Here's to the Ladies

Impresario George Wein blogs about how jazz women have become a big part of his festivals

On February 25th, the New York Times acknowledged that the “Old Hand Tries a New Approach to Jazz Festivals.” I know my age, but for some strange reason I don’t feel old and as far as a “new approach,” nothing is really “new.” It’s just how you package what you already know. I have been producing festivals and concerts for over 60 years and I honestly don’t think I ever had an original thought in my head. (I’m sure some writers will want to take this “out of context”.) What I did was always try to “create” something a little different. There have been all kinds of festivals since the middle ages. All-star jazz concerts are part of jazz history, e.g. Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall and JATP. I have managed not to copy others, but when you have been in the game for over 60 years, you often find it difficult not to copy yourself. That’s what I’m trying to avoid with the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York (CFJFNY). It is a challenge.

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Esperanza Spalding
By Terrance Jennings
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Anat Cohen
By Osnat Rom
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Hiromi-3_depth1
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Hiromi with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White

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A major event on the festival is a free concert at SummerStage which we have been able to produce with the sponsorship contribution of CareFusion and the cooperation of James Burke from the City Parks Foundation on June 23 at 7pm. This concert will be packed, so get there early and wait for the gates to be opened. SummerStage is in the heart of Central Park and it is a short walk to get there from the East and West 72nd Street entrances to the park.

The headliners are The McCoy Tyner Quartet and the Stanley Clarke Trio. But these famous leaders only indicate part of the story. Esperanza Spalding and Ravi Coltrane will be with McCoy and Hiromi is featured with Stanley.

I have become enamored with several young ladies who, in addition to being lovely, charming and talented, happen to be jazz musicians of exceptional quality. Happily for me, Esperanza, Hiromi and Anat Cohen have become a part of my life. (Anat is not on this concert but will be playing on the festival at both The Jazz Standard and at The Armstrong House in Queens.)

Incidentally, many of my venue partners wanted Jenny Scheinman to be a part of the festival, but the love of my life, Lorraine Gordon, has booked her to appear at the Village Vanguard the week before the festival. So Jenny is not available to us.

My interest in these ladies goes far beyond the “Women in Jazz Syndrome.” Jazz now belongs to the world more than ever. While it is, and probably always will be the cultural evolvement of the African-American experience, there are thousands of young guys and gals across the globe coming out of college and universities with degrees in jazz, who have a lot to say musically. Women in jazz are no longer unique. (There is a documentary to be on PBS in the near future entitled “The Girls in the Band” that shows historically how women have been involved with the dance bands and popular music for over 80 years. This film references The International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Roz Kron was the only white woman in this band. She went to Newton High with me. She played better saxophone at that time than any of the guys that I had in my high school band.)

A couple of years ago, I heard there was an exciting flamenco guitarist (Niño Josele), who loved the music of Bill Evans, playing at the Vanguard. I was advised to go see him. For me, going to the Vanguard is fun. (I was gratefully invited by Lorraine to a private party celebrating the 75th birthday of the Vanguard a week or so ago. Memories abounded. Professor Irwin Corey, my favorite comedian was there – 94 years old – and he was quick to remind me that he coined the phrase “You can get more with a kind word – and a gun, than you can with just a kind word.”) I gingerly descended the steps into this hallowed cave while trying to hold on to the brass banisters, which have been pinned to the wall by the hands of the many millions of customers that have attended the Vanguard over the last 75 years. Reaching the bottom safely, I entered the room and took my usual seat next to Lorraine who probably told me immediately to shut up and listen to the music. The guitarist was wonderful, but on bass was a beautiful young lady I had never seen or heard of . I wondered, who is that playing the bass? Her intonation was exact, she played all the correct root notes and her time was perfect. Then she sang a song in Portuguese, which understandably made me think she might be Brazilian. Of course it was Esperanza, at that time, a 22-year old who taught at Berklee. After being introduced by Lorraine, I asked for her number and email. That same week, I was attending a concert of the Bechet Society and I heard a young Israeli lady on clarinet play a duet with guitarist Howard Alden on Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp.” It was amazing and it was the first time I met Anat Cohen. I asked for her email.

A few weeks later, my friend Hans Zurbruegg in Bern, Switzerland, asked me to get a band together to play at his hotel, The Innere Enge, in Marian’s Jazz Room, named for his wife, another of my favorite ladies. Well, I had the two numbers in my pocket, so I called Esperanza and Anat. The same question to both: “Would you like to play a week with me in Bern, Switzerland?” The same answer from both: “Yes. It will be an honor, Mr. Wein.” The same retort from me: “Don’t say that it will be an honor. You haven’t played with me yet.”

The band I put together, two years ago, had Esperanza on bass (22 years old), Anat on sax and clarinet (32 years old), Howard Alden (49 years old), Randy Brecker on trumpet (62 years old) [someday I will show you the rider to his contract], Jimmy Cobb on drums (79 years old) and myself (82 years old). We had a ball for six nights, two shows a night. The spectrum of music that we covered was wide and with Mr. Cobb, the Jazz Master, we had a swinging time. So much for the gap in gender and age in jazz!

Now both Esperanza and Anat call me George. Everybody is now two years older. A few weeks ago, Esperanza asked if we could have a reunion of the band.

Hiromi, by chance, was in Bern playing a concert the night after we closed. I had become acquaintances with Hiromi because Ahmad Jamal had called me to tell me about her. Ahmad commands respect in all ways. I’ve known him since “Poinciana” was a hit record. He played at Storyville, my club in Boston in the 50’s and has appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival.

Hiromi is a huge talent. That concert in Bern also featured Gerald Clayton. To hear those two young brilliant pianists go at each other made for an exciting musical evening. They each played solo and with a trio. The difference in styles, Clayton rooted in the jazz tradition of his musical family, and Hiromi, whose technique and imagination go beyond jazz, added to the thrill of a great concert.

Hiromi and I have become close friends. Her husband has made me a pair of shoes and we share sushi and sashimi.
In the past two years, these three ladies have become jazz luminaries and play all over the world. To have them on the CFJFNY is a coup. Hiromi, with Stanley Clarke, Esperanza with McCoy (Free concert with Central Park SummerStage) and Anat with her own group at the Jazz Standard.

An Important note: To promote a festival, it used to be all newspaper advertising. We still need newspapers, but now, just as important if not more so, is the website. The fact that in just this last year I have learned how to use the internet for information tells me that most everybody can find what they want on his or her laptop. The website for the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York is www.nycjazzfestival.com. Any help you can give in spreading the word would be appreciated.

The CareFusion Jazz Festival New York is a complex structure presenting over 45 events in a variety of venues from Carnegie Hall to Barbés, a club in Brooklyn that seats about 35 people. The schedule we put together is fun to study, but it is nycjazzfestival.com that will be continually updated with interesting information that should answer most of your questions. (Tickets for the Carnegie Hall concerts: Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Peacock (June 17); Chris Botti (June 19); Joao Gilberto (June 22); and Herbie Hancock’s 70th Birthday (June 24), go on sale on March 22 By the time tickets go on sale, the website will be beginning to tell the story in detail of the CFNYJF.) As they used to say in Fenway Park when I went to Red Sox baseball games: “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.” Our website is our scorecard.

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