With the final days of winter creeping to a close, Jazz Standard ushers in spring with sounds of Kendrick Scott Oracle. The quintet is comprised of Mike Moreno on guitar, John Ellis on sax, Matt Penman on bass, Taylor Eigsti on piano and Kendrick Scott on drums. The two sets featured selections his 2013 CD titled Conviction, released on his World Culture Music label. The first set was extremely melodic providing soothing, danceable grooves that one might hear at Club Shelter on Sunday in the early afternoon. The second set was up-tempo, lively and was propelled by Scott’s driving percussion. Although some of the music performed was composed by other members in Oracle, all of it showcased the superb backbeat of master drummer Kendrick Scott. Ancients looked to oracles to predict the future, music in so many ways show where we are and where we are heading. With Kendrick Scott Oracle the prediction is passionate playing equals good music.
Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project, released in 2014, is the latest offering by premiere bassist Rufus Reid, but there was nothing quiet about The Big Band Sound of Rufus Reid as they played selections from this Grammy nominated work. Quiet Pride is an homage to the work of Black graphic artist, sculptor and activist Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012). The titles of the six piece suite are all titles of works created by Catlett and Reid’s compositions and arrangements serve to be beautiful accompaniments to what are already visually stunning pieces of art.
At Jazz Standard Rufus Reid’s big band spilled off the stage and into audience. Along with Reid the band included Steve Allee tickling the piano, Vic Juris strumming the guitar, Chris Beck’s pounding the drums, Charenee Wade’ vocal styling and a reed and horn section that included 15 musicians. Conductor Dennis Mackrel stood in front of the performers to make sure that each of them was on point. And “on point” would be a feeble colloquialism to describe the robust, wall of sound that echoed from The Big Band Sound of Rufus Reid.
They started their set with Recognition, followed by Mother and Child, Tapestry in the Sky, Singing Head and Glory. The music was so plush, so luxurious in texture, so rapturous in harmony. Reid’s aural reimagining of Catlett’s work is as soulful and magnificent as the work itself. I was particularly impressed with Charenee Wade; her haunting voice held its own with band and proved that voice is indeed its own instrument. Chris Beck hit the drums like he was midway through a possession. His drum solo was ferocious and had me clapping my hands and stomping my feet.
Artists often inspire other artists. Quiet Pride is sure to spark many imaginations. I thought The Big Band Sound of Rufus Reid was a beautiful ending to February and Black History Month at Jazz Standard. One legend recognizing another with the timeless language of music – doesn’t get any better than that.
Few jazz artists have the legacy of Ravi Coltrane. To say jazz is in his blood is an understatement; he is jazz royalty. His father, John Coltrane, created the quintessential jazz opus with Love Supreme and is actually a saint. His mother, Alice Coltrane, was a jazz pianist, composer, harpist and organist who led her own band and accompanied her husband.
Extending the legacy given to him by his parents, Ravi is an accomplished post-bop saxophonist. Since 1998 he has released six albums as a band leader, the last being Spirit Fiction in 2012 on Blue Note along with dozens of appearances as a sideman on various artists’ albums ranging from Steve Coleman to Flying Lotus. He is also the co-owner of RKM Music.
Although this winter has been one of the harshest in recent history, Coltrane’s appearance at Jazz Standard got February started on a smooth, sublime note. The Ravi Coltrane Quintet, comprised of Coltrane on tenor sax, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Aaron Parks on piano, Bob Hurst on bass and Jeff “Train” Watts on drums, were featured at Jazz Standard from February 3-8. The set included five numbers; the first was Ornette Coleman’s Bird Food. The second was Word Order from Coltrane’s 2000 album From the Round Box. The third was a piece titled Between Lines. The set concluded with For Turiya a piece written for Alice Coltrane and Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners with arrangements by Jeff Watts. The Ravi Coltrane Quintet played the role of shamen. They enchanted us with soothing, intricate layers of melody. Hearing Coltrane live with the accompaniment of Parks, Hurst, Alessi and Watts was magical. Overall it was like a hot toddy on a frosty night – warm, soothing with just the right dose of kick courtesy of Watts’ arrangement of Brilliant Corners. It swung with a bit of a hip hop beat and would make a perfect sample. As for Coltrane, he has successfully carried the legacy of his family all while carving a lane for himself. He has truly earned the moniker “renaissance man.”
Most clubs don’t live up to the illustrious names that their owners bequeath to them. Jazz Standard is the exception, it is the prototype of what jazz spot should be – intimate, comfortable and filled with melody. Located at 116 East 27th Street, any jazz buff can walk down a flight of stairs and treat themselves to a plate of barbeque and night of legendary talent and the best new artisans of jazz.
