streets returns this year. It’s a brisk walk or quick bus or L train ride away from the action clustered near the center.

Subculture and Bowery Ballroom are clustered together on the Lower East Side and round out this year’s venues.

Obviously, figuring out what one wants to see also means taking into account the logistics of who’s playing where and getting between venues.



Photo credit: Winter Jazz Fest (screenshot)


Adegoke Steve Colson and Iqua Colson 7 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave

The Colsons have been playing together since the 70s, with Steve’s piano and Iqua’s vocals taking an innovative look at nearly everything they’ve done. Trombonist Craig Harris joins them this evening in a tribute to the late pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, a co-collaborator in the New York chapter of AACM. It’s a rare opportunity to see them.

Sons of Kemet 7:40 PM at Le Poisson Rouge

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings may not be a household name on the US—yet—but he’s been steadily making a name for himself on the UK jazz scene with various groups. He returns following a successful US debut last year with Shabaka and the Ancestors. Sons of Kemet has a bass-heavy sound with a tuba prominently featured in the front line with Hutchings’s free-form playing flying above it. For a deep dive, see our show on him last month.

Fay Victor SoundNoiseFUNK 9 PM New School Jazz Building 5th Floor Theater (55 W 13 St)

Vocalist Fay Victor is another name that you might not know, but you should. Victor came to my attention through the NYC avant garde jazz scene and Vision Festival, where she’s been a staple for years. However, that’s selling her short. Her prodigious vocal talent, songwriting ability, and commitment to the music only became completely clear to me during out recent show with her. In this set, expect a broad approach to the jazz tradition drawing deeply from the Blues. It won’t be a straight ahead set, and that’s a good thing.

James Brandon Lewis’s Unruly Notes 11 PM Zinc Bar

Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis has been steadily woodshedding and the fruits of his labor are becoming clear. His regular trio including bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup have expanded to include electric guitarist Anthony Pirog, who featured prominently on their last release. Here, the concept expands even further with trumpeter Jamie Branch. The band plays hard—though with increasing finesse—buoyed by Crudup’s steady backbeat. Lewis’s style leans toward the avant garde end of the spectrum, but that’s just one of many lenses he uses to approach nearly everything from hip hop to Anton Dvorzak compositions and feed them through the jazz tradition. The most unfortunate thing about this set is the location, which has been way too small for WJF for years now. You’ll have to come very early and probably wait on line for a while, but the set will be so very worth it.

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition 11:20 PM at Bowery Ballroom

Meanwhile, over on the east side, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition takes the Bowery stage. True to their name, expect an eastern-inflected take on jazz. It’s a late start time, but a solid backup if you decide that the wait to enter Zinc Bar is too daunting.


Jazzmeia Horn 7 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave

Vocalist Jazzmeia Horn’s fortunes have been rising recently with a Grammy nomination for her debut release A Social Call. Horn’s already moved past where she was at the time of the recording, however. Horn is scarily talented, and enthusiasm to push the limits of her instrument will see her scatting, rapping, and marshalling a range of vocalizations in the space of a single performance. Horn’s an example of a young talent showing a different and fresh approach to jazz that attempts to join standards and the jazz tradition with younger audiences and the pop influence. Commendably, though, she does this without resorting to gimmicks and a refusal to sacrifice the jazz tradition. We’ve got an interview with her cued up for a future show, so stay tuned!

Antonio Sanchez and Migration 7:40 PM at Le Poisson Rouge

Drummer Antonio Sanchez is a busy man. In addition to heading his own migration ensemble, he’s been touring with guitarist Pat Metheny and the occasional gig with vocalist Thana Alexa, who’ll be with him here.

Harriet Tubman Plays Free Jazz 9 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave

In what has to be one of the most daring sets of the festival, Harriet Tubman will be taking a crack at riffing off of Ornette Coleman’s masterpiece Free Jazz. Here, the Tubman power trio of electric guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer JT Lewis will be joined by the lineup from saxophonist James Brandon Lewis’s Unruly Notes (see above) and saxophonist Darius Jones. It promises to be a wild ride. Gibbs deserves credit for the idea, which will be less a note-for-note recreation of the original than using it as a springboard for Coleman’s harmolodic approach and a modern take at what would happen if two different groups played together at the same time, improvising among themselves and riffing off each other.

