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Jazz For All: the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival 2018 in Manhattan

Ellen Levitt

Posted on August 27, 2018 21:09

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The 26th year of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival was held the final weekend of August 2018. Two Manhattan parks played host to multi-act concerts, with seasoned veterans playing as well as newer musicians.

Is jazz music alive and well, and still a compelling genre that attracts listeners and players? Those of us who love jazz are concerned about this, and thus welcome the yearly installment of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Manhattan.

This year's fest featured three concerts spread out over the final weekend of August. Friday night and Saturday afternoon the performances were staged at Marcus Garvey Park, in Central Harlem, and on Sunday afternoon the performance was held at Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, very close to one of Parker's homes at 151 Avenue B. 

Charlie Parker, known as "Bird" was one of the creators of bebop and a preeminent jazz saxophonist. A huge star in the 1940s and early 1950s, his influence is still felt heavily among the jazz community. At this point, is he as well known as Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis? Probably not, and that is perhaps an even more intriguing reason for naming this annual jazz series in Parker's name. 

It is particularly important that these three concerts were free to the public, all-ages affairs, and held outdoors in public parks. Marcus Garvey Park (aka Mount Morris Park) is in Harlem and jazz has a indelible link to this neighborhood, while Tompkins Square Park is in the East Village, long known for its artistic and experimental atmosphere. Fortunately the weather was good, and people of all ages attended these shows.

I attended the Sunday afternoon program and enjoyed it greatly. First we saw Unheard: Adam O'Farrill, Immanuel Wilkins and Joel Ross. Their mixture of sax, trumpet and vibraphone was a wonderful, energetic mix of Latin-flavored jazz and other sub-genres. Next up was Amina Claudine Myers with side musicians.

Her set brought together jazz with blues and touches of rock 'n roll (some of it resembling the Allman Brothers Band "Idlewild South" album). Much of her set was dense and moody, almost hypnotic. Next was the trio The Bad Plus, with piano, stand-up bass and drums. Their songs were muscular and catchy. The show concluded with the Gary Bartz Quartet and his band was very good.

Friday's show featured Charles Tolliver with Bartz, Jack DeJohnette and other musicians in a tribute to Tolliver's "Paper Man" album from 1968. Saturday's lineup included Monty Alexander with the Harlem Kingston Express; vocalist Catherine Russel and her band; trumpeter Keyon Harrold; and the Matthew Whitaker Trio. In addition to these three shows there were panel discussions earlier in the week about jazz, and earlier in the summer there were Harlem Week activities featuring jazz (as well as other music). 

I was grateful to attend the Parker Festival this year; I have gone to it in the past but not each year. Each time I have been exposed to a variety of jazz performances and sounds. Some I liked more than others, yet each performance has been a thought-provoking, but comfortable opportunity to spread this music. Jazz needs to be heard, and heard live! 

 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on August 27, 2018 21:09

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