LeDonne & Jazz Masters Launch WinterJazzFest


George Coleman (left) Eric Alexander and Adam Brenner perform at the Disability Pride NYC concert on Jan. 5.

(Photo: Chris Drukker)

This year’s NYC Winter JazzFest, which includes several programs addressing the themes of political and social justice, got off to rousing a start on Jan. 5 with the Third Annual Jazz Legends For Disability Pride concert. The benefit concert at the Quaker Friends Meeting Hall serves as the spark to ignite the fundraising fire to raise the monies that finance New York’s Disability Pride Parade (which this year will take place on July 9). The concert is the brainchild of the show’s producer, pianist/organist Michael LeDonne, whose daughter Mary was born with the rare genetic disorder Prader-Willi Syndrome.

LeDonne kicked off the proceedings leading his trio with bassist John Webber and drummer Willie Jones III in a performance of “Listen,” the second movement of his Suite Mary, dedicated to the daughter he describes as “a miracle and a blessing.” An ethereal opus of delicate beauty and palpable spirituality, executed by the trio with sensitivity and grace, it was followed by a hard-swinging rendition of “Without A Song” that set the tone for the music that would follow.

Bassist Ron Carter, one of the four NEA Jazz Masters on the evening’s roster, took to the bandstand next, fronting his working trio with pianist Donald Vega and guitarist Russell Malone. The threesome got things started with a blues-drenched reading Oscar Pettiford’s “Laverne Walk” that had the renowned bassman smiling broadly as he and his band collectively swung through a series of tempo changes with telepathic aplomb. Not letting up the pace, the trio continued with a version of the Benny Goodman-Fletcher Henderson classic “Soft Winds” that had Carter’s fingers flying as the group shifted through its changes into overdrive.

Louis Hayes kept things moving right along at a brisk pace, leading a quintet with pianist Renee Rosnes and bassist John Webber, as well as the powerful frontline of alto saxophonist Vincent Herring and trumpeter Jon Faddis. Herring took the lead on “High Fly”—a song he played regularly during his days as a member of the Nat Adderley Quintet—laying down a fat tone steeped in the blues on the Randy Weston-penned jazz staple. He was answered by Faddis’ stratospheric solo, which often echoed the voice of his mentor Dizzy Gillespie, as Hayes’ crisp ride cymbal and snare accents heatedly fired up the horns, then coolly accompanied Rosnes on her episodic outing.

Leading off the group’s performance of “All The Things You Are” with a drum solo of paradigmatic precision, Hayes relentlessly prodded his bandmates through the hard-bopping standard to end the set.

The longstanding unit of pianist Bill Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington delivered a typically first-class set of archetypal piano trio music, beginning with an elegantly rendered rendition of Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” that was followed by a pair of pieces from the Cole Porter songbook.

The band swung hard on “All Through The Night”, lit up by Kenny Washington’s incendiary brushwork, then closed out waxing poetically on “Where Have You Been”, which Charlap introduced with an impressionistic prelude referencing Arthur Schwartz and Yip Harburg’s “Then I’ll Be Tired Of You.”

The first half of the show ended with Benny Golson, the second of the four NEA Jazz Masters on the bill, leading a quintet with trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist LeDonne, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Willie Jones III. Without question one of jazz’s greatest living composers, Golson treated the crowd to two of his best known songs, “Whisper Not” and “Stablemates.”

Just three weeks shy of his 88th birthday, Golson proved that he remains a potent force on the tenor saxophone, his sound as distinctive as ever and his improvisations as daring as they are well conceived. His dignified, amiable presence, as much as his appealing melodies and rich harmonies, inspired his fellow players to turn in stellar above the bar performances that moved the enthusiastic audience to give the band a thunderous standing ovation at the conclusion of their set.

The show’s second segment began with the concert’s third NEA Jazz Master, Jimmy Cobb, taking the stage with his Cobb Mob quartet, featuring pianist Emmet Cohen, guitarist Peter Bernstein and returning bassist Webber. The drummer, best known for his tenure with the Miles Davis Quintet, set up an easy grooving tempo on John Coltrane’s “Trane’s Blues,” with Bernstein and Cohen, who would soon be replaced at the piano by Larry Willis, harmonizing brightly on the song’s idyllic melody. Willis quickly stepped into the solo spotlight with some very hip phrasing that prompted the group to dig deep down into the song’s fertile roots before the drummer took his turn in a series of four-bar exchanges with the other players.

An exciting Cobb solo kicked off the Davis-associated song “Four,” with the energy level persistently rising on the rhythmic tour de force that ended the evening’s penultimate set.

Willis and Webber remained on stage as the night’s fourth NEA Jazz Master, George Coleman, swaggered up to the bandstand. Joined by fellow tenor saxophonists Eric Alexander and Adam Brenner, and his son, George Coleman, Jr. on drums, “Big George” (as he’s commonly known) powered the sextet through Tadd Dameron’s “Good Bait” to bring the music to a thrilling finish.

LeDonne then thanked the audience for their support of the important cause, and introduced them to his daughter Mary, who inspired it.

For more info on Diability Pride NYC, visit the organization’s website. DB

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