Nicholas Peyton’s Afro Caribbean Mixtape 9:20 PM at SOB’s

Trumpeter Peyton’s Mixtape builds on snippets of speeches by Dr. Greg Kimathi Carr, who heads Howard University’s Afro American Studies Department. The recording blends Peyton’s ethereal trumpet lines with remixed snippets of sound. Peyton’s set should lean toward the pop/ electronic end of the spectrum. It’ll be a completely different approach from the maelstrom of the Tubman set. They’ll both be good in different ways.

Rene Marie 10:20 PM at Subculture

On a much different note than much of what I’ve presented, vocalist Rene Marie promises an intense, straight ahead set. Marie’s focus on technique, straight singing, and ballads provide a quieter, more contemplative experience than some of the more raucous acts at WJF. If that’s your speed, then you know where to go.

Sun Ra Arkestra Plays Live Score to Space is the Place 11 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave  

You could do much worse than just camp out the entire evening in the cavernous Tishman Auditorium. Like the previous Harriet Tubman set, we find the Arkestra digging back into the archives for inspiration. In this case, it’s a take on the 1974 film starring Sun Ra himself and directed by John Coney with substantial input from Ra. In a nutshell, Ra and the Arkestra return to Earth in their music-powered spaceship to take Black people with them from the decaying planet with “sounds of guns, anger, and frustration” and “see what they can do on a planet all of their own.” With touches of sci-fi, soul, and a hint of Blaxploitation, it’s the expected wild ride, with music and appearances from the Arkestra weaved through several scenes. It’s not clear how the current Arkestra will approach the task, though Arkestra veterans Marshall Allen and Danny Ray Thompson were part of the original production and will be in the house along with newer members. Whatever happens, it’ll be a way-out adventure.

Jamaladeen Tacuma Brotherzone 1 AM at Subculture

You’ll have to stay up really late for this set, but if you do, you’ll be treated to a funky set from the alum of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time band that, in his words draws on the “sounds of soul, funk, jazz, rock, ambient poetics and the vibrations of life.” As a special treat, Abiodun Oyewole from The Last Poets will lay down some of his poetry.


Ravi Coltrane Presents Universal Consciousness: Melodic Meditations of Alice Coltrane 7 PM at Le Poisson Rouge

If you haven’t had enough already–or skip one of the marathon days–then there’s a single concert on offer Sunday night, but it’s a good one. In this separate ticketed event, saxophonist Coltrane presents some of his mother Alice’s music. Coltrane will build on the Indian-influenced sound of Alice’s later work, especially Translinear Light (2004).


A Tribute to Geri Allen 8 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave  

Drummer Geri Allen has assembled a stunning cast to pay tribute to the late Geri Allen, who died last year. The concert is a fundraiser for the Geri Allen estate, so tickets are separate, but it’ll be a memorable event for a pianist who left a big mark on the music and left us way too soon.

That’s just scratching the surface of the festival, but hopefully there are a few ideas here for starters. I’ll be at many of the shows highlighted, though admit to still making up my mind. The good news is that there’s enough here that it’s hard to go wrong and even if a set doesn’t live up to expectations, there’s another one that’s bound to more than make up for it. See you on the other side. I’ll be back with a festival review.

If you missed them, see our preview shows with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, vocalist Fay Victor, and a tribute to late pianist Geri Allen.

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

TRIO 3 at Minetta Lane

TRIO 3 at Minetta Lane

After the 2015 Winter Jazz Fest wrapped up Saturday night I was left with 2 thoughts: damn am I tired and I can’t wait until next year.

The WJF, now in its 11th year has settled into a groove of being a welcome outpost of music in an otherwise dark month. The shows are an insanely good deal for the amount of top-notch music to be had and it offers a jazz overload over the course of their two main “marathon” days on Saturday and Sunday nights: January 9th and 10th.

