On March 4 at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan, the nonprofit organization Arts for Art—which produces New York’s annual Vision Festival—celebrated its 25th anniversary with a special concert called “Sounds of Justice.” First on the bill was bassist William Parker, reprising a classic project of his that has only appeared a handful of times on an American stage: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield. Originally performed in 2000 with singer Leena Conquest and poet Amiri Baraka, Inside Songs celebrates the work of Chicago soul master Mayfield, author of such songs as “Keep on Pushing,” “People Get Ready,” and “Move on Up.” The Town Hall performance of this program was the first since Baraka’s passing in 2014; Thomas Sayers Ellis stepped in to perform the late poet’s words, and Moon Lasso provided visuals.
After an intermission, the celebrated Sun Ra Arkestra took over, led by 95-year-old saxophonist Marshall Allen. For this performance, the eclectic, endearingly wayward music of the Arkestra was accompanied by live video painting, courtesy of the artist William Mazza.
Looking at the following images from the concert, taken by regular JazzTimes contributor Alan Nahigian, it’s hard not to feel a pang of sadness for a time not that long ago but inarguably passed: a time when concert halls were open across the country and around the world, when musicians and listeners gathered together to partake in communal, joyful experiences. We can only hope that such a time will come again soon, and we mourn the loss of one man who will not be able to join us (at least in person) when it comes: Danny Ray Thompson, who—apart from a few years in the 1990s—was a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra from 1966 until his death on March 12. Thompson was scheduled to perform with the band at the Town Hall show, but his hospitalization for lung cancer made that impossible; this photo gallery is dedicated to his memory.
William Parker (left) with Hamid Drake, Dave Sewelson, and Steve Swell at Town Hall, New York, March 4, 2020 (photo: Alan Nahigian)