Roy Hargrove and The Jazzmoblie All-Stars Celebrate Jazz and History!

by Joseph Powell

A rainy windy day in New York City would automatically cancel out a early evening outdoor jazz concert. But what if it was the last night of the popular summer Jazzmoblie series? What if the band consisted of such jazz masters like tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath, drummer Jimmy Cobbs and bassist Ray Drummond? What if the group also included the young burning talents of trumpeter Roy Hargrove, alto-saxophonist Justin Robinson, guitarist Russell Malone, and pianist Sullivan Fortner? What if this date of August 28th marked a major anniversary in American history? What if that milestone was part of the theme of the scheduled concert? Simple, the organizers wisely moved the concert from the outdoor grounds of Grant's Tomb across the street into New York's famed Riverside Church.

The outdoor area of 120th street and Riverside Drive may have been empty due to the rain. But inside the Theater at Riverside Church was a packed auditorium-standing room only. I found a space against the back wall-perched between a exit door and a large garbage can.

To marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which falls on this very same date of August 28th, the audio recording of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream" speech was played. The late leader's famous words proved to be captivating for the audience gave a rousing applause at the end. WBGO's radio host Shelia Anderson was the MC and introduced Roy Hargrove and the Jazzmoblie Allstars.

They opened with 'I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free' by the late jazz pianist Billy Taylor. Given the historical significance of this date, the tune was the perfect choice to open with since it was written during the turbulent civil rights era. Vocalist Roberta Gambarini sang and the band played the tune in a mixture of a blues and gospel. Sullivan Fortner on the piano created a church feel like sound to it. The band kept the tune as a spiritual. The performing of this spiritual showed a indirect homage to it's composer. Billy Taylor was one of the founders of Jazzmoblie in Harlem back in the late sixties.

Afterwards, the band jumped into 'Confirmation' by Charlie Parker. It was a joyous and lively rendition as the band was swinging to their fullest. Everyone had the chance to fully solo on their instruments. It was another homage of sorts due to the very next day of August 29th marked the ninety-third anniversary of the birth of Charlie Parker. The band didn't announced his birthday or tune names for that matter. But they played with such passion that it was as if the musicians were sending birthday wishes to one of the fathers of bebop and modern jazz.

The towering saxophones of Jimmy Heath and Justin Robinson sat out as the band performed Johnny Hartman's 'They Say It's Wonderful.' Roy Hargrove led the way with his trumpet on the classic tune. He played softly as the band performed it very lush and melodic.

Roberta Gambarini came back out and acknowledge the famous Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, and Sonny Stitt recording, 'Sonny Side Up.' She and the band covered 'On the Sunny Side of the Street' from the late fifties recording. Gambarini did a wonderful job of singing and scatting. The standout was Justin Robinson. Midway into the tune, Robinson did a superb job on alto accompanying her. Robinson's playing was so strong and solid that he and Gambarini could of performed this tune as a duet.

Gambarini and the band mixed bebop and blues as they covered 'Lover Man.' Hargrove led the way with his trumpet as the band played it in a very bluesy style. It worked perfectly as Gambarini handled the vocals by stretching the lyrics out. . There was solid interplay between Jimmy Cobb's drumming, Russell Malone's guitar and Hargrove's trumpet. Jimmy Heath had a great solo to the fullest.

The band went from the bluesy 'Lover Man' into 'St Thomas' by Sonny Rollins. Once again, Hargrove via his superb trumpet skills led the way on this timeless classic as the band performed it lively and swinging. Russell Malone who seated on a large stool
performed a steel band sound via his guitar. He was in total command on this guitar. Malone's playing fully confirmed why he is regarded as one of the top jazz guitarists on the scene.

Everyone had great solos on 'St Thomas' and as a whole produced caribbean rhythms. The band's playing was so spirited that people were grooving in the seats. A few got up and starting dancing in the aisles. It was another homage of sorts with this tune. The Labor Day holiday weekend was a few days away. In New York City, the biggest event that occurs is the annual West Indian Day Parade. So it seems that the band was aware of the upcoming festival that takes place on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.

After the concert, Jimmy Heath was presented a award for his contributions to the Jazzmoblie and music in general. In the end, a lousy weather day couldn't stop the celebration of jazz.

1 Comment

  • Nov 15, 2013 at 04:38PM jazzydave416

    Wow!....Missed that one.

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Joseph Powell