I covered some festival logistics in a First Look and a guide to a few highlights in a Cheat Sheet and more or less stuck to the plan. The cheat sheet has an outline of some key acts to look forward to – including some I knew I wouldn’t catch and aren’t reviewed here. The plan was to see a few key groups and minimize venue changes.

I suggested earlier that the WJF is a victim of its own success. It now has to balance support for clubs that feature jazz year-round with the need for larger venues for the more popular acts. Gaining the historic Judson Memorial Church–back this year and home of event registration—as a venue has helped immensely. It’s one of the larger spaces and an excellent event space. Indeed, Arts for Art’s annual Vision Festival moves to Judson this July as well.

Gone was the Groove Lounge, which was almost comically small for saxophonist Gary Bartz’s set last year, and added to the mix were a few new spaces, including Subculture, the Players Theater, and the Minetta Lane Theater. Zinc Bar is still on the program and was still pretty much a no-go unless you got there before daily events started and stayed there. Minetta provided a much-needed larger space, in addition to Judson and Le Poisson Rouge, which returned as a cornerstone venue.

WJF_15_Crowd_screenshot_cropThe WJF boosted the number of venues this year to 10 on both Friday and Saturday nights, which points to the event’s robust appeal. It wasn’t enough and tickets still sold out on Saturday. Festival organizers put the total headcount at 6,500 total over the 3 festival days (there were 2 standalone concerts on Thursday) with the bulk—5,500—split between Friday and Saturday nights. Also new this year was a very handy webapp that let you do a quick online check of crowds and space in a venue. Very cool! Unfortunately, it was sometimes the bearer of bad news and you often got the message you see below. Still, it’s a huge step forward and could be the deciding factor for someone trying to decide whether or not to leave and see an act in a different location.

Event registration/check-in still had its woes. Lines snaked down the block and around the corner to enter Judson’s basement where it was housed, but volunteers were cheerful and efficient once one got inside.

If there’s one lesson to be learned, that’s that you have to stay up (relatively) late to catch some of the good stuff.

If there’s one lesson to be learned, that’s that you have to stay up (relatively) late to catch some of the good stuff. That was my experience last year and I expected the same this year and was not disappointed.

Friday Highlights

I made the decision early on to focus on the acts at Minetta Lane: to get a close look at a few specific artists and catch all of David Murray’s shows, as our Suga’ in My Bowl radio show did a show on him. It’s one of the wonderful (and sometimes frustrating) decisions to be made: who do I see? Of course it is a dilemma because there are often overlapping shows that are appealing, which is the type of problem a lot of festivals would dream of having.

Saxophonist David Murray was all over the festival this year and anchored back-to-back sets at Minetta Lane, first with his Clarinet Summit and then what they dubbed the “Geri, David, and Terri” show with drummer Teri Lyne Carrington and pianist Geri Allen.

Murray’s Clarinet Summit featured Murray himself and Don Byron on sax and clarinet, veteran sax player Hamiet Bluiett on baritone, David Krakauer on clarinet, bassist Jaribu Shahid, and drummer Nasheet Waits. Waits and Shahid would also join Murray the next day as part of his Infinity Quartet.

Murray dedicated a new composition titled ” The Long March to Freedom” to the late Amiri Baraka

Murray dedicated a new composition titled ” The Long March to Freedom” to the late Amiri Baraka, who he described as “a great leader of our people”, noting the one year anniversary of Baraka’s death and that it’s also the title of Nelson Mandela’s book, which Murray said he “read 3 times until it fell apart”.

Baraka’s absence will still be felt in a lot of spaces on the avant-garde New York jazz scene this year. Murray and Baraka collaborated on the New Music-New Poetry (1982, India) release as well as Baraka’s play Primitive World. More to the point, Baraka, in addition to being a writer and critic of the music, could often be seen at performances even if he wasn’t scheduled to read himself, hanging out in the background and digging the music.