“No matter what…it is with God. He is gracious and merciful. His way is in love, through which we all are. It is truly – a love supreme.” – John Coltrane. On December 9, 1964 the John Coltrane Quartet, consisting of John Coltrane on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums visited the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs to record one of the most influential, brilliant concept albums ever recorded. That album was A Love Supreme.
A Love Supreme was recorded in a single session and is considered Coltrane’s most seminal work. It is poetic, a sermon and a testimony translated into a magnificent aural feast that inspires the most rapturous emotions about God, spirituality and enlightenment. To listen to A Love Supreme can be inspiring and life changing; it’s the type of work most artists strive to achieve, not matter the medium, but are lucky if they get remotely close to. Coltrane died almost three years after this recording at the age of 40. He never got to witness how this opus impacted the music world, but I feel safe in saying that Coltrane’s autobiography and legacy was summed up in this piece. For me it was the musical equivalent to the “Big Bang Theory” – a melodic explosion that created an alternate universe where I was able to explore and gain a deeper understanding of the world in which our bodies reside. In other words, A Love Supreme was an introduction to the metaphysical plane here on Earth.
It has been 50 years since Coltrane and company recorded A Love Supreme in Englewood, New Jersey, and its relevance is just as potent today as it was back in the 1960s. In recognition of this important contribution to jazz and American music, Jazz Standard enlisted saxophone virtuoso Azar Lawrence to celebrate the creation and recording of this masterpiece. The Azar Lawrence Quartet includes Benito Gonzalez on piano, Billy Hart on drums and Reggie Workman, who worked with Coltrane, on bass. The celebration was over two nights, December 9 and 10, and was a fitting tribute to this piece. Coltrane once said, “God breathes through us so completely…so gently we hardly feel it… yet, it is our everything.” It’s evident that the most high was present during the recording of A Love Supreme and the spirit of Coltrane was at Jazz Standard when the Azar Lawrence Quartet performed selections from this work. These men breathed passion into a work that is already filled with emotion. They were awe-inspiring. I fell deeper in love with this work, if it’s possible to do so. They played the house down and it was one of the best tributes I have been privileged to witness with my own eyes. The vibrations could be felt in every corner of the room. I believe we all left feeling connected. Thank you John Coltrane for creating a work that will last as long as human history exists. And thank you to Jazz Standard and the Azar Lawrence Quartet for allowing us to rejoice in a work and an artist that used his abilities to uplift humankind.
One can be inclined to say that magic happens every night on Broadway. Each performance brings the audience into new worlds and is always different than the night before. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a live performance, that is until you add the heighten sensation of watching someone try to wiggle themselves out of a straightjacket suspended high above the stage or shoot an apple off a woman’s head, all to the beat of some funky music and pyrotechnics shooting from the stage. And if that’s your bag, then a night of captivating thrills and pulsating amusement are guaranteed when you step into the Marquis Theater for The Illusionists – Witness the Impossible.
Gone are men in penguin suits and top hats pulling rabbits out of a hat and drawing multi-hued scarves out of their pockets. The Illusionists – Witness the Impossible has all the slickness and pomp of a Las Vegas show, the sounds of hot, pumping dance party and the satisfaction that makes the ticket well worth the price. Most of the tricks performed have been around for decades; however The Illusionists give them a 21st century injection that gives them a fresh appeal.
The Illusionists – Witness the Impossible is an ensemble of seven magicians each a specialist in his field. Adam Trent, known as The Futurist, combines dance, comedy and pizzazz to create a routine that is eye-catching and innovative. If Liberace and Ethel Merman had a son, he would probably be Jeff Hobson, The Trickster. He is the epitome of showmanship. His tricks are only rivaled by his wit, which leaves the audience in stitches. Following the legacy of Harry Houdini, Andrew Basso, The Escapologist, death-defying stunts dare to look the grim reaper in the eye and smile. No one can resist the temptation of watching someone put their life on the line on a nightly basis. Dan Sperry creates a cocktail of Goth, wry humor and trickery that is sure to creep you out your seat as The Anti-Conjuror. You will squirm and be mesmerized at the same time. Who doesn’t like a good man sawed in half trick? The Inventor, Kevin James, revamps this old school classic with new school charm. Silent but spectacular Aaron Crow, The Warrior, kicks magical ass. Yu Ho-Jin is called The Manipulator and his moniker couldn’t be more appropriate. If we were in a different century he might be going up before a council for witchcraft that is how convincing he is. His style and approach to performing gives the impression of almost being supernatural, it’s like his tricks are an extension of himself. It is beguiling and beautiful.
