Thirty years of Eric in the Evening, jazz in public spaces and libraries, jazz ensembles and their social networks, and getting the word out about jazz. (First of a three-part series for Jazz Week.)
By J. R. Carroll.
Jazz Week 2011 happens to coincide with a significant anniversary in Boston jazz. In 1981 Eric Jackson settled into the evening program slot at WGBH radio, and, 30 years later and despite some dramatic changes in the station’s format, thousands of listeners still tune in to hear “Eric in the Evening.” (Jon Garelick at the Boston Phoenix has a nice profile of Jackson this week.) In recognition of Jackson’s friendly and durable presence on the Boston airwaves, JazzBoston has put together a pair of special events under the rubric “Eric in Two Evenings”: An all-star jam session at Scullers on Monday, May 2, and a program of film and video clips featuring some of Jackson’s favorite musicians on May 6 at the Regent Theatre.
Jazz Week also sponsors a series of free events staged in a variety of public spaces and libraries and throws a spotlight on big bands and other large ensembles. More important, all these types of events and institutions, including the activities of groups like JazzBoston, play crucial roles in getting the word out about jazz at a time of drastic cuts in arts education, arts journalism, and arts funding in general.
The first of the tributes to Eric Jackson will be an all-star jazz jam session, produced by Fred Taylor, at Scullers on Monday, May 2, at 7:30 p.m. Performers will include, among many others, Walter Beasley, Terri Lyne Carrington, Dominique Eade, Donal Fox, Laszlo Gardony, George Garzone, Grace Kelly, Cecil McBee, Bob Moses, Rebecca Parris, Bill Pierce, and Phil Wilson.
The celebration moves to Arlington’s Regent Theatre on Friday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. for a night of film and video clips (and, I’m guessing, “soundies”) of jazz greats that are rarely seen—and even more rarely seen on a full-size, theatre screen. Selected by Eric Jackson, the clips come from the collection of jazz historian Hal Miller, owner of the world’s largest collection of rare jazz film and video. Among Jackson’s picks will be clips of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, and Sarah Vaughan. A reception with Jackson and Miller will precede the screening.
On April 29th, Jazz Week 2011 kicks off with three “Free Friday” noon hour concerts by New England Conservatory student ensembles: The Ecce Trio, led by Henrique Eisenmann, will feature Brazilian and Latin jazz in the South Garden of the Prudential Center; Fausto Sierkowski’s Unit brings collectively improvised music to Downtown Crossing; and the Gypsy Jazz Duo will play in the Main Train Terminal of South Station.
Not exactly a flash mob, but at noon, Monday through Friday, May 2–6, a swarm of similarly equipped instrumentalists will descend upon the atrium food court at the Massachusetts State Transportation Building at 10 Park Plaza. On Monday it’s off to a brassy start with trumpets, led by Jerry Sabatini; Tuesday the decibels go down a notch with a flute swarm coordinated by Geni Skendo; Ken Field heads up a parade of saxophonists on Wednesday; it’s all about rhythm on Thursday with Grant Smith and his percussion swarm; and it tacks back to brass on Friday with trombonist Tom Plsek and his compatriots.
Looking forward to summer, the new Thayer Street Outdoor Concert Series in SoWa, the South End’s thriving Arts District, debuts Saturday, May 7, at 4 p.m. with Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet (Allan Chase, Tom Hall, Cercie Miller, and Joel Springer), revived in 2007 after a decade’s hiatus. The series will continue on the first Saturday of every month through October.
Starting on Saturday, April 30, at 9 a.m. and running through May 30 during library hours, the Boston Public Library’s Hyde Park Branch, in conjunction with Artists-at-Large, Inc. and the African American Master Artist in Residence Program (AAMARP), an adjunct of the Department of African American Studies at Northeastern University, will display “I See Jazz”, an exhibit featuring the work of AAMARP artists Don West, Hakim Raquib, Gloretta Baynes, Susan Thompson, Shea Ramone Justice, Walter Clark, and L’Merchie Frazier, who will exhibit paintings, photographs, sculptures, and more, all inspired by jazz.
Also on Saturday, April 30, at 2 p.m., Boston Public Library brings its Riffs & Raps: Jazzin’ the Generations program to its Mattapan Branch. Arni Cheatham (saxophones), Bill Lowe (bass trombone, tuba, percussion), and Kevin Harris (keyboards) use jazz standards and originals to bridge the gap between generations, from the roots of jazz in blues and spirituals through the Great American Songbook right up to the many sounds of jazz today, with excursions into other music traditions at home and abroad along the way.
On Sunday, May 1, at 2 p.m., the Newton Free Library continues its series of free concerts with the Bert Seager Jazz Trio (Bert Seager, piano, Sean Farias, bass and Austin McMahon, drums).
On Monday, May 2, at 6:30 p.m., the Boston Public Library’s Hyde Park Branch teams with Artists-at-Large, Inc. for a concert featuring Entourage, a youth and teen jazz ensemble from the Boston Arts Academy and vocalists from Berklee’s City Music Preparatory Academy, led by Berklee faculty member and Hyde Park resident Sherry Young.
