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.