Noteworthy: APAP has changed the organization’s name to the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, while retaining the familiar acronym. From 1988 until this most recent name change in APAP’s 60-plus year history, it was known as the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. “Our name has changed once again to reflect no only growth, but also the range of experience and expression in our field, noted Mario Garcia Durham, president and CEO of APAP. “The new name more perfectly describes the full range of distinctive roles professionals play, from the creation to the presentation and dissemination of the performing arts.”
APAP jumpstarts the new year for the performing arts industry every January in New York City. The conference charges the city with dynamic energies through the presence of tens of thousands of arts leaders, artists, and enthusiasts from the U.S. and many countries who convene each year at this momentous event. This year’s APAP 61st annual member conference, APAP|NYC, January 12th – 16th, was filled with special moments and milestone markers especially for the world music community.
Thought-provoking plenaries, the vital pre-conference world music event, Wavelengths, and the two great showcase festivals, Winter Jazzfest and Globalfest held abundant promise that the coming year will be standout. Sheer quality in those APAP-incubated events bolstered the conference’s long-standing advocacy for cultural diversities and inclusiveness as key to well-being, growth, creativity, and peace, locally and globally.
This, despite the roiled politics in Washington infesting the news today, the harrowing violence in the country – against people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and women. Ignorance, bigotry, and hatred must be fought in the arts more than ever. For it is through the arts that human values survive and flourish.
To be sure and lest we forget, Mario Garcia Durham remarked with heartening perspective as he introduced the conference theme:
In the short span of a year, so much has happened. As the media and our human nature often focus on the tragic and negative, I urge you to remember much good takes place around you every day and much of it happens in the APAP community and at our conference.
The theme for APAP|NYC 2018 is trans.ACT, which evokes a wealth of meaning which we will explore throughout the conference. We will explore transformations taking place in our communities and society at large and our role engaging and leading the dialogue. We will explore the increasingly transdisciplinary (and transcendent) nature of the performing arts. We are consciously creating space for transgender artists and other transgender professionals in our field. We will gain an understanding for how the arts can be a place for ACTivism and a force for good in these polarized and divisive times.
Plenary Power: Roberta Uno and Bassem Youssef
To underscore the theme, the opening and closing plenaries topped conference presentations. Robert Uno, director of Arts in a Changing America, as opening keynote speaker, brilliantly addressed the subject “What is the Role and Responsibility of the Performing Arts in Our World Today?”
Ms. Uno drew upon her personal narrative, the story of her Asian-American family’s cruel internment during World War II, in parallel contrast to the continuing challenges of lack of diversity in American institutions and particularly, the arts today. Her grandfather as an artist, was considered ‘dangerous.’ It is said that he was possibly the longest held internee during the war, despite having urged his 3 sons to join the U.S. military and defend the country.
She noted that according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s projection by 2042, people of color will eclipse white majority here. The vision of a pluralistic America is possible, she maintained. Early actions including the Civil Rights Era and the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act brought progress and promise.
However, there are hard realities and issues to be addressed.
While our nation is changing, our institutions are lagging far behind. We all know that the majority of arts funding still goes to large budget institutions, which are predominantly Caucasian led and serving, while less than 10% goes to diverse institutions. This is not just a problem in the arts but across institutions.
Ms. Uno screened a New York Times 2016 infographic showing the results of a racial profile survey of 503 powerful leaders and decision makers in American business, culture, and government. Entitled “The Faces of American Power, Nearly as White as the Oscar Nominees” – www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/02/26/us/race-of-american-power.html – the statistical imagery in 2016 showed only 44 individuals of color. Very little has changed in those numbers over the past two years in the general demographics.
