Katy Perry Unconditionally Sucks

Move over Celine Dion, there is a new nightmare in town. This song has to be the worst thing I have ever heard in my entire life. It’s like listening to a freight train filled with kittens gnawing at the eyeballs of newborn babies as it flies off a cliff into a gorge filled with the feces of all the goats Donald Rumsfeld has sodomized over the years. Remember when singers would actually sing instead of scream? I’d rather hear airhorns in my ears while getting my testicles whittled away by a rusty cheese grater for all eternity than have to listen to this shit again.

Jazz and Colors 2013

The Kahlil Kwame Bell Trio play by the Pool in Central Park as part of Jazz & Colors 2013 (left-right: Chris Hemingway on alto sax, Kahlil Kwame Bell on drums, and Lonnie Plaxico on bass).

Saturday was indeed the perfect day in Central Park. I went to the 2013 Jazz & Colors Festival, which featured 30 bands in 30 locations around the park playing one incredible set list.

The Outer Bridge Ensemble took the high ground at the Mount St. Vincent Landscape in Central Park (left-right: Javier Diaz on the congas, David Freeman on drums, Mike Noordzy on bass, Mark DeJong on saxophone, and Steve Hudson on keyboards).

I started by the East Meadow with the Gregg August Quartet, who were slow to start and somewhat uninspired. And then I moved on to the Outer Bridge Ensemble, up by the Mount St. Vincent Landscape, and this quartet completely blew me away. There were a lot of people playing instruments in the park that day, but these cats were playing music. And like any true jazz artists, they took the standards and made them their own.

The following is a clip from the Outer Bridge Ensemble’s launch of Maiden Voyage, in which they got us all on board before setting sail:

As tempted as I was to park myself in front of these guys for the rest of the day, I wanted to move on and see a few other bands. After all, that’s kind of the whole point have having 30 bands in 30 locations playing the same set.

Chris Hemingway working the alto sax by the Pool for Kahlil Kwame Bell.

So I slipped over to the Pool, one of the most picturesque places in the park, to catch Kahlil Kwame Bell. It was indeed a lovely, but the music wasn’t moving me. And the crowd was more transient.

Looking for inspiration, I boogied up the hill to check out Lakecia Benjamin & Soul Squad atop the Great Hill. If it was funk night, that might have worked for me. But covering the standards, they reminded me more of Murph & the Magic Tones from The Blues Brothers movie.

So I decided to follow my heart and head back to the Outer Bridge Ensemble at the Mount St. Vincent Landscape. I hiked down through the Ravine, which is among the most densely wooded and rustic trails in the park, with the fall foliage in full swing, and arrived just in time to catch them bringing Take the A Train into the station:

I’m wondering if there’s something about that spot, the Mount St. Vincent Landscape. Last year, at Jazz & Colors 2012, the Kevin Hays Trio held that very same ground, and they were by far the best band that day as well.

Lakecia Benjamin & Soul Squad play atop the Great Hill during Jazz & Colors 2013 (left-right: Joe Blaxx on drums, Lakecia Benjamin on sax, and Jonathon Powell on trumpet).

What I don’t understand is how people can walk through the park and not stop to listen to music. Free music. Even if it’s just for a song. It’s not like anyone is rushing to an appointment in the park, on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Though I suppose I should be careful what I wish for. Like those young ladies who decided to sit down and, instead of actually listening to jazz, talk incessantly about how they don’t understand it.

As with last year’s event, the attendance seemed sparse, as if most people just stumbled upon it. If I hadn’t been on an email list for local music, even I – despite being mad with joy over last year’s event – wouldn’t have heard about this year’s Jazz & Colors. And that’s a shame.

Looking back, this is why I love New York. On a brisk but bright autumn afternoon, I can wander into the park and be entertained by a number of talented musicians with a backdrop that would make Renoir horny. I wish they did this sort of thing more often, but then maybe it wouldn’t be as special if they did.

Many thanks to the organizers of Jazz & Colors. And to the folks at the Central Park Conservancy. And, above all, to the musicians – especially the Outer Bridge Ensemble: Steve Hudson on keyboards, Mark DeJong on saxophone, Mike Noordzy on bass, David Freeman on drums, and Javier Diaz on the congas.

The Outer Bridge Ensemble at the Mount St. Vincent Landscape were the highlight of Jazz & Colors 2013 (left-right: Javier Diaz on the congas, David Freeman on drums, Mark DeJong on saxophone, Mike Noordzy on bass, and Steve Hudson on keyboards).

