George Wein on the New York Scene and the Upcoming Festival

The impresario blogs about a recent (and rare) trip to Brooklyn to check out one of the younger bands scheduled to perform at Carefusion Jazz Festival New York

We announced the schedule for the CareFusion New York Jazz Festival a few days ago and after 60 years of producing jazz events I can still get excited; actually, more than usual.

On a lowering February night, Jef Soubiran and his brother Joce invited me to their club in Brooklyn to hear one of the groups who will appear on the CareFusion New York Jazz Festival in June (17th, to be exact). I have been living in Manhattan since 1960 and visiting New York City since 1939. I might have crossed the bridge into Brooklyn two dozen times. It is like another world to me and I am fascinated with what I discover every time I go there. Zebulon is a club situated in a particular section of Wythe Ave. in, I believe, Williamsburg, that has the sinister feeling of an iron curtain country in the depths of the Cold War. It appears to be totally deserted and on a cold winter night you could almost feel that Harry Lime (disguised as Orson Welles “The Third Man”) was lurking in a dark doorway of an abandoned warehouse. Nevertheless, with Andrew driving and through the use of the invaluable G.P.S. system, we found where we were going.

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Natural Born Killers: (L-R) Peter Evans, Kevin Shea, Jon Iragagon and Moppa Elliott

A small sign reading “Zebulon,” over the doorway of 250 Wythe Ave., was the only indication that there was anything related to possible activity in the neighborhood. After climbing a few steps and entering a dimly lit room, I found, to my astonishment, over 100 young people 25-35 years of age (some older) talking, drinking, socializing and enjoying themselves; no cover, no minimum, anticipating the appearance of a band.

With little fanfare, the music started, the talking quieted down, but didn’t stop. A low hum of people conversing continued in the darkened but friendly atmosphere. The church-like silence of the Manhattan jazz clubs was missing here, yet the music totally enveloped the room. The ambience (not the music) reminded me of “Storyville,” my jazz club in Boston (1950-1960). When the Basie Band (with Joe Williams), or Ella, or Erroll Garner were playing to packed houses, there was always the tinkling of glasses, the tapping of feet and quiet conversation, mostly about the music. A good time was being had by all, that evening at Zebulon.

As for the band in Zebulon, the title of the group would scare older jazz fans who loved and identified with the familiarities of calling Ella!, Basie! Duke! Miles! Trane! etc. “Mostly Other People Do the Killing” was the name of the band. I haven’t the slightest idea of the meaning of this title, but as for the music itself, there was a sense of joy permeating the bandstand.

With the quack-quacking of the saxophone and the lip-smacking of the trumpet, these guys were talking to each other. Maybe it was about love or a fight, but they were having fun. However, when the jibber-jabber stopped and the playing got serious you became aware that there were fine musicians on the stage, with excellent technique and individualistic expressions that at times swung like mad. It was good music. It wasn’t Basie or Garner but it had a lot to say in its own way. I was glad I was there and happy that “Mostly Other People Do the Killing” was to be part of the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York. The musicians in the group are: Peter Evans- trumpet, Moppa Elliot- bass, Jon Irabagon- tenor sax, Kevin Shea- drums.

High points of interest in the festival are many. On Thursday, June 24th, we have scheduled a late night jam session in honor of Herbie Hancock’s 70 years. This could be a wild affair, with many of New York’s best musicians. This session, at my old friend Michael Dorf’s City Winery, will probably run until 4 am. It will be a real jam session. More info on this later.

The big announcement we are all waiting for is who will be the guests at Herbie Hancock’s celebration of 7 decades in jazz. Wayne Shorter, Bill Cosby, Joe Lovano, and Terence Blanchard are already set. Many more friends are expected.

Having Joao Gilberto again is an exercise in how to present a genius from Brazil; however when I see him turn Carnegie Hall into a cathedral for Bossa Nova worshippers, it’s worth the effort necessary to solve the myriad of problems involved.

With the partnership of my old colleague Danny Melnick, we are able to present THE trio: Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Peacock. This is always a privilege.

On June, 21st we have arranged for Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society to be presented at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, a place renowned for the appearance of a 16-year old Canadian young lady, Nikki Yanofsky, who sang “O’ Canada” at the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Having Darcy and his 18-piece ensemble at Dizzy’s will be intriguing for us to see the response of an uptown crowd to the Secret Society. I think he will be a huge success. It is with the cooperation of Todd Barkan, musical director of Dizzy’s club, that this could be done.

There will be 45 separate events in the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York. Except for usual high ticket prices at Carnegie Hall, most events will either be free or with few exceptions, a charge of $15. Because of CareFusion’s sponsorship, we are able to give over 250 musicians a night’s work, and also help some small jazz clubs to get through these difficult times. Thanks CareFusion.

More to come – GTW

1 Comment

  • Feb 27, 2010 at 07:38PM Lolis Elie

    George Wein is a rare treasure. His long involvement with jazz affords him a perspective on the music that few others can match. Hearing about his Brooklyn foray, complete with his admissions that he has seldom ventured there before, makes me want to go to this club, hear this music and see if I'm moved in the way that he was. I'm looking forward to move commentary like this.

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