The Clarinet Summit also performed a song composed by the late Butch Morris (another figure whose absence is notable), punctuated by Krakauer hitting–and holding–an impossibility high note for an incredibly long time. Nasheet Waits ably held down the rhythm section with a smoking performance on the drums.

Murray’s second set of the evening was a trio with Allen and Carrington. Allen and Carrington have collaborated a fair amount and some of the most satisfying parts of the set came from their interplay, which often developed into long improvisational grooves with Allen starting a theme and Carrington responding on the drums or vice-versa. Allen’s delicate touch on the piano perfectly complemented Carrington’s drumming.

Displaying the confidence that comes from experience, Murray was content to watch the magic unfold as he listened, waiting for the right space to add his voice to the mixture.

Murray displayed another side of his personality and ability as a leader. Displaying the confidence that comes from experience, Murray was content to watch the magic unfold as he listened, waiting for the right space to add his voice to the mixture.

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Saxophonist Oliver Lake, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Reggie Workman have been performing together as TRIO 3 for 2 decades now. The amazing thing is that they manage to return to the format with the numerous other projects that they all have going on. Nevertheless, they do and that’s a good thing.

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Vijay Iyer joined the veteran trio on piano for the set, reprising his guest role on their 2014 Wiring release. Iyer was in the odd spot of being the junior member of an ensemble. It’s a role he easily slipped into, however, adding color with his staccato and slightly angular style, which complemented the work of the main trio well. It was also an interesting counterpoint to Geri Allen–who has also held the TRIO 3 guest spot—but has a much different style on the piano.

Friday evening’s highlight of was arguably guitarist Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians with strings. Ribot’s a familiar face on the NYC jazz scene and on the WJF stage: indeed, his collaboration with guitarist Mary Halvorson a memorable moment at last year’s festival. The Young Philadelphians ensemble also played the WJF in 2012 with a slightly different line-up: a performance that can be seen on YouTube.

This time they were back in a set in a main venue to cap off the evening. The 400-seat Minetta Lane Theater, which had largely emptied after the David Murray and TRIO 3 sets, had again filled and was taken on a quick tour of 1970s soul, funk, and even—gasp—disco by the blistering set.

Ribot, bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma, and drummer G. Calvin Weston, and frequent Ribot co-conspirator guitarist Mary Halvorson were joined by a string section of Christina Courtin on viola, Christopher Hoffman on cello, and Dana Lyn on violin.

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While they don’t have any official releases, they’ve been touring and performing for a few years now in slightly different lineups. The group describes itself as melding “[t]he mind-blowing harmolodic punk-funk of Ornette Coleman’s first Prime Time band and the sweet, optimistic pulse of 1970s Philly Soul”. The task is helped along by PrimeTime alumni Tacuma and Weston, both steeped in the groundbreaking saxophonist’s harmolodic tradition – one Ribot is a serious fan of himself, as witnessed by his recent City Winery show with fellow Harmolodic guitar disciple and Coleman alum, James Blood Ulmer.

The Young Philadelphians dug deep into the 1970s funk, soul, and disco crates with covers of People’s Choice’s “Do it Any Way You Wanna”, Silver Convention’s “Fly Robin Fly”, Gamble and Huff’s “TSOP” (better known as the theme to Soul Train), Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster”, and Van McCoy’s “The Hustle”.

The songs would start with slow intros, then build into a frenzy as the melody kicked in and Ribot and Halvorson spit fire from their instruments, shredding whatever fatigue might’ve been in your body. Tacuma’s bass held the center, allowing Ribot and Halvorson to go on their various excursions. The strings generally mirrored the string lines in the original songs while Weston’s drumming anchored the entire affair.

The original lyrics were similarly disembodied and re-assembled – themselves stripped down to the bare essentials and brilliantly re-imagined as chants inside the Philadelphians’ postmodern reconstruction.

If you were a Ribot fan, you might have left wondering if there is anything the guy can’t do on the guitar

If you were a Ribot fan, you might have left wondering if there is anything the guy can’t do on the guitar, especially with the collaborators his keen ear draws toward his orbit. If you somehow entered expecting traditional jazz—whatever that might mean—you might be sorely disappointed unless you just surrendered to the Young Philadelphians’ commands: “Let’s get it on / it’s time to get down!”