The Illusionists hail from U.S., Italy, Belgium and South Korea and have been featured on The Disney Channel and NBC’s America’s Got Talent and are the future of magic. It’s a fun show that is great for a family night, an evening with friends or a date. Witness The Illusionists while they are still on Broadway, I’m sure they will conjure a smile on your face as they did mine.
Photo courtesy of The Illusionistslive.com
Once upon time people set pen to paper to express sentiments of passion, frustration, joy and sorrow. They made announcements about the milestones in their life and created records that captured moments in their lives, but with the advent of Ma Bell, cell phones, text messaging, emoticons (I could go on here), writing letters have become an archaic endeavor. Hardly anyone writes letters anymore, I would venture to bet that children don’t pass notes in class, which is where this American classic begins.
Love Letters details the lives of Melissa Gardner and Andrew, “Andy”, Makepeace Ladd III. Melissa is an honest-to-a-fault, defiant, possibly bratty, young girl from money. Andy is a nice lad from a good, stable family with high morals who just happens to like to write letters. Over the course of 50 years Melissa and Andy honestly share their lives through letters, notes and announcement cards. They confide their hopes and regrets, victories and losses. Through their letters they share a life that is intimate and separate from the lives they lead with their families. And through all the disclosures they make over the years, they never share the one fact that binds them together – they love each other. They are soul mates who never really get the opportunity to share in life what they express in the pages of correspondence they write.
Written by A. R. Gurney, Love Letters was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It first opened at the New York Public Library in 1988. Following a successful seven month run off-Broadway at the Promenade Theatre, Love Letters premiered at the Edison Theatre on October 31, 1989 where it ran for 96 performances. Since its initial run on Broadway, A. R. Gurney’s play has seen many incarnations including a December 2007 benefit performance starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones, which raised money for Taylor’s AIDS foundation.
Love Letters has returned to Broadway opening September 18 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Void of set and using epistolary form, the actors sit side by side as they recant Melissa and Andy’s complex relationship. The play is a favored among busy actors as it doesn’t require a lot of time for preparation and the lines don’t need to be memorized. As in past incarnations of the show, there is a rotating cast of stars. So far Hollywood legends Carol Burnett and Mia Farrow have played the role of Melissa opposite Brian Dennehy as Andy. Currently Alan Alda and Candice Bergen will take the stage for 35 performances ending their run on December 18, followed by Stacey Keach and Diana Rigg for 25 performances. Love Letters ends its latest run the day after Valentine’s Day with Martin Sheen and Anjelica Houston taking on the roles of Andy and Melissa in show’s final 43 performances.
I was fortunate to witness Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy last week. I was totally enthralled. The highs, lows and ultimate heartbreak of Melissa and Andy’s story were recited so passionately by Burnett and Dennehy that it engulfed the stage like tight embrace. By the end of the play I was driven to tears. The beauty of Broadway is a show is just like the moon, it reincarnates itself every night. The audience is guaranteed to see a performance that is different from the night before, slight changes in gestures or cadence happens as the actors dive deeper into their characters. What makes Love Letters so special is this promise will be delivered to the audience double fold as the show rotates the cast. Love Letters is a stripped down production that gets straight to the heart of amore and unrequited affection, feelings that we have all experienced a time, or two, in our lives. It’s a brilliant show and a must see. Just be sure you bring some Kleenex…you might need it.
Photos: Carol Rosegg, AKA NYC
This year Sejong Soloists had two very important milestones to celebrate, 2014 marked their 20th anniversary and the 70th birthday for artistic director Hyo Kang. On October 28, Sejong Soloists took the stage of Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center for their annual benefit concert. Emmy award-winning journalist Paula Zahn returned for her 12th season as host for the event and joined the string orchestra on stage playing cello as they performed, “Serenade Humoristique a l’ espangnole.”
The Sejong Soloists is the brainchild of Kang conceiving the idea of a conductor-less string orchestra. In 1994, Kang invited 11 young, gifted musicians from across the globe, all of whom were attending Julliard School, in order to develop and mentor the newly formed ensemble. Kang himself was a violin faculty member at Julliard at the time and through his mentorship, the young string players and many others, who have taken part in the ensemble during the past two decades, have been able to forge relationships with composers, become rising stars themselves and have entertained hundreds with their sublime musicality and bowing showmanship.