Yet she pointed out that population demographics are rapidly changing with grass roots advocacy. “From the ground up, diverse cultural organizations are anchoring communities in very innovative ways.” She screened a 1970 photo of a Russian Orthodox church in Flushing, Queens. Today on the same street we can visit the largest Ganesha Hindu temple in North America. It sponsors an annual festival attended by thousands, and holds a school, an educational center, a restaurant, and the only state-of-the-art performing arts theater in the heavily populated area. It is open to the general public. What is most impressive, she said, “is that all the capital development and programming have been sustained by the 22,000 members.” They don’t benefit from the usual grants and ticketing model.
“What do we have to do to remap ourselves?” she asked. She brought up the necessity of re-thinking our language: the outmoded reference usage such as ‘minority’, the oxymoronic ‘majority-minority’… the inaccuracy of ‘underrepresented’ or ‘mainstream.’
What happens when ‘mainstream’ is just one of many rivers? How do we acknowledge that there are parallel universes that are existing as a result of the de facto segregation that has occured? And the ways that cities are re-gentrifying and resegregating? And how can we subvert the narrative of scarcity and competition? Can we operate from values of a shared future?
“We are living in a volatile, terrifying, and I actually think one of the most exciting times – because it’s one of those times when we matter. When my family was sent to internment camps, my mother said, “Not that many people said anything about it…. So, this is a chance for us to connect in ways we have never imagined.”
It’s an urgent time for analysis, reflection, planning, and action with purpose. For voices of activism to be heard.
Bassem Youssef, the Egyptian political satirist, commentator, and physician, and in exile in America, closed the conference. His story of survival from government harassment and censorship was a moving defense of satire, humor, sarcasm and art as effective means to challenge and check oppressors and dictators. Here are excerpts from his talk.
History teaches us that painters, actors, singers comedians, poets, writers have all been the targets of oppressors. It is not just satire, it is the mere act of liberating your mind through art, performance and creativity that really pisses them off. A creative mind is a liberated mind, and a liberated mind is the oppressor’s biggest enemy. It is imaginative, it is unpredictable, and it is a problem…. Art in its free, liberated form is uncomfortable, destructive and unpredictable. These are all qualities that authorities don’t like. These are traits that oppressors will fight.These are dangers that dictators will always seek to destroy.
I come from a region in the world that is going through a very tough time right now. Many would look at this region and think of giving up. Many think the Arab Spring was a disaster. But if you look beyond the destruction and disappointment, you can see a silver lining. You can see millions of young people practicing something that their parents were deprived of. Questioning. They question everything now, the military, religion, and even society’s norms and traditions, and they do that through celebrating their creativity, their innovation, and through their own discovery of art, humor, and love for performance. Questioning is the prequel of a revolution.
So maybe we haven’t seen the end of it yet, maybe we’re just warming up. So I invite you all to live in discomfort, to make art that is annoying, destructive and unconventional. Celebrate art, humor and love of performance, and know that if you are making certain people angry, furious and uncomfortable, then probably you are doing something right.
The Wavelengths annual pre-conference sessions, January 10 and 11, is a must-attend for all interested in the world music industry. Its importance cannot be underestimated. Rock Paper Scissors, leading world music publicity firm, under the deft leadership of Dmitri Vietze, CEO, co-presents with globalFEST the largest North American “mini-conference” for world music professionals. The variety of topics is a mix of inspiration and practicality along with brief cameo pitches by artists eager for recognition.
Keynotes speakers this year were Emel Mathlouthi, the artist, and Michael Orlove, the NEA’s director of Artist Communities and Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works for the National Endowment for the Arts. Michael Orlove gave his speech time to Dessa Darling who spoke about the brain and music.