Toward the end of the set, a small breeze came from somewhere. Inside what was a comfortably warm theater before the set—and on the coldest night of the year outside–it felt good.

Saturday Night Highlights

Saturday’s strategy was a similarly targeted one: to see a few specific artists. On the list was the sets of Oliver Lake’s Organ Quartet, David Murray’s Infinity Quartet, and Harriet Tubman.

Lake’s Organ Quartet took the stage at around 6:15 at The Bitter End, returning again as a WJF venue. The venerable spot is still a great place to catch music and, while space in front is at a premium, one can usually squeeze in in the back of the club.

For this date, Lake was joined by Jared Gold on the organ, Josh Evans on the trumpet and Gene Lake on the drums. The quartet had no problem keeping the attention of the near-capacity crowd engaged.

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As with Murray, the different ensemble offered a more expansive view of Oliver Lake’s talent and creative process. While his approach to the instrument itself doesn’t change much, the interplay with other members is obviously different, especially as Lake is the leader and senior member of the group. It also allows him to play off of Gold’s contributions on organ and the brightness of the trumpet adds to the different sound. Lake’s voice is also much more prominent in the compositions.

Lake, whose restlessly creative mind extends beyond different ensembles to visual art and poetry, again did not disappoint.

Later on the evening, David Murray got on stage for his final performance of the festival, this time with the Infinity Quartet, which featured spoken word artist and actor Saul Williams (no relation to this writer) along with bassist Jaribu Shahid, drummer Nasheet Waits, and pianist Orrin Evans.

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Murray mentioned at the beginning of the set that the material the ensemble presented is still in somewhat of a workshop mode. They had premiered it on a European tour and were still fine-tuning the concept.

Williams is well known for his spoken word prowess in the poetry Slam world, appearance on the Broadway run of Def Poetry Jam, and leading role in the recently closed Broadway musical loosely based on Tupac Shakur Holler if You Hear Me. As mentioned earlier, Murray has some experience adding spoken word to his pieces thanks to his Baraka collaborations.

Williams’s strength is richly complex wordplay, delivered in a smooth, nearly effortless flow and timed to a staccato beat. While there was still some tinkering going on, Murray comfortably slipped in and out of the flow with his angular playing punctuating Williams’s words in key places or driving the pace of pieces with his solos while Williams stood on the side.

Harriet Tubman took the stage on Saturday evening at Subculture, a new WJF venue. Tubman consists of guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer J.T. Lewis. They got a little extra exposure last year with a set in Prospect Park’s “Celebrate Brooklyn” Festival and at the Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival, the latter done with vocalist Cassandra Wilson, whom Tubman has been collaborating with recently.

Tubman’s set started out blazing. Ross took the duties of group intro usually handled by Gibbs, playfully warning anyone “in need of a defibrillator to please call out” for assistance. It wasn’t far from the truth and the audience was hit with the full force of Tubman’s assault from the beginning song, “Wayne’s Worldwide”, dedicated to Wayne Shorter.

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Tubman’s set and sound is far from chaos, though: it’s a supremely well-oiled machine, with members intensely listening to each other and responding with the type of give and take that only a band truly comfortable with itself can achieve. With a trio consisting of a lead electric guitar and bass and players unafraid to push the limits of their instruments and add just a little distortion to the mix, the machine operates at high volume. The group, which pulls from influences as diverse as blues, free jazz, fusion, and heavy metal exemplifies the type of experimental, expansive, and indeed fearless definition of jazz that the festival fosters.

Tubman’s set and sound is far from chaos, though: it’s a supremely well-oiled machine, with members intensely listening to each other and responding with the type of give and take that only a band truly comfortable with itself can achieve.

Tubman’s name functions as a metaphor for how they approach music, as they dip deep into the recesses of the jazz and blues tradition for their ideas which are given a modern spin and unique sound.

The Gibbs-composed “Wadmala”, for example, takes its name from a South Carolina island in the area famous for the Gullah language and Black cultural traditions.

