Jazz at Lincoln Center Gala Celebrates Fitzgerald, Features Diverse Lineup


Benny Golson (left), Cécile McLorin Salvant, Wynton Marsalis, Diana Krall, Ellis Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 26.

(Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Jazz At Lincoln Center)

Harry Connick Jr. strode onto the stage of Rose Hall on the evening of April 26 and proclaimed to attendees of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s annual fundraising gala, “Tonight we are here, as we always are, to swing. That means to have a good time.”

The annual black-tie event raises money in support of the worldwide educational and advocacy components of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s estimable mission. This year’s presentation, Ella at 100: Forever The First Lady of Song, celebrated the timeless legacy of one of music’s most celebrated artists with a program of gems culled from the voluminous oeuvre of Ella Fitzgerald (1917–’96), performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and a roster of guest vocalists that spanned generations and genres.

The evening had already gotten off to rousing start with Camille Thurman’s performance of “Lady Be Good,” which showcased the rising star on tenor saxophone and vocals prior to the opening monologue by Connick, who served as master of ceremonies. That was followed by Broadway star Audra MacDonald’s melancholic rendering of “My Funny Valentine,” which also featured the warm tenor saxophone of the JLCO’s Walter Blanding Jr.

Venerable cabaret icon Marilyn Maye got the crowd going with a swinging Johnny Mercer medley that included “Day In, Day Out,” “Beautiful Baby,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” with Jason Marsalis’ drums driving the orchestra.

After NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson was presented with the JALC Award for Artistic Excellence, the stage was turned over to vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and pianist Sullivan Fortner, who delivered a performance of “I’ve Got Your Number” that felt both contemporary and classic as it moved from hushed intimacy to a gleeful exuberance. The uplifting feeling continued with vocalist Roberta Gambarini and singer Kenny Washington’s treatment of “Almost Like Being In Love.”

Respective performances by opera singer Renée Fleming and bluegrass-country star Allison Krauss of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Day Dream” and Harold Arlen and Mercer’s “This Time The Dream’s On Me” demonstrated the range of Fitzgerald’s influence on singers from divergent worlds of music. (Krauss knows the Arlen/Mercer well, having recorded it on the soundtrack for Clint Eastwood’s 1997 film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Fitzgerald recorded the song on her classic 1961 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Harold Arlen Songbook.)

Diana Krall shined on both piano and vocals during a winning rendition of “I Was Doing All Right,” and Connick revealed his prowess as an arranger, as well as vocalist, on “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” before Gambarini closed out the program scatting up a storm on “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.” Fitzgerald included the latter on her 1967 album Whisper Not, recorded with the Marty Paich Orchestra.

As attendees made their way to their resplendent gala dinner tables, Wynton Marsalis and fellow orchestra members led a joyous, New Orleans-style second line parade that twisted through Rose Hall, greeting many of JALC’s generous patrons.

Taking a moment to muse on what it is about jazz that brought together such a diversity of supporters, Marsalis noted, “It’s the quality. If you can play it on a high enough level, people will come to it. So it’s all a matter of the quality of your playing and meaning in what you’re playing. People know it’s part of the history of this country and its culture, with great figures [like] Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk. Everybody knows about those people, but we have to maintain it or it will go away.”

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by Wynton Marsalis, performs at the April 26 concert.
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis performs, along with the members of the JLCO at the April 26 concert. Drummer Jason Marsalis (far left) and bassist Carlos Henriquez (second from left) are two of the gifted players who helped make the fundraiser a night to remember. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Jazz At Lincoln Center)

Reflecting of the importance of private-sector fundraising in the face of decreasing government support for the arts, Marsalis said, “It’s always shrinking for us. You’ve got to go out there and get people and recruit them and get them involved in what you’re doing.”

(For more information on Jazz at Lincoln Center and its mission, visit the organization’s website.) DB

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