For the next two weeks, the East Coast will become the jazz center of the world, with an unprecedented array of overlapping, often simultaneous jazz concerts.
Perhaps appropriately, the action begins in New York, the jazz Big Apple, where the JVC Jazz Festival and the Texaco New York Jazz Festival are running virtually head to head--dueling jazz fests.
In venues ranging from Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to the South Street Seaport, the World Trade Center and the underground subway stations, jazz of every stripe and style will be heard in hundreds of individual concerts.
The Texaco event, which began Monday and continues through June 30, has evolved into a citywide event from its origins in the avant-garde-oriented downtown club the Knitting Factory. True to its roots, the festival will include plenty of offbeat entertainment, much of it in a series of nightly, overlapping events at the Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard St. But it also has an eclectic lineup of name jazz acts, among them, guitarists Bill Frisell and Charlie Hunter, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, saxophonists Jackie McLean, Greg Osby, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Garrett and Steve Coleman, the T.S. Monk Sextet, trumpeter Tom Harrell and a reunion of the Heath Brothers, Jimmy, Percy and “Tootie.” Information: (212) 219-3006.
JVC, the latest installment in producer George Wein’s long series of festivals, starts tonight with major concerts by Manhattan Transfer (at Carnegie Hall) and Aretha Franklin (at Lincoln Center), and runs through June 28. The emphasis in this gala tends to be on major acts, and the weeklong program includes performances by Herbie Hancock, Cassandra Wilson, Ray Charles, George Benson, McCoy Tyner, John Lewis and Wynton Marsalis. But Wein is too wily a producer to allow Texaco to steal all the offbeat action, and he also has scheduled a Barney Kessel salute with an eye-popping lineup of guitarists, a performance of newly discovered music by Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong, a ragtime celebration and Brazilian programs featuring Caetano Veloso and Marisa Monte. Information: (212) 501-1390.
Concurrent with the New York events, the 18th Montreal International Jazz Festival, which takes place from June 26 to July 6, is almost universally recognized as North America’s most innovative jazz festival. Held in Montreal’s downtown area, it includes 100 admission indoor events and 200 free outdoor concerts.
Montreal, too, includes a sterling array of major names, many of whom also appear at the other festivals. More interesting are the international performers. No other North American festival provides such a large showcase for jazz acts from Europe. Among the more interesting names: the extraordinary Dutch Radio Jazz Orchestra; the Vienna Art Orchestra (playing everything from ragtime and Eric Dolphy to Satie and Brahms); Martial Solal (a brilliant, too rarely heard French jazz pianist); Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava (performing a highly praised jazz-fusion version of “Carmen”); Aziza Mustafa Zadeh (a remarkable Azerbaijani jazz pianist); and French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty working with an African ensemble. Information: (888) 515-0515.
On Record: It would be hard to underestimate Jelly Roll Morton’s importance in the early stages of jazz, even though his claim to having “invented” the music has a lot more to do with his gift for hyperbole. This month, Nonesuch is releasing an album, “Jelly Roll Morton, the Piano Rolls,” of Morton’s piano roll performances, realized on a 9-foot Yamaha Disklavier piano with the aid of computer programs devised by Artis Wodehouse, which add gradations of tempo, rhythm, pedaling and dynamics.
The programs were created via a detailed evaluation of Morton’s 78-rpm phonograph recordings of the same works, in an effort to produce performances closely matching his basic approach to the music. Although, in effect, the piano is being played by the computer, the results are astonishingly alive--similar to Wodehouse’s recent reconstruction of Gershwin piano rolls--providing fascinating insights into such classic Morton works as “King Porter Stomp” and “Dead Man Blues” (which, interestingly, he never recorded) and the ‘20s classic, “Tin Roof Blues.”
Executive Suite: Saxophonist Branford Marsalis’ eclectic career has now led him to place one tentative foot inside the executive board room. Columbia Records has named Marsalis a creative consultant for the label. According to Kevin Gore, vice president of jazz marketing and promotion, Marsalis will “help to shape the future creative direction of the jazz department and participate in the development of the label’s current artists.” Marsalis says he was amazed when he was approached about the job by company President Don Ienner. “I was really in disbelief,” he said. “It was obvious that a big record label was making a big commitment to seriously explore the music . . . and it makes me very happy.”
Summer School: Drummer Billy Higgins, who appears to have returned to his characteristic high level of activity since his liver transplant last year, has formed the World Stage Summer Jazz Institute. The institute is an effort to provide jazz mentoring and learning opportunities on a low-cost basis for high school and middle school musicians. There is no tuition charge, and registration costs $25. Classes run from June 28 through Aug. 16, on eight consecutive Saturday afternoons, at the World Stage, 4344 Degnan Blvd. Higgins, a dedicated community activist, points out that “there are so many talented and dedicated youngsters in our community. All you have to do is give them opportunity and direction.” Information: (213) 957-5113.
Free Music: The Eric Reed Trio launches the second annual “Westwood Jazz at the Hammer,” a six-week series of free summer concerts, tonight at 6:30 in the courtyard of UCLA at Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center. On jazz evenings, admission is also free to the museum’s galleries. (310) 824-6365. . . . The Ernie Watts Quartet appears at the L.A. County Museum of Art in a free jazz concert this evening at 5:30. (213) 857-6010. . . . Saturday afternoon at 1:30, guitarist Barry Zweig is featured in Pedrini Music’s free afternoon jazz concert series in Alhambra. (818) 289-0241. . . . On Thursday at 5 p.m., the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA presents a free concert featuring vibraphonist Rickey Kelley, working with one of the Southland’s A-list rhythm teams--Patrice Rushen, piano; Tony Dumas, bass; and Ralph Penland, drums. (213) 621-1749.