Jazz & Colors at the Met

Marika Hughes and Friends played in front of Washington Crossing the Delaware during Jazz & Colors at the Met.

Marika Hughes and Friends performed in front of Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware during Jazz & Colors at the Met.

Jazz & Colors is the kind of thing that makes New York City worth it. And it’s also the kind of thing that makes absolutely no sense to someone who doesn’t love New York City.

Jazz & Colors is an event that places multiple jazz bands in various locations and has them play the same set. Sounds simple, right? Or perhaps confusing? The best way to explain it is in the execution.

Saxophonist JD Allen and his band performed among the Met's modern art collection.

Saxophonist JD Allen and his band performed among the Met’s Modern Art collection.

It originated in Central Park, to showcase the fall foliage (the “colors”). A dozen of the park’s most scenic spots were selected. An assortment of jazz bands were recruited, each being assigned a particular spot. And they were handed a set list, the same set list, and a timetable. In effect, they were all performing the same concert but in different locations. So people could experience the same songs performed by different bands in different settings, surrounded by the mix of colors of the fall foliage.

And that’s really what jazz is all about, isn’t it? Individuality and collaboration, novelty and familiarity. A jazz musician works in concert with others to offer his own interpretation. And no jazz band, let alone jazz musician, plays the same song the same way. As such, the audience becomes part of the experience – a one-off that they share with the musicians performing. And the natural beauty of autumn in Central Park makes it all the more special.

Despite the success of the first two Jazz & Colors events in Central Park, the third one never materialized. I’m not sure who is to blame – the organizers (it was never well promoted) or the Parks Department (or Central Park Conservancy), which seems to have an affinity for more mainstream (as in corporate-sponsored) events. But it was a shame. Criminal.

Jazz & Colors: The Full Spectrum Edition
Then this happened. Jazz & Colors failed to materialize this past fall, but suddenly it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring. And instead of fall foliage as the backdrop, the jazz would have world-class artworks – including a few masterpieces – as the “colors.” Brilliant.

The Jovan Alexandre Trio dazzled visitors in the Met's Arms & Armor collection.

The Jovan Alexandre Trio dazzled visitors in the Met’s Arms & Armor collection.

And it was. There was still the logistical challenge of getting from one spot to the next, from one band to the other, without missing that much of a song. The gallery locations were a lot closer than the locations in the park were. However, you could hear the music between the spots in the park, while the galleries made that more difficult. It’s also a little easier to sit down on the grass than the floor of a museum as stuffy as the Met (though many did plop themselves down without a care).

As always, some of the acts were better than others. But many of them – like JD Allen, Kimberly Thompson, and the Jovan Alexandre Trio – were quite good. In fact, my friend said she’d be interested in seeing a few of them play in a club, which I imagine is part of the attraction for the bands.

Drummer Kimberly Thompson and her band performed in front of Indonesian ancestral carvings in the Met's Melanesia gallery.

Drummer Kimberly Thompson and her band performed in front of Indonesian ancestral carvings in the Met’s Melanesia gallery.

Hopefully there was enough of an attraction for the Met as well. I have been undertaking a disturbingly well-planned tour of the museum since becoming a member at the end of last year. It’s taken me months, but I’ve seen nearly every gallery (at around 2 million square feet, it’s the largest museum in the United States). So I had no problem zipping past masterpieces to catch the next number. But I imagine others, newcomers to the museum, were a little more attentive to the artwork and hopefully opted to at least come back for another visit or even become a member.

If so, then we might see more of Jazz & Colors at the Met. Perhaps it will even become a regular occurrence. Though I’d still love to see it back in Central Park for the fall. And if that fails, what about the High Line? Prospect Park? Or even Randall’s Island?

Jazz & Colors is such a beautiful concept that I can’t imagine it going away. But that’s the nature of jazz, isn’t it? Sure, there are recordings – delightful ones, at that. But you really have to be there. It’s in the moment. And Jazz & Colors is one of those quintessential New York moments.

JD Allen and his band best captured the spirit of Jazz & Colors with their performance in the Met's Modern Art mezzanine.

JD Allen and his band best captured the spirit of Jazz & Colors with their performance in the Met’s Modern Art mezzanine.

Additional images of Jazz & Colors at the Met can be seen here.