When songwriter Ann Ruckert’s friends decided to organize a tribute for her, they naturally wanted it to benefit the organization she helped found, the Jazz Foundation of America. While the ceremony was free and open to all, contributions to the Foundation were encouraged.
There was some excellent music, particularly from her co-founder Dr. Billy Taylor, who knocked everyone out with a magnificent rendition of “Lover Man.” He also took a short but eloquent solo when accompanying Genie “Pepper” Swinson on “God Bless the Child.” Criminally under-appreciated trumpeter Jimmy Owens has also been a longtime supporter of the foundation. He and Mike Longo performed a great mini-set of bop standards, like Dizzy’s “Tour de Force” and Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce,” dedicated to the good doctor. Eugene McDaniels boldly sang lyrics he had written to Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” a tune that would seem to defy lyrical interpretation. Nnenna Freelon was the show-stopper, showing her power fearlessly on songs like “A Balm in Gilead.”
As a tribute to Ruckert organized by her friends, it is totally fair for some of her friends to talk touch on her progressive politics. Frankly, I was surprised that when Assemblyman Richard Gottfried made a remark about Democrats taking back the Congress, it only got polite applause from, I would judge, a little over half the standing-room-only audience. He seemed to be expecting a heartier reaction (as was I). Could it be the Democrat base is losing enthusiasm?
I actually like Gottfried. He is decent man who genuinely cares about his constituents, and actually participated in a debate sponsored by the TR/Gramercy Park Republican Club. He could only be elected on the Westside of Manhatttan or in Massachusetts, though. In addition to his official Assembly letterhead congratulations letter in the program, he attached a picture from 1973 of himself, Ruckert, and Ramsey Clark. I do not know if he heard, but Clark just lost a pretty big case this weekend. Granted, Gottfried could not have known when the Saddam verdict would come down when he submitted his tribute, but one would think he would have followed the case enough to lose some keenness for Clark, but whatever.
While we might disagree about politics, Ruckert seems very nice, and she helped establish a great organization that does tremendous work. Wisely, they hired Wendy as executive director, a wonderful person, who has helped thousands of musicians in need. If you did not give at St. Peter’s last night, you can do so here.