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Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party

The Cookers, Kahil El'Zabar and more

Sweet Georgia Brown and Danny Glover at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
Sammy Figueroa (left) and Marc Ribot pay tribute to David Bowie at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
David Bowie's sidemen pay tribute to the late legend at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
Kahil El'Zabar's Le Funk à Vanguard at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band's Ben Jaffe at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
The Cookers' Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, Jaleel Shaw and Billy Hart (from left) at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
T Bone Burnett at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
Alex Blake, performing with Randy Weston, at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
Candido Camero at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
Randy Weston celebrates his 90th birthday at the 2016 Jazz Foundation of America Loft Party in New York
Jazz Foundation of America Executive Director Wendy Oxenhorn (left) and Candido Camero at the 2016 JFA Loft Party in New York

Many organizations in and around the music industry would like to believe they’re doing God’s work, but few generate as much life-changing goodwill as the Jazz Foundation of America. The foundation covers rent, provides medical care and offers paid performance opportunities for roots and jazz musicians-mostly blue-collar artists who chose an essential but precarious line of work that has never included a benefits package. The organization throws a couple key fundraising events in New York throughout the year: a gala concert at the Apollo Theater each fall, and a “Loft Party” mini-festival the following spring. The 25th annual Loft Party, with a starting ticket price of $350, was held last Saturday, April 16, at its usual location, the Hudson Studios in Manhattan. The facility offers a sprawling layout with gorgeous views and natural light, perfect for fashion photography and socializing near open bars but less accommodating of live sound. Still, the program, directed by drummer Steve Jordan, is consistently enticing and balanced-between the accessible and the further out, and between the famous and the kind of hard-gigging musicians the foundation helps. (Vocalist Sweet Georgia Brown, kept good company onstage by Danny Glover during her spirited performance, is one such artist.) There’s so much good stuff you can miss most of what you came for without realizing it. (Say, the terrific Preservation Hall Jazz Band or a mini-set featuring guitarist, singer and super-producer T Bone Burnett, Marc Ribot [on banjo] and the guitar-istic upright bassist Alex Blake.) Here are some highlights, in no particular order.

* The sightless teenaged keyboardist Matthew Whitaker reflected a more recent development in keys prodigies; let’s call it the Joey Alexander Factor. It dictates that, unlike a decade or two ago, when precocious virtuosos tended to play everything they possibly could during every waking moment, the newer phenoms come formed with a sense of emotionality and narrative lyricism. This was especially true of Whitaker’s organ playing, including patient, swinging, soul-deep takes on Dr. Lonnie Smith’s “Play It Back” and Lou Donaldson’s “Blues Walk,” the latter aided by tenor titan Billy Harper. On electronic keyboards, his textures dipped into vintage fusion but also veered too close to smooth jazz for comfort.

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