The bluesy “Can’t Tarry”–the only composition performed with vocals (by Ross)—was appropriately dedicated to the late blues legend R.L. Burnside and began with a long Gibbs bass solo setting the tone for the piece.

The set ended—all too soon for this listener—with “Where We Stand”, dedicated to the late Alice Coltrane.

Through it all, drummer J.T. Lewis is very much the center of things, providing the propulsive heartbeat of the group and visibly listening intently, ready to react (even if subtly) to any change in the dynamic or new musical idea introduced by other members of the band.

In the middle of the set, Gibbs approached the mic during a pause to get a few things straight for the audience. The name Harriet Tubman, he pointed out, was “even more resonant than it was” when they founded the group. Indeed his point seems relevant in the wake of continuing protests over police killings of unarmed Black people.

Gibbs expanded the point, however, and tied it back to the music and the dual nature of free jazz, which has generally functioned not just as freedom of musical form but also had secondary meanings of general freedom. “If Duke Ellington were alive today”, Gibbs suggested, “he’d be using electronics and synthesizers” too, pointedly making the connection between the roots of the music and looking toward the future.

Lewis said via email that the WJF “was enjoyable [and] we were happy to present our music to a new crowd”, adding “we love the look on peoples faces when they hear what we’re doing”. Tubman has a (still untitled) new recording that they’re putting the finishing touches on for a spring 2015 Sunnyside Records release with Wadada Leo Smith as guest artist.

I opted to skip the after-hours sets (the festival’s last scheduled set was a bleary-eyed 2 AM performance at Zinc Bar), confident that even though there was still good music to be had, I’d ended the festival on a high note.

Although predictions of jazz’s demise still abound, the festival proves that there is indeed still a strong creative impulse and no shortage of people woodshedding and willing to both explore the traditions and push the boundaries.

While the finances of promoting jazz are always an exercise in dexterity, audience participation and enthusiasm clearly remains strong for the right mix of artists presented in an appealing setting. Another encouraging trend (although admittedly an anecdotal one) is that the festival seems to succeed at attracting younger audiences, even for the less party-oriented acts.

There was quite a lot of risk-taking and jazz that didn’t sound like jazz—or maybe just not the jazz we’re used to—over the weekend. That’s a good thing.

Harriet Tubman’s set and their Shorter reference, however, seemed well timed. In a round of interviews for his 2013 Without a Net release, Shorter embraced an expansive definition of the music called jazz, telling National Public Radio that it “shouldn’t have any mandates”, and “is not supposed to be something that’s required to sound like jazz.” In an frequently referenced quote, Shorter argued that for him “the word ‘jazz’ means ‘I dare you’”. And there was quite a lot of risk-taking and jazz that didn’t sound like jazz—or maybe just not the jazz we’re used to—over the weekend. That’s a good thing. With the diversity of ages in the audience and on the bandstand, the WJF proves that it’s definitely an exciting time in the music.

With a brisk walk to the subway in the chilly night air ahead, it was a warming and comforting thought.

Text and all photos by Hank Williams. Embedded videos courtesy of BBB Sound and Vision via YouTube. Photos are Creative Commmons Licensed, Non-commercial, some rights reserved.

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. Follow/find him on Twitter: @streetgriot


If you’re a jazz fan in NYC (or just very curious about the music), then the 11th annual Winter Jazz Fest should be squarely on your radar. If it is, good! You’re likely gearing up to push through the cold snap that’s hit us.

So far, I’ve done a first look with some basic logistics of the festival. In this post, I’ll dive into a few of the acts that you should keep an eye out for. Full disclosure, it’s weighted toward past guests from our Suga’ in My Bowl radio show, but I’ll also mention a few others at the end.

There are a lot of acts to choose from over the festival’s 2 main evenings (Friday and Saturday: Thursday has a lighter schedule), so hopefully this will give you a head start on who to see.

Friday January 9th


If the festival gave out an MVP award, saxophonist David Murray would certainly be in the running. He’s at the Minetta Lane Theater with his Clarinet Summit at 7:30 and with drummer Teri Lyne Carrington and pianist Geri Allen at 8:45.