On Tuesday, May 3, at 6 p.m., Boston Public Library’s Central Library will screen “In My Mind,” an acclaimed, performance-based documentary about pianist Jason Moran’s 50th-anniversary tribute to Thelonious Monk’s historic 1959 Town Hall Concert in New York City. The 97-minute film had its Boston premiere at the 2010 Roxbury International Film Festival and will be introduced by the festival’s director, Lisa Simmons.
On Wednesday, May 4, at 6 p.m., Boston Public Library’s Central Library hosts “On the Edge: Exploring the Creative Music Scene,” a forum with pianist Dave Bryant, saxophonist Tom Hall, pianist John Kordalewski, and saxophonist Neil Leonard. The musicians will talk about current trends in improvisation and demonstrate with live performances.
On Thursday, May 5, at 6 p.m., Boston Public Library’s Central Library presents “Jazz Week: North Shore Jazz, Then and Now.” Henry Ferrini and Jenny Chava Hudson, coordinators of the North Shore Jazz Project, present an intriguing oral and video history of people and places on the North Shore, from Sandy’s Jazz Revival to the scene of today.
On Friday, May 6, at 1 p.m., Boston Public Library’s Central Library presents “Nat Pierce, Jaki Byard, and the Battle of the Bands.” Boston jazz historian and author Richard Vacca offers a fascinating portrait, with rare recordings and images, of two modernist big bands that shaped Boston jazz, culminating in the formation of the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra.
On Saturday, May 7, 12:30 p.m., the Boston Public Library’s Brighton Branch, in cooperation with the D. R. Finch Music Foundation, will present an hour of music and conversation with Trio Tutta (American pianist Pamela Hines, Israeli bassist Tal Shalom-Kobi, and Japanese drummer Miki Matsuki). The group will perform jazz standards and original compositions, and the trio will also discuss influential women in jazz as well as their approach to composing and performing music.
Also on Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m., the Boston Public Library’s Hyde Park Branch, in conjunction with Artists-at-Large, hosts a jazz listening session entitled “Recorded LIVE in Hyde Park, MA,” featuring a selection of recorded performances by local musicians.
On Sunday, May 8, at 2 p.m., Newton Free Library continues its series of free concerts with pianist Joe Reid and violinist Yaeko Miranda-Elmaleh. The concert will include Hungarian czardas, Romanian doinas, Bessarabian bulgars, Chasidic nigunim, Oriental horas, Yiddish songs, music by Jewish composers, Gypsy jazz, klezmer favorites, and more.
On Friday, April 29, at 8 p.m., the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra offers a program of new music by resident composers David Harris, Jim Hobbs, Darrell Katz, Bob Pilkington, Warren Senders, and Norm Zocher at the Cambridge Family YMCA Theatre.
Also on Friday, April 29, at 8 p.m., the Hal McIntyre Orchestra, directed by Don Pentleton and featuring the alto saxophone of Tom Ferrante with the vocals of Steve Marvinat, appears at the Amazing Things Arts Center.
Saturday, April 30, offers two special tributes at 8 p.m. At Emmanuel Church, where Duke Ellington’s Second Sacred Concert was performed way back in 1969, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra and special guest vocalist Dominique Eade revisit that work and others in “An Ellington Celebration: From Standards to Sacred.”
Meanwhile, the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble and their Music Director, Frederick Harris, Jr., anchor the Fourth Annual Herb Pomeroy Memorial Concert at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, with pianist and longtime Pomeroy colleague Ray Santisi, and reed master, arranger, and director Frank Tiberi performing music from the Herb Pomeroy and Woody Herman Orchestras.
On Tuesday, May 3, at 8 and 9:30 p.m., Ryles hosts the revived John Payne Saxophone Choir, a just-for-Jazz-Week reunion of nearly three dozen saxophonists backed by reedman Payne’s powerful quartet.
The hard economic fact of life about the arts is that it’s a leaky system. Every musician, painter, dancer or playwright has to—at minimum—pay for food, housing, health care, and some modicum of clothing. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that an artist’s grocer, landlord, doctor, or retailer will return some of that money to them by attending a concert, buying a painting, going to a ballet, or seeing a play.
To be sure, artists will, to the extent it’s feasible, support one another, but that’s just coins rattling around in a sealed tip jar. While most artists will create even if no one is listening, watching, or reading (simply because they can’t not create), the more noncreative time and effort required just to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, the less time and energy to do what they do best.
In short, artists need audiences.
Audiences don’t necessarily need to pay the artist directly; the existence of an audience may be sufficient reason for a public institution or a private business or philanthropy to fund the artist’s efforts.
But audiences don’t arise from spontaneous generation—they have to be nurtured. If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience a particular art form—and no one you know has, either—it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that you’ll be motivated to seek it out.
This is where broadcasting, parks (and other public spaces), libraries (and other public institutions), and community-based performing groups come into the picture.
