That Moody Mystique
By Zan Stewart
Newark has long been a home to great jazz. Through the years, such heralded artists as trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Jabbo Smith, saxophonists James Moody, Sonny Rollins and Hank Mobley, pianist Horace Silver, organist Larry Young and bandleader Duke Ellington made wonderful music in the city’s clubs and concert halls.
The second annual TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival, set for Nov. 4-10 at NJPAC’s stages, plus other Newark locations, exemplifies that grand tradition. Sporting a stellar lineup with such powerhouse artists as bassist Christian McBride, pianists Eliane Elias and Barry Harris, and singers Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau, the Moody Festival offers a superb variety of jazz. The fest is clearly a shining light of NJPAC’s 2013-14 season.
“Jazz is American classical music and it’s a priority for us,” says NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber, a lifelong jazz fan. “This music deserves as important a place in our season as classical, dance or any other great art form.”
The festival is named after saxophonist, flutist and singer Moody (1925-2010), a Savannah, Ga. native who grew up in Newark and became a revered jazz artist. “Moody was talented, generous and warm-hearted,” Schreiber remarks. “That’s the spirit we want to celebrate in naming the festival after him.”
Topping the festival’s lineup are two star-studded shows: Jazz Meets Samba, set for Nov. 8, and Sing, Swing, Sing! on Nov. 9, both in Prudential Hall. Jazz Meets Samba is headlined by two multi-talented Brazilian pianists and singers: the hit-making Sérgio Mendes (pictured above left), one of the original bossa nova pianists, and Elias, a scintillating performer. Also on the bill are such aces as guitarist Lee Ritenour, percussionist Marivaldo Dos Santos and special guest saxophonist Joe Lovano.
Sing, Swing, Sing! celebrates a wealth of jazz vocal stylists, including the expressive Reeves, the dynamic Al Jarreau, the up-and-comer Cyrille Aimée, and hearty swinger Melissa Walker, plus saxophonist Gerald Albright. All will be backed by McBride’s big band, a rousing ensemble.
The fest officially kicks off Nov. 4 with a free concert by revered and swinging saxophonist, composer and NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath at Newark’s Bethany Baptist Church. Schreiber – who programmed the Moody Fest along with McBride (NJPAC’s Jazz Advisor) and veteran jazz producer Darlene Chan – wanted to honor Bethany Baptist’s year-round Jazz Vespers program, curated by WBGO’s Dorthaan Kirk, another well-known Newarker.
The subsequent Nov. 5 show at the Newark Museum is a 50th anniversary of Blues People, the masterful book of jazz, blues and culture by acclaimed poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, a Newark resident. Original music, accompanied by text inspired by Blues People, will be provided by leading avant-garde jazzman Craig Harris. “My job is to translate Amiri’s language into a musical language,” says Harris.
On Nov. 6 in Prudential Hall, it’s WBGO’s annual fund-raising gala, Champions of Jazz, honoring the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and the station’s President and CEO, Cephas Bowles. Thirty-four years of jazz broadcasting will be celebrated with music by McBride, Inside Straight and Michael Wolff. Then on Nov. 7, enjoy A Good Place: Lorraine Gordon and the Village Vanguard, in NJPAC’s Victoria Theater. This bash salutes Gordon, a Newark native and owner of the Vanguard – arguably New York’s most famous jazz nightspot. You’ll hear from the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, pianist Barry Harris, and clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen.
The Nov. 9 schedule starts with NJPAC’s Day of Swing, a free, multi-faceted, jazz educational program for children age 2 and up, produced in partnership with Jazz House Kids at NJPAC’s Center for Arts Education. Jazz House Kids is a Montclair-based, not-for-profit organization headed by Melissa Walker.
Later, in the Victoria Theater, Portrait of Duke, led by journalist and playwright Terry Teachout, is on tap. Teachout also will read from his upcoming biography about Ellington, rare Ellington films will be screened, and a panel will discuss Duke’s historical legacy. The musical selections, by both Ellington and his chief collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, will span the 1920s-1950s and will be provided by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks – an 11-piece band here expanded to 17 pieces to authentically replicate Ellington’s latter-day sound.
Giordano – the Grammy-winning musical director for the HBO series Boardwalk Empire – is deeply pleased to explore Ellington’s and Strayhorn’s music, for which he holds a lifetime’s affection. “Duke’s compositions were definitely in another league, very unique,” he says. “Strayhorn was a wealth of talent; his music is also very special.”
The fest closes Nov. 10. At Dorthaan’s Place, held in NICO Kitchen + Bar at NJPAC, clarinet and alto saxophone virtuoso Paquito D’Rivera holds forth at Sunday brunch. In the Victoria Theater, it’s the finals of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, with the last five contestants singing for a panel of guest judges that includes Jarreau and singer Janis Siegel.
Other festival attractions include an ongoing showing in WBGO’s lobby of jazz photos by Tony Graves and George Wirt from last year’s Moody Festival; a variety of pre-fest performances, Nov. 1-3, at area venues; and guitarist Dave Stryker’s trio in the Gateway Center, Nov. 6. For more information, click here.
Schreiber puts it simply: “As you can see, there’s something for everyone.”
Zan Stewart is an award-winning music writer who wrote for The Los Angeles Times, The Star-Ledger and other publications. He lives in San Francisco’s East Bay and focuses on playing saxophone, composing and teaching.
Sept. 24, 2013