Timely topics included:
- Maximizing Your Social Impact (with Ani Cordero, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, Natalia Linares, Kim Chan, Xiomara Henry; moderated by Tanya Selvaratnam)
- Part I – Money Talks: Understanding Contracts, Rights, and Business Taxes for Artists Working Globally (with Jon Bahr / VP, Publishing at CD Baby, Bob Donnelly music lawyer, and tax adviser Dunia Best Sinnreich; moderated by Tristra Newyear Yeager)
- Part II – Money Talks: Touring and Live Events (with artist Ravish Momin, tour manager Theresa Teague, artist manager Cynthia Karaha; moderated by Juan Souki); Culturally Appropriate
- Navigating Allyship vs. Appropriation, an Open Round Table (with Clay Ross, Falu Shah, José Corbelo, Melody Capote)
- Around the world: Global News, Markets and Ideas (Olivier Conan, Ishmael Sayyad, Elodie Da Silva, Mickey Davis, and Hyo Han; moderated by Sam Lee)
You can find video tapes of the entire sessions here. Well-worth reviewing, there is a wealth of invaluable information for newcomers as well as seasoned pros: www.facebook.com/globalFEST/videos/
globalFEST enlarges the cosmopolitan nature and scope of the presenting arts by its flagship one-night showcase festival. The conference was a banner moment for the co-founding producers, Bill Bragin, Isabel Soffer, and Shanta Thake. APAP awarded the global music platform trio with the prestigious William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement. This is fine validation for 15 years of dedicated work.
In addition, the organization has created its self-titled first annual globalFEST Awards “for artists and members of the field who have been instrumental in making significant, longstanding contributions to the performing arts landscape in the USA through risk taking, addressing cultural diversity and diplomacy, cultural activism, helping to keep, transmit and extend the world’s ancient traditions, commitment to working with local communities and making a difference to the greater American performing arts landscape as well as other areas.”
The 2018 award recipients are:
- Impact Award Honoree: Michael Orlove A beloved figure in the world music community, Mike has had a huge impact on the field. A native of Chicago, Orlove spent 19 years as senior program director for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. His tenure with the department led to nearly two decades of innovation, creativity, and passion for public service with the City of Chicago transforming the Chicago Cultural Center into a prime downtown performing arts venue, launching the city’s SummerDance and World Music Festival, and programming Millennium Park. Since 2012, Mike has headed the National Endowment for the Arts’ Artist Communities and Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works program and has responsibility over the NEA’s International programs.
- Artist Award Honoree: Thomas Mapfumo The Lion of Zimbabwe is one of Africa’s greatest and most important composers and bandleaders and an immensely popular musician who is currently living in exile in the US. Known for merging ancient African traditions with modern styles, Mapfumo’s courageous, politically charged music called chimurenga has changed the landscape of African music forever. By 1978, he and his band The Blacks Unlimited had morphed into a symbol for the struggle against injustice. His music alongside a fierce and proud independence continues to inspire around the world.
- Trouble Worldwide Honoree: Posthumously awarded to Alexandra Nova (nee Casazza), for whom the award was named. The radical Brazil-born Casazza started her career as an intern at Warner Music Brazil and worked her way up to managing PR and marketing for Sony and BMG. After working over 10 years in the music industry in Rio de Janeiro, she moved to San Francisco in 1998. There, she lent her talents to Six Degrees Records as a booking agent and began planting the seeds for her own independent agency. Trouble Worldwide was launched in 2006 with a commitment to representing fearless creativity and global citizenship by bringing remarkable artists to worldwide audiences. Most recently, following the birth of her daughter, she began her latest endeavor Future Present – an agency focused on female artists. Her passion and spirit are missed terribly by many.
Preceding the globalFEST performances, the award ceremony was moving and emotional, especially in remembrance of Alex Nova.
The new globalFEST awards hold significance for the world music community in the U.S. There is shared symbolic value for everyone involved with world music – the achievements, the struggles, the sacrifices, the dedication and hard work.
This is Chicago-based music journalist and radio host/producer Catalina Maria Johnson’s introduction for Michael Orlove. Her words reflect the gratitude and admiration so many in America feel towards him.
Thank you! It is an honor to present the inaugural Globalfest Impact Award which celebrates outstanding commitment to our field to Michael Orlove, director of Artist Communities and Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works for the National Endowment for the Arts.
As a fellow Chicagoan, I’d like to share some of the happy consequences of the impact of his commitment to the field.