During the gala concert Sejong Soloists performed works from Bach, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, as well as J. Hyun, Carlos Franzetti, Hal Leonard and Pablo de Sarasate. On stage Sejong Soloists were joined by violin virtuosos Gil Shaham, Adele Anthony, Yura Lee, David Chan, Catherine Cho and Chee-Yun to perform various solos throughout the concert, each adding another wonderful layer of depth and fullness to the overall performance. Those who were in attendance witnessed a spectacular that was as stunning to the eyes as it was to the ears. The physicality of the performers truly demonstrated the passion that was coming through their instruments. If this was an Olympic competition, Sejong Soloists would receive nothing but 10s across the board. Technically they exhibited a tonality that was rich with various levels of sound. It was amazing to hear how the sound completely filled the stage and the hall itself. At no point did the music seem sparse; it flowed from the stage in waves and felt larger than the ensemble that had gathered on stage. The achievement of Sejong Soloists’ big sound can only be attributed to the guidance of Hang as well as their enormous talent. This string orchestra is certainly one of the most enjoyable musical experiences I’ve had in a while.
Sejong Soloists is a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt organization. The annual gala concert provides an opportunity for lovers and neophytes of classical music to experience the next luminaries of this genre as well as to honor the tireless effort of those who assist in growing this exceptional artistic organization. To learn more about Sejong Soloists or to make a donation, please visit, http://www.sejongsoloists.org/.
Nothing can warm up a cool autumn night in NYC like a plate of barbeque, a glass of wine and the sound of live jazz. With Jazz Standard, you’re guaranteed a night of good food and good music. Located at 116 East 27th Street, Jazz Standard is one the nation’s premier jazz clubs. Each month they offer an array of legendary and new talent in an intimate candlelit setting. This month they started off with the Terence Blanchard Quintet. In my book Blanchard’s music is the secret ingredient that takes Spike Lee’s films to another level. Blanchard’s horn can also be heard in the 2001 movie Original Sin.
From October 1-5 the Terence Blanchard Quintet enraptured patrons of Jazz Standard with selections off his latest album Magnetic as well as other selections composed by members of the quintet and other pieces from past albums. The quintet is comprised of virtuoso Blanchard on the trumpet, veteran Brice Winston on saxophone and upcoming stars Joshua Crumbly on bass, Fabian Almazan on piano and Justin Brown on drums. I was privileged to be in the audience for Blanchard’s last two sets on Sunday. Both sets were as electrifying as the name of Blanchard’s latest album starting off with an energetic, toe tapping piece, then following up with a more down tempo, melodic number and ending the set on a beautiful, robust note (pun intended).
Along with the Terence Blanchard Quintet, Jazz Standard’s features for October include Steve Wilson Quintet, James Carter’s “Django Unchained,” and Edmar Castaneda World Ensemble. Every Monday belongs to the music of Charles Mingus. Billed “Mingus Monday,” the regular series presents the genius innovations that made Charles Mingus one of jazz most prolific bassists and composers. It doesn’t matter whether your jazz exposure has been Kenny G or if you’re lifetime member to WBGO, you’ll be thoroughly entertained at Jazz Standard. The mix of artists proves why jazz is one of the last true art forms to come out of America and why this music must be preserved and continued for future generations.
To learn more about Jazz Standard, click www.jazzstandard.com.
If you’re a fan of Sex and the City’s fab four, you’re going to love this. One of the oldest slot machine makers in the world, IGT, developed a game that carries with it the commercial license of HBO’s hit romantic comedy. Fans of the show will feel at home playing it, as they will find a lot of recognizable slot machine reel symbols that are actually based from the characters, setting, and theme of Sex and the City.
The Sex and the City slot machine is a colossal success at the Resorts World Casino in Queens. An article by New York Mag, stated that some of the guests even came all the way from Manhattan when they learned that Sex and the City slot machines were being offered by Resorts World.
“I came just for this game,” said Janis Savit, a jewelry designer that the New York Mag interviewed for their Sex and the City slot machine feature. “It was more fun than doing work.”
Perhaps the success of slot machines can be attributed to how they change along with the times. No longer the traditional coin-op and lever machine, these slots have become the money-spinners of casinos thanks to their high-definition graphics, surround sound entertainment, and progressive jackpot features. According to data, the slot machine business is so successful that not only is it a $160 billion industry, but companies that offer it online are also doing very well. Cryptologic,the operator of the first online casino brand in 1996 InterCasino, is still in operation and has recently optimized their games to HTML5 in order to make their titles playable on many gaming platforms. In the U.S., the online gaming market is predicted to be valued at around $73 million by 2015.
Sex and City is the epitome of a modern slot machine. Apart from the 5-reel interface, the game offers bonus rounds and huge jackpots to players who are patient enough to hit them.