We just profiled Murray in December, so I’ll point you to that show for more details. But, needless to say, Murray’s a standout artist and incredibly versatile player. He’s capable of playing as far out as anyone, yet has the skill to drop back into more introspective playing that leans as much on finesse as sheer technical virtuosity. While Suga’ host Joyce Jones won’t (yet) get her wish of a reunion of the World Saxophone Summit, catching the “Clarinet Summit”, his collaboration with Carrington and Allen, or his Saturday set leading his own Infinity Quartet ought to give you as rounded a view of Murray as you’ll ever get.

We’re looking to see a highly charged set with some experimental stuff thrown in with the Clarinet Summit, which has Don Byron and Hamiett Bluiett providing backup. Count on a more straight-ahead set with Carrington and Allen.

Terri Lyne Carrington has developed into a solid presence in jazz drumming. Her all-female Mosaic Project (which featured WJF collaborator Geri Allen) was much more than just a concept album to showcase women in jazz: it was a solid release in its own right. Her 2013 remake of the classic Money Jungle deservedly got high praise as well. Head to our audio archives for a deeper look at her work.

Similarly, pianist Geri Allen is sought after as both a leader and in side projects. Whether she’s heading up her own Timeline group or in collaboration with others (she’s also worked with TRIO 3, though won’t be at this year’s WJF), her percussive style is a joy to listen to. It won’t be the first Allen-Carrington collaboration and their comfort working together should translate into a solid rhythm section for the set with David Murray.

See both of them in this 2013 clip of “Unconditional Love” along with bassist Esperanza Spaulding.

Harpist Brandee Younger has seemingly taken the task of upholding the work of the late, underappreciated harpist Dorothy Ashby as her mission. You’ll likely get fully up to speed on where she is with this project at her “Afro Harping” Ashby tribute to the latter’s classic album of the same name at the Bitter End on Bleecker Street at 8:45. See Younger’s take on Ashby’s “Respected Destroyer”, recorded live in 2014.

Drummer Will Calhoun has come a long way since his days with Living Colour – a trip that’s come full circle, as the group reunited for a world tour in 2014 to support their Synesthesia release and even took a few days off to put the finishing touches on another release, Shade, scheduled for spring 2015. In the middle of all that, he’s grown into a respected leader in the jazz world as well, with a style that pulls equally from his prowess as a rock drummer and the finesse he’s gained at jazz styles and African percussion. Expect a meeting of all those worlds as he joins forces with Living Colour bandmate, bassist Doug Wimbish, and Vinx, who lends vocals and electronic loops and samples for the “Jungle Funk” collaboration at Bowery Electric at 9 PM. Jungle Funk leans more toward Living Colour’s end of the spectrum than Calhoun’s more standard jazz work. Here’s a sample of what you might hear, recorded live in Poland in 2013. For a longer listen, you can check out our 2013 Calhoun profile.

Saxophonist Oliver Lake and bassist Reggie Workman join forces with drummer Andrew Cyrille and special guest Vijay Iyer for TRIO 3 at Minetta Lane at 10 PM. All are incredibly accomplished players and Workman has nearly legendary status. TRIO 3’s shows are always extremely satisfying. Lake is as comfortable playing “out” and pushing the limits of the saxophone as he is using finesse honed from many years on the instrument. Iyer is scarily talented and adapts well to almost any setting. Below is a clip from the 2012 Vision Fest and for a much deeper dive into Lake, you can check out our December 2014 profile of him or our 2009 Workman and 2010 Iyer profiles, which live on in our audio archives, too.

Saturday January 10th


Saxophonist Oliver Lake returns with a show at The Bitter End on Bleecker Street with his Organ Quartet at 6:15 PM. Here they are performing at the Jazz Standard. Hammond B3 fans will be in for a treat with organist Jared Gold shoring up the rhythm section.