During his tenure at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Michael founded our World Music Festival which is 20 years old this year. That festival has made Chicago a transnational cultural hub, and if many of us Chicagoans are participating here and at other international gatherings, it is in no small part thanks to the fact that he blazed trails for us to follow.
And I found out just last night that Winter Jazzfest’s creator, Brice Rosenbloom, who went to Northwestern University in Chicago, considers Michael his primary mentor. So you can thank Chicago and Michael for Winter Jazzfest too.
This is all part of one of Michael’s great talents – We know him as the great connector, he has connected and thereby impacted countless individuals, movers and shakers, communities, organizations in too many ways to detail here … although I could speak for hours about this, but I only have two minutes.
But apart from being the great connector and a true master at cultural diplomacy, he is known to all of us as someone you can approach no matter who you are. No matter whether or not you’re high on the totem pole or hierarchy or not, Michael will always be generous with his time and knowledge. And for that alone, the kindness and respect that he affords everyone, he should be celebrated.
There is truly no one I think more deserving of being honored by this inaugural Globalfest impact award than from a Chicagoans point of view, our man in Washington, Michael Orlove.
15th Anniversary globalFEST Notes
The big news is that globalFEST has moved to larger venues on Broadway: B.B. King, Lucille’s, and just across 42nd Street, the Liberty Theater. Apart from the excellent technical values headed up by Danny Kapilian, production director, there is greater spaciousness for moving around. But the event is still as packed as ever with capacity crowds.
There were enough diverse acts from all over the globe bound to please, whether your taste runs to the traditional, avant-garde, or pepped-up dance floor fun.
There were musical references to American idioms, rock, blues, jazz, and hip-hop. A festival programming attribute, the western influence on world music genres, can yield stylistic familiarity and surprising innovation at once. Musical languages and mixes are infinite. Then there were the semi-traditional and traditional acts.
The showcase evening of 12 acts opened with the Persian star and revolutionary, Mohsen Namjoo. Living in exile from his country, he was sentenced in absentia to prison in 2009 for setting passages of the Qur’an to music. Above all, he is a musical icon of freedom of expression for all Iranians in exile. His set blended traditional Persian rhythms with rock and blues. The repertoire was drawn from his new album, “Axis of Solitude.” His searing vocals, howled, mourned, and declaimed with dramatic conviction.
The evening’s huge surprise for me was the Delgres Band. Nothing could have prepared me for this fabulous concoction of Guadalupe’s biguine folk swing, New Orleans brass band, and Mississippi Delta blues. The concept was born from Pascal Danae’s ancestral family history, originally from Guadeloupe.
During Napoleon’s reinstatement of slavery in 1802, many from the island fled to New Orleans. Louis Delgres, a mulatto freedom fighter led the resistance movement and died heroically and so valiantly. As Danae summoned Delgres’ spirit in patois in the arresting tribute song, “Mo Jodi” (Die Today), the roar of incantatory rhythms filled Lucille’s. Danae’s rock slide guitar rang with funk blues twang, the sousaphone player growled with ominous bass lines, and the drummer made sure the room was stomping. The spell was cast.
Brazilian singer and songwriter Ava Rocha’s showcase moved from avant garde flirtatiousness to political radicalism. One of the evening’s highpoints was watching her sing and perform “Transeunte Coração.” She’s fascinating to watch. With idiosyncratic performance art movements she danced and writhed in slow motion, as her seductive, deep voice spoke the same language of dark romance in French chanson – with a samba beat. Later, urgency gripped her voice. She rapped classic Tropicalia protest in “Auto das Bacantes.” “Disrupt the state, the police, the NSA, Wonder Woman, and cause a geopolitical stir,” run the jarring lyrics in translation. Trippy jazz electronica, funk samba, and distorted rock guitar lines intensified her presence. She’s one of Brazil’s most interesting artists and increasingly part of the Latin American women’s narrative against oppression and injustice.