The bonus features of the game also carry with them the identity of the show that millions of Americans have come to love. For example, when players hit the “Shoe Closet” feature they will be able to see stylish shoes that the Fab Four wore at some point in the show. Another bonus feature of the game is called “Simply Fabulous” and features Charlotte wearing an engagement ring. In this game, players need to select four engagement ring boxes that would reward them credits in the end.
Click here to learn more about the Sex and the City slot machine game.
It’s official kids… the force of nature that is hip hop has crashed down on the Great White Way. The music and culture that was created in the Bronx has changed the course of music and pop culture and influenced the world. Hip hop and I grew up together. When it was still a burgeoning form of music, hip hop served as a medium to convey the joys and sorrows of one’s neighborhood. It was through hip hop that I learned how folks got down in Cali, of Bloods and Crips and low riders. I learned what it meant to be chopped and screwed. Through the vivid stories of MCs nationwide, I got to see what made all impoverished areas different and the same. No MC reported the tales of the streets and the ills of society more poetically than Tupac Shakur. When Tupac passed away on September 13, 1996 of respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest in connection with multiple gunshot wounds, a part of my heart and youth died. Since his untimely death at the age of 25, Tupac rose to the heights of icon status. His lyrics and life inspired college courses and he is considered one of the greatest artists and MCs of all time. Now the music of Tupac Shakur is the driving force of a new musical, Holler If Ya Hear Me, playing at the Palace Theatre.
Holler If Ya Hear Me uses Pac’s music to tell the story of urban plight, love and change. John, played by the Saul Williams, has just returned to the neighborhood after serving a stint in prison. With his hustling days behind him, he is hell-bent on changing his life for the better, but it’s hard to find change when the cycle of poverty keeps circling. John’s friend Benny is murdered by a rival gang and the neighborhood is reeling. Revenge weighs heavy on the heart of his brother Vertus and the homies that are left behind. Violence seems imminent. Even John has appeared to have discarded his plan of peace, until he is reminded there is a better way. As John and Vertus decide to abandon any notions of retaliation, the neighborhood is rocked by another senseless death, which proves how the cycle of violence will only continue if strides aren’t made to break it.
The jukebox musical is a sure fire way of guaranteeing a successful theatre production. The music and lyrics already have a legion of dedicated listeners, which promises at the very least the ability to recoup the monies invested in bringing a production to a Broadway stage. One can almost argue that a jukebox musical is cheating because half the work has already been done. The struggles of inner-city life and the desire to break away from its hopelessness isn’t a new theme. In fact, one the most brilliant productions to ever explore this topic, A Raisin in the Sun, is currently enjoying another revival on Broadway. Even the idea of hip hop isn’t entirely new. Lin-Manuel Miranda introduced elements of the musical genre to the stage in In the Heights. But what is new is a jukebox musical based off of hip hop, and now rap has one with Holler If Ya Hear Me.
With the music of Tupac Shakur fueling this production, Holler If Ya Hear Me was poised to blow the roof off of the Palace Theatre. However, there was one thing that stopped this production from rocketing off into the stratosphere, the book. The neighborhood, which is set in the present day, could be any ghetto USA. I’m in total agreement that Tupac’s lyrics are timeless, but the story could’ve benefitted by setting it in a specific city or region of the country. One can argue that the story is clichéd taking cues from Menace to Society and Boyz in the Hood as well as West Side Story. Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s just challenging to create an original story in this century, but the book didn’t deliver on the dynamism reflected in Pac’s music making the production unbalanced. The choreography wasn’t as explosive as I had hoped and the lack of a set left the actors drowning in on a half empty stage. But even with these flaws, Holler If Ya Hear Me still shines because of Tupac’s music and the ability of Saul Williams to transcend past an overdone story to deliver a powerful performance. Williams is no stranger to exuding passion on stage, after all he is one of the world’s most well-known slam poets. Williams rage, sensitivity, charisma and presence were felt in every corner of the audience.
When it is all said and done, Holler If Ya Hear Me will join the long list of musical productions made during this millennium that teeters somewhere in the middle, not disastrous but not reaching the glorious spectacle of what musical theater used to be. But I know very well that the people won’t come to this musical because they love musicals or Broadway. They will come to pay homage to Tupac Shakur – a man who indeed was like a spark and through his ignition he succeeded in changing the face of hip hop and the world. If nothing else this production shows how relevant Tupac still is. Holler If Ya Hear Me roars and I holler back, “Viva Tupac Amaru Shakur!”
Photos: Joan Marcus