Archives for posts with tag: Jazz Festivals


Winter is finally settling in to New York City, which means a lot of things. It’s getting dark earlier, we’ve already been hit with one cold snap with more definitely on the way, and snow is inevitable sooner or later. But one of the bright spots in the otherwise dark days of January is the Winter Jazz Fest, which is returning for the 11th year in 2015 from the 8th to the 10th. We profiled Suga’ guests (and a few others) appearing at the fest last year and will do the same as we get closer, but the preliminary line-up has been announced, so it’s worth taking a quick look at what’s going on and a preliminary peek at who’s there, although they’re promising more additions to the line-up and it will probably take even longer to get a full sense of all the side players in the groups.

Schedule and Tickets

The schedule kicks off with two different concerts on Thursday, January 8th. The Robert Glasper Trio, Jose James, Derrick Hodge, and Kendrick Scott are the headliners in a celebration of the legendary Blue Note Records label at Le Poisson Rouge. Single event tickets are $25 in advance ($30 at the door) or a $75 pass for admission to the entire festival. Meanwhile, a fundraiser concert for the Disability Pride organization will take place at the Friends Meeting Hall in Manhattan. It features a sizable list of performers and tickets go for $100 or $145 with a 3-day WJF pass. There are a variety of different ticket combos, ranging from $35 for Friday or Saturday night, to $55 for both, and up for packages with the Thursday night events. It’s a reasonable cost considering the vast array of top performers who will be there. Sets generally run from 6 PM until 2 AM (at Zinc Bar) on Friday and Saturday nights, so it’s entirely reasonable to catch 3-4 full sets of music per night if one wants to, even with overlaps.



The WJF continues around several locations in Greenwich Village and the East Village, with Judson Memorial Church again serving as the epicenter (and the festival’s box office and check-in site) and one of the larger venues. Zinc Bar and Le Poisson Rouge return as venues, joined by the Greenwich House Music School, Minetta Lane Theater, Players Theater, Bitter End, Carroll Place, Subculture, and Bowery Electric. Subculture and Bowery Electric are further away from most of the venues, which are clustered around Washington Square Park. Keep this in mind as you scan the schedule: you may be walking fast to shuttle between venues if one place you want to hit is on the east side.

The festival has become almost a victim of its own success over the years: two years ago it sold out and there have been regular problems with space in the smaller venues on the list. It’s virtually impossible to get into Zinc Bar after the early evening, for example, especially when festival goers combine with the usual Zinc crowd. Securing Minetta Lane and Players Theatre should help immensely in this regard, since both are larger spaces. Still, if one of the acts you want to catch is at one of the smaller spaces on the list, there isn’t much recourse other than to get there very early — and perhaps be prepared to wait. It likely reflects a compromise between supporting some of the smaller venues that program jazz throughout the year in more intimate spaces and the reality that the festival is drawing more people — a good thing — to see the more popular acts. There’s probably not a better fix for the issue.


We’ll do a follow-up with a “cheat sheet” of picks on our radar, but rather than post their extensive list (WJF claims over 100 acts and counting), I’ll point you toward the artist line-up and the list of personnel, the latter of which gives a fuller sense of who’s behind some of the groups. It’s an impressive list that leans toward the experimental end of the jazz spectrum — indeed, some of the acts will probably push the boundaries of jazz — but with the variety of performers there should be something for a broad spectrum of fans. There’s a pretty thoughtful mix of vocalists and instrumental groups and there’s a diversity of styles. If you have favorites (which is likely if you’ve been following the music scene for a while), then dive in and check for people you want to see. If not, you could do worse than to just sample a few different acts that look interesting and explore. Indeed, that’s advice that goes for anyone since there are quite a few composite groups that pop up for the event and give a chance to see players that don’t always perform together try new things. There are a few ways to get a handle on what you’re likely to hear and who to catch:

  • The Winter Jazz Fest organizers have set up a channel on Apple’s iTunes Radio with music from festival artists.
  • Check the ever-helpful YouTube for performance videos (often live) and sample tracks from an artist or combo.
  • Soundcloud is catching on as a listening platform: do a search for artists there.
  • Next week, we’ll take a look at a few of the artists profiled on the Suga’ in My Bowl show who’ll be there and some others we’re looking forward to seeing. Are you heading to the WJF? What are some of the acts you’re looking forward to seeing? Let us 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.