American blues had a shining moment through Detroit’s Queen of Blues, Thornetta Davis. There was piano honky-tonk punctuating and embellishing her R&B songs. The light-hearted cheerfulness of her band and chorus ensured that the crowds were captivated in a positive way by the “Honest Woman.” The show was in the B.B. King main room. The ambiance was perfect for Ms. Davis’ gospel power embedded in that big blues voice.
I wondered if the audience knew that behind the exhilarating Jupiter Okwess performance the song held trenchant lyrics, featuring Congolese proverbial wisdom, condemnation of corruption, or advocacy of women? The band is dominated by heavy percussions, electric bass and guitars. The group’s Congolese various rock rumba stylings, mostly at soukous tempo speed, were relentlessly driven with carnival raucousness, pumping rhythms, and frenzied dancing. Circular rhythmic phrasings, call and response chorals, that phalanx of musicians moving forward and back in line formation, Jupiter Okwess is a hard charging male vibe.
Two hip-hop spliced acts had foundations in Cuba and India. Cuba’s La Dame Blanche proclaimed at her start, “Hip Hop Urbano Cubano!” Her appearance was a wild combination of trilling chants in Spanish and piping on classical silver flute. While bolstered by two other musicians, one on keys, dealing out reggae dubs and reverb effects, and another on clarinet and drums. She was a sassy presence in a white mini-skirt outfit and white and silver platform boots, flowers pasted to her calves, singing Ave Maria, strutting and undulating as she played and sang. Her style has a lot to do with Jamaican toasting and she clearly loves being a free spirit.
Grand Tapestry was another genre crossing collaboration bridging hip-hop and Indian classical music. L.A. based MC Eligh has teamed up with Alam Khan, the son of the late master Ali Akbar Khan, on the 25-stringed fretless sarod and Salar Nader, disciple of Zakir Hussain, on tabla to produce a contemporary ancient sound. The unusual combination of Indian high instrumental contemplativeness and Eligh’s introspective rapping poetry yields a mesmerizing and transcendent flow. celebrating love and life’s trials and triumphs.
There was a whole array of the traditional from Europe and Latin America, reviving and preserving some of the world’s unforgettable music.
Jarlath Henderson is one of the heroes of the new Celtic folk scene, from County Tyrone, Ireland. He was the youngest winner of the BBC Young Folk Award in 2003 During globalFEST, he sang traditional songs – even one 450 years old – with gusto and nuanced tenderness. From song to song, he accompanied himself on the uilleann pipes and guitar, while his band brought in hints of modern jazz with rock-tinges. His Irish lilt and cadence were charming, while his band took the folk beautiful to the abstract.
Singer Eva Salina and accordionist Peter Stan recreate some of the best Balkan Romani music in America. Together they opened up the heart’s intimacies of old world charm and reminiscence. California-raised, Eva’s soul was immersed in Balkan music from childhood. Her musical partner’s heritage is Serbian Romanian.
Eva’s beautiful melismatic vocals, effortlessly gliding over songs of Romani despair, sorrow, and love’s yearning, immortalized songs by two of Serbia’s greats, Šaban Bajramović (1936-2008) and Vida Pavlović (1945-2005). They are revered by the Balkan diaspora as king and queen of the Balkan Romani. Peter Stan played melody and rhythm at once on his accordion, swooping and racing across chordal harmonies, in complex counterpoint to Eva Salina’s vocals.
Two American Latin groups brought refreshing dimensions to bolero and mariachi traditions. While Puerto Rico is forever known as the land of salsa, Miramar ensured newer knowledge of her bolero history. Chilean American Marlyse Simmons on keyboards and organ, Puerto Rican singer Rei Alvarez, and Tennessee-born singer Laura Ann Singh with a love of bossa nova, delivered a lovely tribute to the late Sylvia Rexach’s bolero repertoire. Bolero’s languorous candle-lit passion swirled with string quartet romance and guitar serenades.
