Early in my career, the idea of institutions and museums dedicated to jazz, then a new thing, was met with consternation and fear. Jazz is organic, not dead, some said. It doesn’t belong in a museum.
Depends on the museum. Like most things, it’s all in how you do it. And where.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem has been doing it right and in an appropriate place since 1997, when it was founded by Leonard Garment, counsel to two U.S. Presidents and accomplished jazz saxophonist, with the help of a $1 million Congressional Appropriation. It waves jazz’s banner smartly and warmly, with wisdom and coolness.
The museum’s 2015 benefit concert on June 10 at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse in Manhattan—highlighted by performances by saxophonist Joe Lovano and singer Dianne Reeves, and featuring award presentations to bassist Reggie Workman and the late filmmaker Albert Maysles—should be a glittering event. Go here for more information or scroll down this post.) It will help support year-round programs, most of which are far more modest in scale but bold in the ways they truly live up to this statement, from the museum’s website:
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem is committed to keeping jazz relevant and exciting in the lives of a diverse range of audiences: young and old, novice and scholar, artist and patron, enthusiast and curious listener. We engage our audiences through live performances, exhibitions, educational workshops, and our news-worthy archival collection of jazz artifacts.
I’ve had firsthand experience in what that means because NJMIH Artistic Director Loren Schoenberg gave me a month of Tuesday evenings, three years in a row, to host “Tuning Into Treme,” whereby I used David Simon’s HBO series as a teachable moment and a window into my own writing about the fight for New Orleans jazz culture since the floods caused by the 2005 levee breaches. I brought in musicians including pianist Henry Butler and clarinetist Michael White, along with filmmakers and critics. I showed videos, played music, read from my own work and those of other writers. I thought I’d be educating others. But in the end, I learned as much as I shared. Each Tuesday night was more like a community gathering—some young, some old, including musicians and students and displaced New Orleanians and folks who just gave a damn or liked the music. Elder Harlem residents, the most consistent attendees, led me to a clearer understanding of what a jazz community once meant in their neighborhood, as in the real Tremé, and what it might mean today in either place.
That program was free to the public, as is a fascinating June series—”Conversations on Civic Jazz”—delving into the relationship between jazz culture, politics and social organization. (I know I’ll be there.)
Should you go, you’ll get a chance to see the ongoing exhibition, “Bebo Valdés: Giant of Cuban Music.” Via rare recordings, photographs, films, and recorded interviews, it tells an unlikely story of stardom, obscurity and then even greater acclaim. It details the career of a pianist who played on the earliest Cuban jazz recordings, pioneered use of the batá in popular Cuban music, and helped, as one of the exhibit’s curators, Ned Sublette, put it, “polyrhythmicize the jazz band.” It traces blood bonds that course through so much current New York City music, and that invigorate any understanding of jazz’s story.
That’s one tiny window into what the museum now does, and just a hint of what’s coming in the future.
But is the joint hip, you ask? Enough so that Stephen Colbert just tapped its Artistic Director at Large, Jonathan Batiste, as his bandleader and right-hand-man for the new “Late Night.”
THE JAZZ MUSEUM IN HARLEM 2015 BENEFIT CONCERT
Wednesday, June 10, 2015, 7:30 PM
THE KAYE PLAYHOUSE AT HUNTER COLLEGE
East 68th Street between Park & Lexington Avenues
6:00 PM – VIP Reception
7:30 PM – Awards Presentation & Concert
Join us for a special evening featuring Five-time Grammy Award winner Dianne Reeves along with Grammy Award winning saxophonist Joe Lovano. We are honoring legendary bassist Reggie Workman with the Legends of Jazz Award and acclaimed filmmaker Albert Maysles (in memoriam) and the Maysles Institute with the Jazz and Community Leadership Award. The host for the evening will be WBGO’s Rhonda Hamilton.
To purchase $35 and $55 online tickets and $20 student and senior tickets, click HERE.
Click here to purchase VIP Benefactor tickets.
Click here to purchase VIP Patron tickets.
You may also call 212-348-8300 ext. 103 for assistance processing your ticket order.
Corporate and private sponsorships are still available. Please email or call Jasna Radonjic for more information and the sponsorship package. 212-348-8300 ext. 106, firstname.lastname@example.org.
DIANNE REEVES won her fifth Grammy® Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Beautiful Life on February 8, 2015. She holds Grammy® Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for three consecutive recordings – a Grammy® first in any vocal category. Reeves has recorded and performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. She has also recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim and was a featured soloist with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. She performed at the White House on multiple occasions including President Obama’s State Dinner for the President of China as well as the Governors’ Ball.
“The most admired jazz diva since the heyday of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, Ms. Reeves has a keen sense of herself as a custodian of a jazz vocal tradition.” –The New York Times
“Reeves reaffirmed her stature as one of the most creative and technically accomplished female vocalists working today … Here was the essence of jazz.” –The Chicago Tribune
JOE LOVANO was hailed by the New York Times as “one of the greatest musicians in jazz history.” The Grammy® Award winning saxophone giant has distinguished himself for some three decades as a prescient and path finding force in the arena of creative music. The secret to Lovano’s success is his fearless ability to push the conceptual and thematic choices he has made in his quest to find new modes of artistic expression within the jazz idiom.
AWARDS & HONOREES
LEGEND OF JAZZ AWARD – REGGIE WORKMAN
Given to individuals whose artistry embodies the highest jazz standards and traditions.
The 2015 Legend of Jazz Award is presented to Reginald “Reggie” Workman for a lifetime of high artistic achievement in jazz standards and traditions. Workman is a brilliant bassist whose versatile style fits into both hard bop and very avant-garde settings and was a member of the John Coltrane Quartet. Since that time, Workman has been both an educator and a working musician, and has played with legendary jazz artists including Max Roach and Art Farmer among others. Workman is a Professor and Coordinator of Curriculum at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Studies, an institution recognized around the world as one the greatest schools for jazz education.
JAZZ AND COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP AWARD ALBERT MAYSLES (IN MEMORIAM) AND THE MAYSLES INSTITUTE
Given to individuals and organizations for leadership in advancing the appreciation of jazz and for enduring contributions to the quality of life in local Harlem communities.
The 2015 Jazz and Community Leadership Award is presented to the late Albert Maysles and the Maysles Institute for advancing the appreciation and acceptance of jazz with his masterful work in film and for enduring contributions to the communities of Harlem through the Maysles Institute. In 2014, Maysles was awarded the esteemed National Medal of Arts by President Obama. Maysles and his late brother David are recognized as pioneers of “direct cinema,” the distinctly American version of French “cinema verité.” Maysles’ forays into the world of music range from What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA (1964), and Gimme Shelter (1970) the cult film that featured Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones in concert at Altamont, to films on Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Vladimir Horowitz, Mstislav Rostropovich and Wynton Marsalis.