Jazz commands a certain amount of reverence for the God-given talents of its best practitioners, so a house of worship is where NJPAC’s TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival each year unfolds its first concert like an opening prayer.
And it might go something like this: For what we are about to receive – a fine headful of jazz – we are truly thankful.
The second annual festival kicked off on a crisp November night at Newark’s Bethany Baptist Church, where the Jimmy Heath Quartet, led by the revered statesman of the saxophone, performed a free concert for about 260 devotees. On a poignant note, Linda Moody, widow of the festival’s namesake – himself a saxophonist, born in Newark, who gained international stature – sat in a front pew to listen to the performance by their longtime friend. She was accompanied by Heath’s wife, Mona.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, Jr., built the framework for an ambitious series of first-Saturday Jazz Vespers when he arrived in 2000, drawing the likes of Hilton Ruiz, David “Fathead” Newman, Geri Allen and the late Mulgrew Miller. Prior to this concert, he thanked NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber for returning “this marvelous cultural offering to our sanctuary.” (Last year’s Moody event there featured bassist and composer Rufus Reid.)
Heath, a bouncy 87 and nattily dressed in a turtleneck, tweed jacket and gold-rimmed specs, smiled frequently and benevolently on his players: pianist Jeb Patton, bassist David Wong and drummer Winard Harper. The ensemble opened with Heath’s “Winter Sleeves,” followed shortly by another Heath composition, “Sassy Samba,” a tribute to Newark’s own Divine One, Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan.
Fingers snapping, shoulders rising and falling with the cadence, the saxman glided smoothly through the nearly 90-minute set, which concluded with the calypso-tinged “Fungii Mama” by trumpeter Richard Allen “Blue” Mitchell.
Afterward, Linda Moody, who lives in California, mentioned that she will attend performances throughout the duration of the Moody Festival, which runs through Nov. 10, to give voice to her husband’s legacy. “He loved Newark and he’d be thrilled to attend every event,” she said.
Here are a few more of the upcoming performances in the TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival. Say hallelujah.
• The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, along with Christian McBride, Barry Harris, Rhoda Scott and the Anat Cohen Quartet, pays tribute to A Good Place: Celebrating Lorraine Gordon and the Village Vanguard, Thursday, Nov. 7 in the Victoria Theater.
• Latin jazz icon and bossa nova king Sérgio Mendes appears with special guests Eliane Elias, Lee Ritenour, Marivaldo Dos Santos and Joe Lovano in Jazz Meets Samba, Friday, Nov. 8 in Prudential Hall.
• Sing, Swing, Sing! gathers all-stars Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau, Jeffrey Osborne, Gerald Albright, Cyrille Aimée and the Christian McBride Big Band featuring Melissa Walker, Saturday, Nov. 9 in Prudential Hall.
• Dorthaan Kirk, Newark’s “First Lady of Jazz” and curator of the Jazz Vespers at Bethany Baptist Church, also oversees Dorthaan’s Place, a series of Sunday jazz brunches at NICO Kitchen + Bar at NJPAC. The music strikes up on Sunday, Nov. 10 with 11am and 1pm sets by clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera.
Nov. 5, 2013