Flor de Toloache, the all women’s mariachi group, demolished the idea that mariachi is strictly male domain. Dressed in identical black charro uniforms embellished with silver accents on their leggings, short jackets, and a blooming red rose on the ear, the musicians played their guitars, violins, horns and flute with rousing flair. They’re a crowd-pleaser with jaunty cumbia and polka rhythms, grito yelps, and sweet vocal harmonies.
Out of all the groups, the Georgian men’s spectacular polyphonic choir from Tbilisi, Iberi, stayed closest to centuries’ old tradition without any contemporary reference. The six singers wore the black chokha coat dating back to the ninth century and symbolic of national pride. With bandoliers over the chest and silver daggers at the hip, the chokha carries the country’s history and recalls armed resistance against the country’s occupation.
With modulated, ringing two and three part harmonies, Iberi’s repertoire was a concert of ancient folk songs for different occasions from Georgia’s diverse regions. They sang sprightly dancing and harvest tunes, a shepherd’s ballad, and even a joking song – representative of the western and eastern regions of the country. Instruments included the fretted long neck lutes, panduri and chongui, and duduk reed woodwinds played as a pair.
The evening following globalFEST, Juliana Voloz, Iberi’s European manager, held a special Iberi “supra” showcase event at the delightful Oda House restaurant in lower Manhattan, odahouse.com. If you’ve never tasted Georgian cuisine, this is the place to go. Maia Acquaviva, the owner, prepared a masterful and memorable supra menu with elegant herb and ground walnut appetizers, scrumptious cheese and bean pastries, salads, a phenomenal lamb tarragon stew, chicken napped with a rich blackberry sauce, and irresistible cake desserts.
The supra is the backbone of Georgian social culture: an extravagant feast filled with delicious foods and especially – lots of wine toasting with gladdening songs. Iberi did the musical honors. Never turn down an invitation for a Georgian supra at Oda House.
Winter Jazzfest Notes
Coming up right alongside globalFEST’s longevity, Winter Jazzfest celebrated its14th year. Every year during APAP I marvel over its invaluable, entrepreneurial role in expanding knowledge about and pushing the growth of jazz for larger and more diverse audiences. Producer and founder Brice Rosenbloom with his team of publicists and tech producers pull off one of the best annual events in New York City.
The festival showcase has taken over just about every major venue in lower Manhattan from Tribeca to Greenwich Village and the East Village. All told, the 8 day long festival featured over 130 groups and 600+ domestic and international musicians. Apart from typically packed showcase concerts, there were special events, and talks.
The festival programming addressed this country’s current social and political ills directly and head-on. It exemplified APAP’s activist theme with impressive force. The mission was clear in their social justice engagement manifesto:
The 2018 Winter Jazzfest explicitly supports social and racial justice, gender equality, and immigrant rights by presenting courageous socially engaged artists who have urgent and beautiful musical messages to share. Directly addressing the sense of crisis confronting our nation, we stand firmly with #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, and #wehaveavoice, and seek to address discrimination, sexism, immigration injustice and other issues deeply threatening our inclusive music community and beyond.
Artists have always been at the heart of movement-building and social solidarity. Protest and resistance are central to jazz’s existence from its beginnings as the music of marginalized black Americans. Jazz’s vitality and effectiveness in voicing truths about life in America has not changed. As wide-ranging as music can be in style, format and message, so is the manner in which it reflects the politics and social issues of today. We hope the message and music further inspires audiences, musicians, and fellow presenters to uphold the dignity of our culture.
Take a look at the Winter Jazzfest panel discussions content and the line-up of notable speakers. It’s another snapshot of the critical challenges facing America with inputs by key activist voices:
Jazz on the Border: International Musicians and U.S. Visas
with Antonio Sanchez, Alexis Cuadrado, Lucia Cadotsch and moderated by Matthew Covey
This panel, featuring musicians, agents, and legal professionals, will discuss ways that U.S. immigration law impacts the U.S. jazz scene. We will discuss strategies for avoiding problems, and we’ll be doing a deep dive into some of the unique challenges jazz artists frequently encounter. Special attention will be paid to the changes under the new administration.