Saxophonist Billy Harper is at Minetta Lane Theater with The Cookers at 8:45 PM. Last year, The Cookers were one of the WJF highlights for me. Harper’s comfortable in the “free jazz” end of the sax spectrum (which I’ll admit I’m partial to), but as part of the collective he contributes to a hard driving straight ahead sound that’s accessible yet adventurous. Expect them to live up to their name. Here they are at the 2014 Nisville Jazz Festival. For a closer look at Harper, see our 2011 show on him.

Saxophonist David Murray makes a final appearance at Le Poisson Rouge with his Infinity Quartet at 9 PM. Keep an eye out for the spoken word of Saul Williams with Saturday night’s Infinity Quartet show. Here they are in a 2014 show.

Vocalist Catherine Russell, who’s been getting solid reviews for her 2014 Bring it Back release, is at the Greenwich House Music School on Barrow St. at 10 PM. Fans of the more traditional jazz vocals should be sure to catch Russell’s set. Her exposure on the popular Boardwalk Empire series has gained her some additional notoriety and her work is fresh and innovative, while still connecting to the jazz tradition. See her perform live in 2013 below or check out our 2014 show for a deeper dive into her work.

Drummer J.T. Lewis will be at Subculture on Bleecker Street with Harriet Tubman at 10 PM. I missed Tubman a few years ago when they were on at an ungodly late hour: not so this time! Tubman describes itself as an “avant metal jazz band” which is a description that I’d be hard pressed to improve upon. If you’re open to electronics in jazz, crossovers into fusion, and aren’t afraid of electric guitars, then this is your set. This clip from a 2010 show at NYC’s The Stone gives a good sense of the type of long, funky, ambient grooves they specialize in. For a longer look at Lewis, see our 2014 show focused on him.

Honorable Mentions

I’ll be honest: that’s an unfair header for this section, since there are so many fantastic acts to choose from. But you have to start somewhere, so here’s who else I’d catch in an ideal world—and just might in this one if I can manage to finagle the schedule just right.

I’ve never seen vibraphonist Joe Locke perform live, but I’d really like to. He’s at the Players Theater at 7 PM on Friday.

I’m a sucker for the electric guitar. Chalk it up to 1980s heavy metal. Still, Marc Ribot’s playing is always fantastic. Team him up with frequent collaborator and fellow guitarist Mary Halvorson for the “Young Philadelphians”? Yes, please! Halvorson’s an up-and-coming name on the scene and she played the WJF last year with both her own ensemble and as a guest with Ribot’s group and the result was a blistering set that I still remember and want to see again and again. Strong incentive to stick around for an 11:15 PM Friday set at Minetta Lane.

Suga’ host Joyce Jones and I were just talking about how Wallace Roney seemed to be the go-to person older trumpeters looked to for backup very early in his career. Both Miles Davis (whose influence is clear) and Freddie Hubbard tapped Roney’s talents. You can’t ask for a better pedigree than that. But he’s taken those lessons and developed his own unique voice on the trumpet. Hmm, 6:15 Saturday at the Bitter End? I just might make it.

Lionel Loueke’s Trio is 8:30 on Saturday at Subculture. Guitar and African rhythms? It makes me really wish I could be in two places at the same time. But you can catch them! And you should!

Lastly, I’ll point you to the full performance schedule. They also have a handy guide to full group line-ups, which you can check to see if a favorite musician is on the list somewhere. Finally, there’s a map of the various venues, but you will get all that at the check-in site at Judson Memorial Church.

So that’s it. That’s a lot of acts! But they’re all really good. Find who’s to your liking and take some time to see someone you haven’t—you might become a fan of a new group. I’ll likely be wiped out after it’s wrapped up, but it’s good training for the week-long Vision Fest, which has moved to July this year. We’ll have some coverage of that, but before then, I’ll check in with a WJF wrap-up.

Shameless self-promotion time: if you’re not already a listener, check out our show that airs alternate Sunday nights from 11 PM – 1 AM on WBAI Radio and streams online. This week, we’ll feature an interview with Geri Allen on January 11th, which should be a good way to wrap up the weekend.

Are you going? Anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing? Let me know in the comments.

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

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