    One thing I look forward to every year in mid-June is the Vision Fest, a weeklong celebration of improvised music they’re referring to as “AvantJazz”, poetry, and visual art.

    This year’s Vision Festival (number 19) kicked off on June 11th at Roulette in Brooklyn with the spotlight on multi-instrumentalist Charles Gayle, one of this year’s recipient of the lifetime achievement award organizer Arts for Art presents to selected artists at the Fest.

    If you didn’t catch the June 8th Suga’ in My Bowl show with Joyce Jones’s interview with Gayle and Patricia Nicholson Parker, it’s worth checking out. Parker runs down some important history of Vision and its evolution over the years, including its struggle to survive as an independent institution free from corporate sponsorship. Gayle, who’s a man of few words and extreme humility, talks about his work and approach to music. (you can hear a short preview of the show below.)

    Last night, Gayle took the stage with drummer Michael T.A. Thompson for the first set dressed as his alter-ego “Streets”, and playing upright bass. The set gradually grew in intensity with Gayle and Thompson playing off each other.

    William Parker (b) and Charles Gayle (sax) at Vision Fest 19.| Joyce Jones Photo.

    William Parker (b) and Charles Gayle (sax) at Vision Fest 19.| Joyce Jones Photo.

    Gayle played the most of the night as “Streets”, his Chaplin-esque alter ego in clown makeup. Gayle explains in a Village Voice interview that he took on that stage persona to free himself from some of the constraints he saw and allow him more space as an artist, feeling that he could be more expressive in costume. Don’t be confused, though: Gayle’s playing is no joke and he takes the music so seriously that he is probably harder on himself than the average critic would be. He walked away from a teaching position at SUNY Buffalo, for example, because too many of the students he dealt with couldn’t put in the voluminous amount of time practicing that he did and he didn’t feel that he could bring out their best without that high level of commitment. Thus Gayle eased himself away from what’s become an important income source for many working artists these days.

    Charles_Gayle_Piano_Vis19Gayle then switched to piano for the rest of the set, playing in an angular, percussive style reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. For the final part of the opening set, dancers Patricia Nicholson Parker and Miriam Parker joined Gayle onstage along with Daniel Carter on trumpet and saxophone.

    WKCR Radio’s Ben Young emceed the evening and was on hand to reflect on Gayle’s legacy. Young compared Gayle to the main character in the Bernard Malamud story “The Natural”: someone who is in the game for the purity of it. As journalists, Young pointed out, “we always wanted to put a brand identity on” Gayle’s work and “make a marketing plan”, but Gayle has resisted such efforts, partly as a result of his own humility; partly in an effort to resist outside pressure on his musical creativity.

    Young also reflected on past shows at disappeared venues such as the Knitting Factory and other disappeared NYC venues where Gayle honed his craft.

    Gayle’s second set was a quartet with bassist William Parker, drummer Michael Wimberly, and pianist Dave Burrell with Gayle on tenor saxophone.

    Quincy Troupe reads on opening night of Vision Fest 19 | Joyce Jones photo.

    Quincy Troupe reads on opening night of Vision Fest 19 | Joyce Jones photo.

    Poet and writer Quincy Troupe (also known for collaborating with Miles Davis on his autobiography) had a short set all to himself. Some of his readings were dedicated to the late Amiri Baraka, whose been a fixture at Vision, reading poetry either by himself or with wife (and fellow poet Amina) and their Blue Ark jazz ensemble or participating in discussions around the culture and politics. Troupe recalled meeting Baraka in the late 1960s in Los Angeles and being surprised that Baraka knew his work. “A lot of people didn’t like [Amiri] because he told the truth [and] people don’t like truth tellers. But that’s what poets are supposed to do”, Troupe reflected. Troupe read Baraka’s poem “Wise 1 as a salute.