Jazz and Gender: Challenging Inequality and Forging a New Legacy
with Angela Davis, Lara Pellegrinelli, Arnetta Johnson, and Vijay Iyer, moderated by Terri Lyne Carrington
Jazz has been a transformational, spiritual, and social movement on the global stage – creating an enduring legacy. Also embedded in its legacy are sexism and other forms of alienation. We are experiencing a watershed moment and the jazz community cannot deny our obligation to imagine and give shape to the future. We must critically challenge the prevailing code that has historically repressed and continues to render invisible many of the art form’s creative contributors.
The Long March: A Conversation on Jazz and Protest Through the Generations with featured guest Archie Shepp, Steve Colson, Nicole Mitchell, and Samora Pinderhughes, moderated by Ras Moshe Burnett
Jazz is inherently a music of social commentary and protest. Today we’re experiencing a true movement of contemporary jazz musicians expressing messages of justice, equality, and freedom. We’re pleased to engage three talented artists from three generations who each naturally embody the socially conceptual aspect of jazz performance. The focus will be on the chronological history of jazz as a functional component in political consciousness and engagement.
There were several special concert events including a British showcase hosted by DJ Gilles Peterson, a Jose James debut project inspired by Bill Withers, a Buika concert, Ravi Coltrane’s tribute to his mother, Alice Coltrane, a benefit tribute for the late Geri Allen, a performance by Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, and a collaboration between Deerhoof and Wadada Leo Smith. This year, there were four separate performances by the artist-in-residence, Nicole Mitchell, flutist, composer, and bandleader from Chicago.
The centerpiece of Winter Jazzfest continued to be the weekend marathon nights, January 12 and 13. It’s by now a smash hit. There were about 9000 attendees trekking through 11 venues to take in 100 sets.
One of the best listening spaces in the city is the Tishman auditorium at the New School. On Friday night, I stayed for the continuum of just about 3 complete sets. Stepping into Stefon Harris & Blackout’s set halfway through was instant pleasure. A relatively young musician known for his mastery of the vibraphone, he also plays the marimba.
The “vibes” are not often heard as a lead instrument. Harris’ playing embraced its luminosity with his group on guitar, piano, bass, and drums, featuring Casey Benjamin on alto sax and vocoder. His arrangements for the band and his playing were filled with constant mercurial inventiveness. From dreamy R&B melodiousness to straight-ahead jazz with bracing funk phrasings, the group was on their toes. Before he launched into the group’s version of Horace Silver’s “The Cape Verdean Blues,” their finale, he spoke about the immigrant crisis and the vital necessity of defending them.
I want to say something about immigrants who come from this country, who made this country. We are all immigrants here, whether voluntarily and involuntarily. And it’s not just about the concept of diversity. Many times people talk about diversity to pull people together of different races in the room, but they don’t really understand the concept of inclusion. Just because you have people of color sprinkled among you doesn’t mean those people feel included….
You see, when we think about the immigrant populations who come to this country they come here with a hunger and a drive to better their lives, to better the lives of their children and their grandchildren. They believe in the ideals that have established this country…. It’s to our benefit on a spiritual level to be gracious with one another…. When we’re going through changes as a nation, apathy does have an effect, it goes to the people who are winning the battle. So if we’re going through a phase of hatred, of bigotry, and we sit around and do nothing we’re actually contributing to it. So let’s come together as a community of artists, as a community of people who understand the power of art and compassion, to stand up and do something. Create an act of love in whatever way you need to do, so we take control of this battle. It’s real out there.
Next up, Marc Ribot’s “Songs of Resistance” project was a tough continuation of Stefon Harris’ advocacy for immigrants. His set was a political condemnation of the current administration’s degradations and injustices. He sang and chanted fiercely brutal songs inspired by the civil rights era and others from European and Latin American resistance movements.
