Celebrated Saxophonist Javon Jackson Jams at Hartford's Free, Alfresco Jazz Fest
Javon Jackson, a top-seeded modern jazz tenor saxophonist, has plenty to celebrate this weekend as he brings his A-game to The Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, a free, outdoor bash that’s expected to draw more than 50,000 fans to Bushnell Park on its 23rd annual run from Friday, July 18, to Sunday, July 20.
Not only is Jackson happily marking his first year as the chair of The Hartt School’s prestigious Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz -- a feather in his cap as a nationally noted educator -- but he’s also reveling a bit with the release of his fine album, Expression. His CD is one of four new banner releases from the groundbreaking Smoke Sessions label, featuring performances recorded live at the famous Smoke Jazz Club in New York City.
Besides enjoying success with his influential academic role and praise for the latest addition to his large, distinctive discography, Jackson is especially elated to feature his close friend and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master drummer Jimmy Cobb working in his rhythm section as his quartet performs Sunday at 6:00 pm on the downtown park’s pavilion stage.
"Things are going fabulously at Hartt," Jackson said by phone, reporting good news on both his new job as chair and on his new CD. "I think the album came out fine. I felt the energy, the passion and the expression were there." A well-crafted mix of burnished, golden-toned grooves and warm ballad reflections, the aptly titled Expression was released simultaneously with three companion CDs, individually featuring pianist Harold Mabern, alto saxophonist Vincent Herring and pianist David Hazeltine.
Jackson’s Smoke collaborators on his first live recording made as an album leader are pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer McClenty Hunter. What puts an even more upbeat tone into Jackson’s voice is that he, along with the noted bassist David Williams and the rising young pianist Jeremy Manasia, will be joined in the park performance by Cobb, the 85-year-old grand master of syncopation and nuance. A supreme, subtle soloist, Cobb is also a consummate accompanist, a rhythm master who’s always simpatico, always swinging.
“I love Jimmy Cobb,” Jackson said of his friend, sometime collaborator, and mentor. Cobb, in his quietly sagacious, unassuming guru-like way, is everybody’s mentor. An apparently forever young octogenarian, Cobb is a grand patriarchal percussionist who paints with sound and knows all about not just time and meter, but also about sonic shapes and forms, colors and shadings. “Jimmy is one of the greatest drummers who ever lived, and I have the utmost respect for him as an artist and as a human being,” Jackson said.
Forever linked with Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Cobb is the last surviving participant in the 1959 recording, Kind of Blue, the miraculous Miles Davis masterwork that is not only the best-selling album in jazz history, but is also regarded by many devotees as the greatest jazz recording ever made. An Olympian summit meeting of jazz titans, its dream team lineup was Miles, Trane, Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Cobb.
Besides appearing on many other Davis classics, such as Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess, Cobb has played with a legion of other jazz deities, including Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Wes Montgomery, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and countless others.
As a young man, Cobb accompanied Billie Holiday and backed the great R&B saxophone wizard and bandleader Earl Bostic, an early inspiration for a young John Coltrane. Decades later in his adopted role as elder statesman and cultivator of emerging young talent through his terrific band, Cobb’s Mob, he helped launch the careers of such future luminaries as guitarist Peter Bernstein and Brad Mehldau, the now internationally celebrated pianist from West Hartford.
"I don’t want to say that Jimmy is like a father," Jackson said, "but he is like an uncle, like a brother, and… yes, like a father. Talking about Jimmy is just like talking about another member of my family. We have that kind of closeness." Cobb’s special guest appearance is a bonus for the park crowd, especially for anyone with a sense of modern jazz history.
Jackson himself has enjoyed an affinity for working with great drummers like Cobb, starting right from his career-launching stint with drummer/bandleader Art Blakey, whose celebrated Jazz Messengers group was the ultimate proving ground and learning experience for an astonishing array of jazz greats.
Among the summa cum laude graduates of the hands-on Blakey Academy of Jazz was Jackie McLean (1931-2006), the legendary alto saxophonist/composer who founded the jazz program at Hartt School, which the University of Hartford renamed in his honor in 2002 as The Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz. As McLean’s anointed successor as chair of the department, Jackson sustains and nourishes, in his own way, the rich academic legacy that McLean, a pioneering jazz educator, created out of virtually nothing.
Post-Blakey, Jackson has not only worked with such renowned drummers as Elvin Jones and Louis Hayes, but has also been a prolific, much sought-after sideman working for such figures as Freddie Hubbard, Betty Carter, Charlie Haden, Donald Byrd and many others, in addition to acclaimed releases under his own name.
For the festival, Jackson said, his band will play material linked to Cobb’s association with Davis and Coltrane, plus original tunes and standards, including selections from his new CD. Among the ten pieces on Expression are Wayne Shorter’s “One by One”; a warm interpretation of “When I Fall in Love”; five Jackson originals, including an elegant elegy called “Lelia”; a tasty take on “Where Is the Love” (a hit song for Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway); and Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing,” a springboard for a modal-flavored, soulful chart.
Asked what he admires most about Stevie Wonder, Jackson said: “Everything—his compositions, his presentation, his syncopation as a performer. All his music has that syncopation in there. It’s got all kinds of layers. It’s got intellect. It’s got humor, and it’s got God in there for me. This guy has written some incredible pieces, and a lot them are adaptable for the jazz musician.”
