Benefit Concerts at Blue Note, Dizzy’s Fund Jazz Causes
“Nobody said it was going to be easy, and nobody was right,” declared Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Programming Director Todd Barkan, quoting the witty insight of the late pianist John Hicks into the life of a jazz musician. Barkan was introducing the Playing Our Parts concert benefiting the Jazz Foundation of America, which for more than 20 years has made the lives of countless jazz artists easier in times of need. The annual show, which has earned tens of thousands of dollars for the foundation’s Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund during the past five years, was instituted to raise money for the medical care of ailing bassist Dennis Irwin, who passed away on March 10, 2008, only hours before that evening’s poignant affair. Since then, saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist John Scofield, close friends of Irwin, have joined forces in a yearly event at Jazz at Lincoln Center that donates 100 percent of its proceeds to a foundation program that provides free cancer screening for musicians.
This year’s April 24 event got off to a scorching start with Lovano and Scofield, along with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Lewis Nash, firing on all four cylinders for the guitarist’s funky “Wabash III” and the tenorist’s gritty “Big Ben.” Playing with a tight, unified sound, the quartet set the tone for the artfully assembled evening. The music flowed on beautifully with the addition of trumpeter/flugelhornist Eddie Henderson to the foursome on a stirring rendition of “Jitterbug Waltz” that danced with grace and strength.
Brad Mehldau generated a similarly broad emotional range by himself with a virtuosic solo piano recital that subtly progressed from delicate impressionistic classicism into a vigorously rocking rendering of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” that employed a muscular left hand vamp recalling Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” The pianist then coolly accompanied vocalist partner Fleurine, who touchingly sang “Love Marks”—her own English lyric adapted from Chico Buarque’s Portuguese words to Francis Hime’s moody “Trocando em Miüdos.”
Geri Allen began the show’s second half in a duet with tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane that found the two boldly melding their sounds on Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica.” The addition of Patitucci and Nash then propelled the soloists to greater heights as the quartet stretched out on Bob Dorough’s “Nothing Like You.” Vocalist Gregory Porter’s reading of Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” filled the sold-out house with a spirit of camaraderie and hope that continued throughout the rest of the evening as one musician after another came on stage to participate in a communal jam that included most of the night’s earlier participants. Joining the fray was one most welcome newcomer, trumpeter Mike Irwin, son of the beloved bassist whose tragic demise inspired the tribute.
The cost of education, like that of healthcare, is as important an issue in the jazz community as it is to the rest of the country. The late James Moody was a firm believer in the value of jazz pedagogy. A devoted teacher who never stopped studying, the saxophonist/flutist imparted that ethos in many master classes all over the world. His wife, Linda, noted, “My husband always said that education is the key to everything. Educating young people will be a large part of his legacy.” In 2005, the James Moody Scholarship was instituted at Purchase College, where the saxophonist’s longtime bassist, Todd Coolman, is a professor. Four years later, Moody began talking with his wife about creating a scholarship just for young people in Newark, N.J., remembering the lack of musical education opportunities there during his own youth. “Moody’s dream was to give Newark children who didn’t even have college on their radar a chance for the education that he so very much longed for as a young man,” Mrs. Moody recalled. That dream is now a reality.
At the Blue Note on March 26, the 2nd Annual Celebration of Love In Honor of James Moody brought many of the saxophonist’s longtime friends together in a fundraising concert to benefit the Scholarship For Newark Youth that bears his name. The show opened with host Jon Faddis (like Moody, a protégé of Dizzy Gillespie with a wry sense of humor), introducing the rhythm section of Mike Longo, Coolman, Adam Nussbaum and guitarist Yotam Silberstein for Dizzy’s “Tin Tin Deo” before being joined by veteran tenor man Frank Wess, who played “Body And Soul” with masterful elegance. Chris Potter then took the stage for a blistering rendition of Gillespie’s “Bebop.”
Spelling the band, clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera played a choro with pianist Alon Yavnai and flutist Holly Hoffman teamed with Mike Wofford on “More Than You Know.” Bassist John Lee and drummer Akira Tana joined Wofford to accompany Roberta Gambarini on “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” and Janis Seigel on “In My Solitude.” The two singers then joined forces on a high-flying, Ella-inspired “Lady Be Good.” The energy level climbed as Faddis blew stratospherically with D’Rivera and Potter on “Night In Tunisia,” but it was the closing “Moody’s Mood For Love,” with the audience singing from distributed lyric sheets, that best expressed the spirit of the man who brought everyone together that night.