Friday, May 18, 2007

Jazz Foundation’s Latest Great Night

Taking John Hammond’s famous From Spirituals to Swing concert as their inspiration, the Jazz Foundation of America held its annual Great Night in Harlem benefit concert last night in the Apollo Theater. Thursday night’s program however, had even greater sweep, starting with pre-slavery African music, stretching up to 1970’s R & B.

The night started on a high note with a performance from the Silver Belles, the surviving members of the original Apollo chorus line, who were the subject of the excellent documentary Been Rich All My Life. They were followed by Djele Lankandia Cissoko with a corps of African drummers, Donald Harrison and the Mardi Indian Chiefs, and the Canaan Baptist Praise Team, all representing jazz’s ancestral roots.

There was plenty of jazz and blues in the house as well. Dr. Michael White led the tribute to early New Orleans jazz, which he has become a living embodiment of. Henry Butler and surprise guest Dr. John represented on behalf of the Harlem’s piano battlers, and New Orleans as well, as the influence of their home town is always present in their music.

The Ellington band swung as they always have, but it was with a Latin flavor when Arturo O’Farrill and Candido joined them. Roy Haynes had a drum solo feature all to himself, because he’s still that heavy. The bebop era boasted a line-up of Frank Wess, Jimmy Heath, Gary Bartz, Jimmy Owens, Junior Mance, Ben Riley, and Bob Cranshaw. Things concluded with a blues jam that included the Foundation’s Wendy Oxenhorn on harmonica, the one much of the audience had really come to hear.

Benefit concerts like this rarely match their printed programs exactly. Although there was a bit of consolidation in Thursday night’s program, they basically got everything in. Wendy was a great stage manager. There was some great music and the proceeds went to a very worthy cause. The Jazz Foundation has helped thousands of music displaced by Katrina. I can personally vouch for what they have meant to so many New Orleans musicians. While the concert was a fundraiser success, do not let that deter you from contributing to the Foundation, as they are always in need of greater funding. Checks can be sent to:

Jazz Foundation of America
322 W. 48th St., 6th Floor
New York, NY 10036