Jazz in Central Park

Jazz&Colors2012ALast weekend I wandered around Central Park for a bit. The fall colors were in full glory. I thought it was one of those perfect park moments. I was wrong. Well, sort of.

This Saturday, Nov. 9th, Central Park will serve as the showcase for Jazz & Colors – 30 bands in 30 locations simultaneously playing one exceptional set list. I attended this last year (see the clip below) and it was as if I took the subway to amazing but missed my stop (i.e., it was beyond amazing). It’s one of those events that reminds you why you want to live in New York City.

Jazz&Colors2012BThe concert kicks off at noon (fortunately jazz musicians tend to keep the same hours that I do), with the first set running from 12:00-1:30. There will then be a 30-minute intermission, which should allow you sufficient time to move to a different location, with the second set running from 2:00-3:00. That will be followed by another intermission and then an encore from 3:30-4:00, which should give each band a chance to do its own thing.

The First Set: 12:00-1:30
Caravan – Juan Tizol
Bemsha Swing – Thelonious Monk
Cherokee – Ray Noble
A Night in Tunisia – Dizzy Gillespie
So What – Miles Davis
Footprints – Wayne Shorter
Maiden Voyage – Herbie Hancock
Take 5 – Paul Desmond
Tenor Madness – Sonny Rollins

The Second Set: 2:00-3:00
Take The A Train – Billy Strayhorn
Harlem Nocturne – Earl Hagen
Stompin’ at the Savoy – Chick Webb
Grand Central – John Coltrane
Central Park North – Thad Jones and Mel Lewis
New York City – Gil Scott Heron/Brian Jackson
A Foggy Day in London Town – George Gershwin
Las Vegas Tango – Gil Evans
We Live in Brooklyn Baby – Harry Whitaker

Visit the Jazz & Colors Central Park site to get all the details. You can simply wander into the park on Saturday and listen for the music. But I recommend downloading this map and doing a little research – matching the prettiest settings with the most interesting bands. Like the park itself, you’ll find a tremendous variety of artists performing – and no two groups will tackle the set list in the same way.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band Hits Harlem

I have yet to make it up to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, but I did meet them halfway the other night when they hosted an outdoor concert at El Sito Feliz Garden on West 104th Street in Spanish Harlem. It was the band that drew me there: The Lucky Chops Brass Band.

LCBBI had never heard these boys play. And boys they were, in their early 20s. But I have a soft spot for brass bands and, while there is an abundance in places like New Orleans, you don’t seem to get a whole lot of them up here in New York City. And Lucky Chops did not disappoint. In fact, I was beyond surprised by how good, authentic, inventive, and entertaining these musicians were.

First of all, how many brass bands do you know with a baritone sax? They’ve got a kid who can play the shit out of that thing, and manage to dance while doing it. The trombone player seems to be that band’s leader, as well as an extremely likable fellow who offers up the occasional vocal accompaniment. Add to that equally strong sax and trumpet players, a classically understated drummer, and a tuba player that’s even shorter than I am. It’s a magical mix of talent, energy, and passion.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band at El Sito Feliz Garden in Spanish Harlem.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band at El Sito Feliz Garden in Spanish Harlem.

I don’t know if this is the regular line-up, as it’s the only time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them perform (so far!). But what I did gather is they are a collective from the tri-state area with the core emerging from a Bronx high school – all too recently for my gray-haired head.

Rather than being a bunch of wannabes, this quintet offered its own take on classics like Joe Avery and Let’s Do It Again. They reached heavenly heights with gospel favorites like I’ll Fly Away and This Little Light of Mine. And they pioneered brilliant interpretations of R&B hits like I Want You Back and My Girl. Mix in some blues, a little ska, and a touch of klezmer and you’ve got the winning repertoire of the Luck Chops Brass Band.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band at El Sito Feliz Garden in Spanish Harlem.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band at El Sito Feliz Garden in Spanish Harlem.

Second only to the sounds they make is the performance they give. Traditional New Orleans brass bands are known for adding a little theater to their stage performance, and these kids certainly don’t lose sight of that – as many northern imitators do. Not only do they deliver musically, but they also put on a lively show. Even the deaf will be entertained!

The gig I saw was the last of the National Jazz Museum’s summer garden concert series for the 2013 season (and the light was fading, so please forgive the quality of these photos and videos). But you can catch the boys at Battery Harris in Williamsburg, where they appear to be regulars, or visit the band’s Web site for upcoming shows. I know I’ll find my way over there this fall to get another fix, and thank my lucky stars for discovering the Lucky Chops Brass Band!