The anniversary honors for Eric Jackson provide a much-needed reminder of the importance of the broadcast media in keeping jazz before the public and exposing it to a new generation of listeners and, potentially, performers.
Professional jazz broadcasting in the Boston metropolitan area has taken numerous hits in the past decade or so.
From the early 1980s through the late 90s, jazz programming on WBUR—once the home of Tony Cennamo, James Isaacs, and the Arts Fuse’s own Steve Elman—shifted to the late night hours and ultimately vanished altogether, with the vital but lonely exception of Jose Masso’s “Con Salsa” on Saturday night.
In 2009, after 22 years on the air, WFNX cancelled its Sunday Jazz Brunch and with it the last outpost of jazz programming on commercial FM radio.
Shortly thereafter, WGBH dropped its local overnight jazz hosts (Al Davis, Kevin Ball, and Ron Gill) and replaced them with Bob Parlocha’s syndicated program out of San Francisco, leaving Jackson and his cohort Steve Schwartz as the only professional broadcasters carrying the torch for live, local jazz programming in the Boston metro area. (Suggestion: If you’re donating to WGBH, make a point of doing it when Eric or Steve are on the air, so station management understands how much the two of them are appreciated in this community.)
As happened decades ago in New York, college and low-power, public stations have filled the gap, albeit almost entirely on a volunteer basis. Harvard’s WHRB holds down the 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot Monday through Friday with its long-running Jazz Spectrum, and its Spring 2011 Orgy period, commencing May 1st, will include 36 straight hours of the music of Roy Eldridge and, undoubtedly, marathon celebrations of some other jazz artists.
MIT’s WMBR, which marks its 50th year on the air this year, also features a fair amount of jazz programming, albeit scattered around their schedule, including longtime programs like Charlie Kohlhase’s “Research and Development,” Ken Field’s “The New Edge,” Angelynn Grant’s “Coffeetime,” and more recent additions like Fred Allen’s “Sound Principles.”
Worcester’s public radio station WICN devotes a substantial chunk of its schedule to jazz; unfortunately, its signal is difficult to pick up closer to Boston without an external antenna. (Its programming, however, is streamed over the internet.)
However, given that most people work during the day, the prime-time presence of jazz on a widely accessible, public radio station remains absolutely vital to the health of the art form in the Boston area.
Parks and Other Public Spaces
Never underestimate serendipity. More than a few professional musicians and many, many listeners first encountered jazz purely by chance, perhaps having little notion of what it was but discovering that something about it resonated within them.
Given the bone-chilling climate of New England and the ghastly acoustics of nearly all interior public spaces, an initial public encounter with jazz will almost certainly happen outdoors between May and October. Fortunately, Boston and many of its surrounding communities—frequently in conjunction with local conservatories, music schools, colleges, and universities—have done a pretty good job of taking advantage of the warmer months and making live jazz freely available in public venues.
Boston has the Festival Betances and the BeanTown Jazz Festival. The Cambridge River Festival devotes one of its three stages entirely to jazz, and its BoomTown Festival also includes jazz performances; Somerville has Joe’s Jazz and Blues Fest (Joe being Mayor Curtatone) and ArtBeat; and the two communities share the HONK! Festival.
Equally valuable are the Boston vicinity’s many free, outdoor concert series, including the Franklin Park Coalition’s Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park Summer Performing Arts Series and the many events taking place under the umbrella of Berklee’s Summer in the City concert series.
Libraries and Other Public Institutions
With all the brutal cutbacks in arts education, public libraries have assumed an even larger role in exposing the younger generation to the literary, performing, and visual arts. Public libraries also have one distinct advantage over schools: kids are there because they want to be there.
In addition to their print, audio, video, and digital resources, many libraries contain performance and/or exhibition spaces. The Boston Public Library system has done a particularly good job of placing these facilities in the service of jazz education and outreach, not only through its participation in Jazz Week, but also through many events throughout the year, especially those directed at younger audiences. (I would be remiss if I didn’t also salute the Minuteman Library Network, whose interlibrary loan programs give the patrons of their member libraries access to a much wider range of jazz—in both audio and video formats—than any single library could hope to provide.)
Big Bands and Large Ensembles—Friends of Friends
The inclusion of big bands and other large jazz ensembles may seem peculiar, but consider this: Like community theatre groups, community orchestras, community choruses, and similar organizations, big bands and their kin bring with them social networks that extend far beyond the hard core of devoted followers of jazz. While this is somewhat true of smaller groups as well, what’s particularly interesting here is that when a significant number of individuals with direct connections to the performers coalesce around a large ensemble, the odds increase that these individuals may have connections to one another as well, solidifying the sense of community associated with that ensemble.
There will be two additional articles coming up soon that are associated with Jazz Week 2011. The first of these will deal with the role of the core performance venues in the Boston metro area and highlight some notable events associated with them during Jazz Week 2011. The second article will broaden the focus to explore the cultural and economic role of venues that don’t identify themselves primarily as performance spaces but are nonetheless important components of the jazz ecosystem.
In the meantime, get out there and enjoy Jazz Week—there’s a hell of a lot going on!