The festival itself owes at least a good part of its robust popularity and durability to its own “buffet” approach, reaching out to and connecting with a wide audience through its diverse, choice servings of everything from smooth jazz to Latin and modern mainstream. The weekend fare includes, among other acts, Manuel Valera, David Sanborn, Marion Meadows and Sherry Winston, with powerhouse saxophonist Azar Lawrence pulling out all the stops in the grand finale Sunday night at 7:30 pm.
For the complete schedule and information visit: hartfordjazz.com. The festival is held rain or shine.
Monday Night Madness
If you feel like camping down for a fourth consecutive night of free music in Bushnell Park, you can return the next night, Monday, July 21, and catch the Hartford Jazz Society’s Monday Night Jazz in Bushnell Park series. The double-bill presents the drummer/composer Ralph Peterson leading his Fo’tet, the headliner at 7:30 pm, with the opening act at 6:00 pm a notable Nutmeg alliance, featuring saxophonist Frank Kozyra, guitarist Andrew Renfroe, bassist Matt Dwonszyk, and drummer Curtis Torian.
Featuring an augmented version of The Fo’ tet, Peterson has a new CD out called ALIVE at Firehouse 12 Vol. 2: Fo’n Mo,’ which was recorded live last December at New Haven’s Firehouse 12, marking his 18th release as a solo artist.
Not far from the park, Jazz Mondays presents guitarist Sean Clapis leading his trio at 8:00 pm on Monday, July 21, at Black-eyed Sally’s at 350 Asylum Street. A Hartford native and Hartt School graduate, the up-and-coming, New York-based musician is accompanied by bassist Tim Norton and drummer Jay Sawyer. Information: (860) 278-7427.
The UMOJA Music Series, yet another free, outdoor offering in Bushnell Park, presents quartets led by saxophonist Kris Allen and bassist Alex Tremblay at 6:00 pm on Friday, July 18, at the Pump House Gallery at 60 Elm Street. In case of rain, the series goes indoors at The Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in Hartford.
Lovano’s Latest Lustrous Trio Art
Long fascinated with discovering the new and the bold within the classic trio format of reeds, bass and drums (free of all cluttering chordal instruments) the great heavyweight champion saxophonist Joe Lovano, among numerous achievements of diverse and dazzling scope, has forged masterwork trio recordings beyond category.
His first Trio Fascination album released on Blue Note in 1998 featured bassist Dave Holland and drummer Elvin Jones as his chamber jazz collaborators. It still sounds as fresh as ever. Like all of his art of the trio works, it’s inspirited with body, lots of soul, a state of grace and a hedonistic commingling of the cerebral and the visceral.
Lovano premieres the next exploration of his acclaimed trio oeuvre as he presents the world premiere of the latest chapter of Joe Lovano Trio Fascination at 8:00 pm on Thursday, July 17, at Wesleyan University’s Crowell Concert Hall on the Middletown campus. His special guest is the noted vocalist Judi Silvano, his wife and creative collaborator who, like maestro Lovano, loves to push boundaries in new, expressive directions.
Lovano, a Grammy Award-winner and winner of the 2014 Downbeat Critics poll for tenor saxophone -- a mere ripple among the tsunami of praise and awards he’s won -- performs with bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Lamy Istrefi.
If you want a pre-concert taste of Lovano in full bloom, check out Visitation (artistShare) in which the reed master alternately plays tenor saxophone, G soprano saxophone and alto clarinet in collaboration with Dave Liebman and Ravi Coltrane.
The awesome threesome, known as Saxophone Summit, is fueled by the high-octane rhythm section featuring pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart. Lovano wrote the CD’s title tune, and each musician contributed one composition apiece to its six tracks. Brimming with saxophone madness, Visitation marks Saxophone Summit’s third recording.
Tickets for the Wesleyan world premiere of Joe Lovano Trio Fascination: $25.00, general; $22.00, senior citizens, Wesleyan staff, faculty, alumni; $10.00, students. Call: (860) 685-3355.
Breakstone’s Gemstone Duo
Guitarist Joshua Breakstone teams up with bassist Earl Sauls for a dynamic duo performance at 7:00 pm on Thursday, July 17, at the Windsor Art Center at 40 Mechanic Street. With his flawlessly cut-and-polished lines and melodically brilliant ideas, Breakstone is a gem-like chamber jazz performer, finely tuned for the split-second, intimate interaction of a duo. Admission: $10.00 at the door. Information: (860) 688-2528.
Bohemian Art Blooms in Old Lyme
Ranging freely over genres from classical and jazz to tango and rock, the iconoclastic Bohemian Trio performs at 8:00 pm on Thursday, July 17, at The Side Door Jazz Club at 85 Lyme Street in Old Lyme.
The much-in-demand New York-based chamber group defies many traditional musical conventions. Yet it discovers sublime truths in music of Latin American origin and perceives profound revelations resonating among the rhythms of the African Diaspora throughout the Americas. It loves post-modern composers, thrives on its own original compositions, and declares in a mini-manifesto that its Bohemian name “best captures the artistic spirit of its members (as) non-traditional, adventurous, romantic, idealistic and inspiring.”
The adventurous, romantic Bohemians are Yosvany Terry, saxophone and chekere (an Afro-Cuban percussion instrument); Yves Dharamraj, cello; and Orlando Alonso, piano. All are classically trained and dedicated to contemporary music. Both Alonso and Terry were born in Cuba. Terry’s father, a violinist, is Cuba’s leading player of the chekere. Admission: $25.00. Information: thesidedoorjazz.com and (860) 434-0886.
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