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Celebrating Ornette Coleman

Event to be held September 24-26 at The Jazz Gallery in NYC to honor legacy of saxophonist and composer

Ornette Coleman
Joe Lovano
Vijay Iyer
Nasheet Waits
Mark Turner

On September 24-26, 2010, Jimmy Katz, in co-production with The Jazz Gallery, will present an intimate jazz festival celebrating the music and life of Ornette Coleman. The event, aptly named “Celebrating Ornette Coleman,” will feature noted musicians playing music inspired by the legendary saxophonist.

Katz, a longtime jazz photographer and sound engineer, told JT that he decided to do the festival after an interesting encounter with Ornette and his music. “Dena [Katz’s wife] and I had an amazing experience when we were invited to go to Ornette Coleman’s house to be part of a small group of people celebrating his 80th birthday,” explained Katz. “At this birthday party, Ornette played with his band for about 35 minutes to a very very intimate setting. There must have been about 40 or 50 people. What I realized was how wonderful it was to be listening to jazz in this intimate environment. I thought it would be great to, first, celebrate Ornette, because I don’t think there’s ever been a festival in New York that just celebrated him and, second, to do it in a setting where it feels like it’s your living room. Because jazz in a small and intimate space is just very different from a concert hall. I think the original roots of jazz are more akin to that small space.”

Katz immediately thought of the Jazz Gallery, a small but respected venue located at 290 Hudson Street in the Soho neighborhood of New York City. “It’s important for me to say that this was not entirely my idea. This was a combination of a number of people putting their heads together, including the saxophonist Logan Richardson who is playing at the festival, and also Deborah Steinglass and Rio Sakairi from the Jazz Gallery. The people are the Jazz Gallery are very familiar with all of these players performing at the festival.”

After having heard horror stories from musicians over the years about noble failures in which the performers were stiffed, Katz wanted to be sure that the artists were treated honorably. “The concept behind the whole thing is to raise money for The Jazz Gallery and to pay the musicians as much as possible. That was the stipulation I made with the emphasis on the latter. Basically what I did was raise some money to augment the ticket price at the Jazz Galley, because the Jazz Gallery is a non-profit. Then I called up musicians all of whom were friends of mine and I asked them if they wanted to play to celebrate Ornette. They were all incredibly enthusiastic about it. They were not given any other mission other than to celebrate Ornette.”

Naturally, you would expect that a festival dedicated to Ornette would entail the artists doing his material, but Katz said that he didn’t make that a prerequisite. “No, not at all,” said Katz. “When I talked to Ornette about this, what he really liked was the fact that I didn’t give the musicians any parameters, other than that they were going to be given approximately an hour to play, and that the group had to be small.”

As one of the music’s most prolific and respected photographers, Katz not only has gotten to know many of its more notable musicians, but also has earned quite a bit ofequity within that community of jazz players. How did he pick the musicians? “I tried to pick a range, but mostly saxophone players. A lot of famous people wanted to do it but some of them were unavailable. The musicians that we got are absolutely incredible.”

Indeed, among the artists performing at the festival are: Trio Lovano Super Sonix (Joe Lovano, Cameron Brown, Joey Baron); Mark Turner Quartet (Avishai Cohen, Joe Martin, Marcus Gilmore); Kevin Hays Quartet (Seamus Blake, Ben Street, Jochen Rueckert); Nasheet Waits and Equality (Stanley Cowell, Eric Revis, Logan Richardson); Jonathan Blake Trio (Wayne Escoffery, Ben Williams); Vijay Iyer, Matana Roberts & Gerald Cleaver; Joel Frahm Trio (Martin Wind and Matt Wilson). In addition, Katz and the Jazz Gallery folks are expecting some surprise guests. The Gallery will also exhibit about a dozen of Katz’s photographs of Coleman and all proceeds from the sale of the photos will go to support future events and programs at the Gallery.

Of course, the $30,000 question looms: Will Ornette be there and will he play? “We hope both but he’s not under any obligation to do either,” Katz said, succinctly. Coleman did give his blessing to the efforts by Katz and his fellow event organizers. “He loved the idea that we wanted to do it. He was really happy that we were doing this in New York.”

Is this going to be an annual thing? “It’s really going to depend on the success of the festival as to whether we do more of them. It seems like people are really excited about doing this, but what I’m really looking for is a significant backer. I’m hoping to do more than one of these a year.” And next time will it spotlight a different artist or will it always be focused on Ornette? “We may do an Ornette festival every year or we may talk about other musicians. Ornette was the obvious choice for the first one for me because I think he’s the most influential living artist in any area of the arts. He is probably the only person to receive a MacArthur who validated them by accepting it, rather than them giving it to him and validating him.”

Seating is limited and tickets are on sale now at the Jazz Gallery web site.

Here is the complete schedule for “Celebrating Ornette Coleman”:

Friday – Sunday, September 24-26, 2010

Advance general tickets: $35.00 per night

Advance member tickets: $25.00 per night

At the door (general and member): $40.00 per night

Friday, September 24

9:00 p.m.: Johnathan Blake Trio featuring Ben Williams and Wayne Escoffery

10:30 p.m. Mark Turner Quartet featuring Avishai Cohen

Saturday, September 25

7:30 p.m.: Joel Frahm Trio

9:00 p.m.: Kevin Hays Quartet

10:30 p.m.: Vijay Iyer, Matana Roberts & Gerald Cleaver

Sunday, September 26

9:00 p.m.: Nasheet Waits & Equality

10:30 p.m.: Trio Lovano Super Sonix

All performances to be held at The Jazz Gallery

290 Hudson Street

New York, NY 10013

212 242-1063

Originally Published