I’m off for Maine tomorrow morning, where, for the past 15 years, I’ve curated the Deer Isle Jazz Festival on a gorgeous spot off the Down East coast (for tickets, go here).
From the start, this has been a labor of love for me, and an act that resonates with the themes and purpose of my writing. (That backstory is a long story; you can find it here.)
The Stonington Opera House, where the concerts are held, reminds me a little of Manhattan’s Village Vanguard, in that it is an acoustically charmed space. Like the Vanguard, it has a history. Through more than a century, it has served, at various points, as dance hall, vaudeville theater, and high school basketball arena. And, not unlike the Vanguard, there’s a sense of unadulterated mission. The nonprofit organization that hosts the event, Opera House Arts, sells T-shirts and bumper stickers with this slogan: “Incite Art. Create Community.”
This year, as I travel, I’ll bring along a manuscript in process for a book that began as simply a document of “the fight for New Orleans jazz culture since the flood, and what it means”—a storyline and mission that has been the dominant thread of my work for the past decade.
Yet the book has grown into something broader.
I’m now aiming to set that decade-long story of a struggle for and reawakening of New Orleans jazz culture alongside what I position as a rebirth of this country’s broader jazz culture, which is has long been based in New York City. In that way, I intertwine two stories of resilience in the face of challenges and of rebirth—one in New Orleans, in the wake of literal devastation, and one in New York, in spite of pronouncements of jazz as dead or stuck in a holding pattern.
It occurred to me that my dual headliners for this year’s Deer Isle Jazz Festival—pianist Geri Allen and clarinetist Evan Christopher— —personify those ideas. Continue reading “Mining Music and Meaning in Maine: The Deer Isle Jazz Festival”
Anytime stride piano, swing, bebop and yet further developments in jazz styles intermingle, which is to say most times a living jazz pianist plays, the influence of Mary Lou Williams gets felt.
Anytime jazz’s purpose—its essential connection to African American history and culture and to social justice in general, its intellectual search, it spiritual legacy and potential, there is Williams too.
When we speak of Kansas City or Pittsburgh or Greenwich Village or, especially, Harlem, when we talk about how jazz legacies get passed on, how women were always right there, or how any jazz player today might best follow her or his heart, there also is Williams.
I’ll say more about all that in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal, though a story tied to a fascinating two-week celebration of her legacy at Manhattan’s Harlem Stage, and a three-night theatrical production with Geri Allen at the piano.
Allen is perhaps the clearest inheritor today of Williams’s influence and her music, into which she has delved deeply and for decades.
Wednesday morning, March 12, she convenes a rare, wide-ranging and fascinating national symposium that draws upon her touch at the piano, her network of fellow musicians and scholars and online technology.
LINK TO IT LIVE HERE, from 11am-2pm EST. (It will also be archived.) Continue reading “Mary Lou Williams' Harlem Salon Goes Digital”