After he commented on a recent ICE arrest of a “major activist,” Mr. Ribot’s lyrics wove in references to Woody Guthrie (“This Land is Your Land”) and refugee advocate Emma Lazarus’ poem (“Give me your tired, your poor”) inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. James Brandon Lewis’s sax shrieked in dissonant outrage and Domenica Fossati added urgency with her back-up vocals. Ribot’s renditions and English translations of the famous 40s Italian partisan resistance song against fascism, “Ciao Bella,” and Paquita la del Barrio’s diatribe against Mexican male sexism, “Rata de Dos Patas,” minced no words.
NIcole Mitchell’s celebratory “Art and Anthem for Gwendolyn Brooks” with Jason Moran on piano topped off Friday night at the Tishman. A liberation narrative performance with poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), the composition pays homage to one of Ms. Mitchell’s main influences. Ms. Brooks was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 and the first African American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1976. Her works are historical testimonials to the social inequities and conditions of black people – with a distinct blues feel.
As Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Moran gave emotional muscle to her thoughts and ideas, Erica Hunt recited and Shana Tucker sang her poetry as if they were intimate diary entries or symbolic historical documentation. The final concert poem was “To The Diaspora,” with dancer Rashida Bumbray bobbing and shaking across the stage, adding polyrhythmic texture with her ankle rattles. Mitchell/Moran with Shirazette Tinnin on drums and Brad Jones on bass, caught the meters and riffed on the poetic cadences with such brightness. A wondrous moment of group triumph.
Saturday night was a race around festival venues. It was frigid outside but the rooms were warm. For me there were three more standout shows. This was the opportunity to hear the much-touted Mexican drummer, composer, and bandleader Antonio Sánchez with his quintet Migration. I caught about half of his electro-acoustic set. Progressive and contemporary, the ensemble was balanced, graceful – drums, bass, sax and electronic wood instrument, piano and keyboards, and vocals. Mr. Sánchez’s exhilarating power of his gear combined with his polyrhythmic style (he uses both hands and feet) was the draw. He scattered textured patterns around the other musicians or sometimes pounced suddenly with ricocheting volleys, asserting his presence and lead.
SOB’s hosted the live experience of New Orleans’ exceptional trumpet player Nicholas Payton’s “Afro-Caribbean Mixtape,” his latest recording project. It was as much a tribute to the multitude of cultural influences that have flowed through New Orleans as the African Diaspora throughout the Caribbean. Laid-back introspective grooves with social commentary about forms of black spiritualism as means of survival shifted to vibrant instrumental intensities. The group included original recording members – Mr. Payton on trumpet and keys, Vicente Archer, bass, Joe Dyson, drums, and Daniel Sadownick, percussion. They delved into jazz funk and Caribbean sacred rhythms with turntable scratching by DJ Lady Fingaz. It was a vast ocean of sounds from the Americas in one sitting.
Sun Ra Arkestra’s live performance of the score for Sun Ra’s 1972 film, “Space is the Place” tied up the final marathon night with retrospective elan. The late composer, bandleader, futurist piano and keyboard/synthesizer player, and “cosmic philosopher’s” epic film, matched the festival’s consciousness-raising ethos. The film’s allegorical counter narrative against oppression served to remind that racism is still rampant today.
The concert with the film screening also represented Sun Ra’s tantalizing belief that his music is the path to salvation for the human race. His musical collective, The Arkestra, lives on. There were 14 musicians dressed in sequined technicolor robes including early eminent Arkestra sax members, Marshall Allen, Knoel Scott, and James Spaulding. To transform and heal itself, humanity needs tunings to higher outer planetary forces. No doubt.
Winter Jazzfest served justice so well this year. Through the listenings, we were fortified by strength, hope, and inspiration for the months ahead. The festival has by now gained through its programming with a cause – a leadership reputation for presenting outstanding voices in defense of human rights.
APAP inspired much this year. #resistance