By J. R. Carroll
The academic calendar winds down in May, but jazz in New England just begins the transition to summer in a month packed with tributes and celebrations.
Substitute vodka for cachaça and you get a caipiroska; mix three Russians and two South Americans and you get Tridos, an intoxicating twist on Latin jazz. They’ll help the Vernissage Jazz Evenings celebrate their birthday on Thursday, May 6, at 8 p.m.
On the same evening, at 7 p.m. at the Rhode Island School of Design, as part of a week-long remembrance of the Cape Verdean community that once flourished in Providence’s Fox Point neighborhood, filmmaker Lolis Eric Elie will screen and discuss his 2008 documentary Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. (Yes, it’s the inspiration for the current HBO series, as will be obvious from the film’s final few minutes.)
East Boston has always suffered the misfortune of being the Boston equivalent of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, geographically (and often psychologically) disconnected from the rest of the city. In recent years, though, more and more folks have been making the trip over, under or around the water, not to catch a plane at Logan Airport but to explore the burgeoning arts scene in “Eastie.” It may not be Treme, but the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band will bring a lagniappe of bamboula to the 20th annual ArtRages festival, an intriguing and indefinable evening of experimental arts aggregated by the artist collective Mobius, running from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday, May 8.
The 8th of May also marks the centennial of pianist, composer, and arranger Mary Lou Williams. Growing up in Pittsburgh at a time when the musical life of its Hill District (chronicled so eloquently by playwright August Wilson) was coming into its own and inspired by local hero Earl Hines and Chicago bandleader Lovie Austin, Williams made her first recordings at the tender age of 17, already displaying formidable keyboard and arranging chops. Not long after, she became the music director for Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy and was launched on an amazing career that encompassed arrangements for Kirk, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others, large-scale ensemble and religious compositions, and even a duet recording with Cecil Taylor.
Pianist Geri Allen, who has had a fairly amazing career of her own, serves as music director of the Mary Lou Williams Collective and even portrayed her in Robert Altman’s film, Kansas City. On Sunday, May 9, at 8 p.m. at Boston College, Allen will join the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra and Williams’s close friend, Father Peter F. O’Brien, S.J., for a celebration of music by Williams that spans her remarkable lifetime of composing.
On Wednesday, May 19, at 9 p.m., a tribute of a more literary inclination will come to Ryles as pianist Nando Michelin and his quartet, in collaboration with vocalist Sofia Rei Koutsovitis and guitarist Claudio Ragazzi, offer a program that features new settings of texts by the late, Uruguayan poet Mario Benedetti.
New Orleans legend Irma Thomas lost her home and her club, The Lion’s Den, to Hurricane Katrina, but, like so many other New Orleanians, she pulled her life back together and celebrated 50 years as a recording artist last year. She’ll dig deep into that songbook on Friday, May 21, and Saturday, May 22, at 8 and 10 p.m. at Scullers.