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JT Notes: A Great Night in Harlem

McCoy Tyner and Dr. John are honored

From left: Robert Cray, John Mayer and Pino Palladino at "A Great Night in Harlem"
McCoy Tyner accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award at "A Great Night in Harlem"
Dr. John flanked by Danny Glover and Jon Batiste in Harlem
Gary Bartz and piano prodigy Brandon Goldberg

The most poignant moments of the Jazz Foundation of America’s 2016 “A Great Night in Harlem” fundraising gala, held at the Apollo on Oct. 27, didn’t come from any of the hugely influential and/or celebrity-famous musicians who performed. Not from Dr. John, the winner of the inaugural Hank Jones Award; not from McCoy Tyner, the foundation’s Lifetime Achievement recipient; and not from John Mayer, playing spot-on jump-blues licks in his reformed trio featuring bassist’s-bassist Pino Palladino and drummer/music director Steve Jordan. The presence of Bruce Willis, whose durable blues-harp playing bested his singing by a wide margin, was certainly worthy of a Facebook post, but it didn’t come close to the brightest spots.

The true peaks tended to be spoken statements of gratitude. Drummer Phil Washington, a quintessential working musician based in Baton Rouge, La., appeared onstage with his young family to tell of how he recently lost everything in the floods that devastated Louisiana in August. (The recovery from that disaster, whose destruction cut a swath through a section of the state dense with roots players, has rightfully become a special mission for the foundation.) The JFA, Washington said, came to his aid quickly and robustly when institutions like FEMA and the Red Cross did not. Later, the pianist and singer Davell Crawford, there to lead his transcendent gospel choir, expressed a similar sentiment, and the message became even clearer to potential givers: The JFA equals rapid and personalized grassroots help, not the tangled bureaucracy that too often accompanies charity elsewhere. A spirited donation drive held between sets included an impromptu offering of $100,000, and I got a palpable sense of how directly and profoundly that cash was going to assist a blues guitarist or an R&B singer or a church music director.

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