    From his own work, Troupe read an excerpt from the intro to his book Miles and Me on the poetry of Miles’s music. Troupe finished his set with a poem on Duke Ellington and one dedicated to the late vocalist Leon Thomas.

    Final set on Vision 19's opening night. | Joyce Jones photo.

    Final set on Vision 19’s opening night. | Joyce Jones photo.

    The night’s closing set featured Gayle returning on piano and conduction and a number of musicians joined him in the type of freewheeling jam Vision is known for: Andrew Cyrille (percussion), Shayna Dulberger (upright bass), Ted Daniels (trumpet), former Vision lifetime honoree Kidd Jordan (tenor sax), Steve Swell (trombone), Mazz Swift (violin), Nioka Workman on cello, Jason Kao Hwang (violin), and Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax).

    Thursday evening’s line-up includes another Vision regular, poet Steve Dalachinsky, who’ll also be paying tribute to Baraka; a film tribute to visual artist musicWitness® Jeff Schlanger, who’s being awarded a lifetime achievement award by Vision and whose work provides the backdrop for the sounds each year; guitarists Mary Halvorson and Susan Alcorn; and a closing set by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, drummer Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker.

    The final set is one to look forward to and looks to be one of the highlights of the week. Brötzmann’s frenetic, rapid-fire sax playing is serious and he doesn’t get to the US very often. In combination with Parker and Drake, it’s likely to be a set to remember.

    Are you there this week? Share your thoughts in the comments.

    All photos courtesy of Joyce Jones and used with permission. Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

    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.

    Joyce Jones is producer and host for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and a graphic artist.

    bandstand_picSuga in My Bowl radio presents a new feature, On The Bandstand where we collect upcoming NYC area shows from current and past Suga’ guests.

    Suga’ in My Bowl is off the air this week and next because of WBAI’s spring fund drive and will be back with a new show on June 1st. If you missed our Amiri Baraka premium, you can still pick one up with a pledge to WBAI. It’s a good excuse to check out our audio archives where we have an entire 4 years of shows for your Sunday night fix. But the music goes on, so we’ve got listings for you.

    Pianist Harold Mabern leads a trio at Small’s on May 21st.

    Bassist Christian McBride joins the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at JALC’s Rose Theater on May 22nd and 23rd.

    3789796335_8b2a0bb581_qPianist Randy Weston’s African Rhythms Quintet with bassist Alex Blake and saxophonist Billy Harper performs at the Jazz Standard from May 22nd to 25th. On May 31st, Weston will also lead an African Rhythms Quartet with bassist Alex Blake at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn.
    Photo: Randy Weston by Flickr user El Humilde Fotero del Pánico|Creative Commons/Some Rights Reserved.

    Looking further ahead, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts is at the Village Vanguard from May 27th-June 1st.

    Tubist Howard Johnson will perform at the Eric Dolphy Jazz Fest in Montclair, NJ on May 30th.

    Those up for a longer roadtrip might want to check out vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and saxophonist Tia Fuller at Cape May NJ’s Exit Zero Jazz Fest, also on May 30th.

    Though summer seems far off, the line-ups of some early NYC area jazz festivals and music series that feature jazz have been announced. In June, Arts for Art’s Vision Fest continues at Brooklyn’s Roulette and the Blue Note Jazz Fest returns at different venues. Those looking for free performances should check out NYC Parks’s Summerstage and Brooklyn’s Celebrate Brooklyn series in Prospect Park. We’ll have a fuller roundup of events later on in a separate post, but now’s a good time to start scanning the schedules.

    That’s all for now. Suga’ in My Bowl is back on WBAI June 1st, but we’ll have another edition of “On the Bandstand” online here next Sunday with a fresh set of listings.

    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.

    %d bloggers like this: