NEW YORK – It’s an undeniable reality that New York City is the Mecca for jazz musicians, the ultimate point of ascension. And, bittersweet as it is to see talented cats leave D.C. behind, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a town boasting dozens of places to play, plus a forward-marching sense of innovation and creative community. Some of that is definitely present in D.C., and it’s growing. But this past weekend’s Winter Jazzfest in New York was the quintessential example of how much remarkable talent and wildly varied music is bouncing around the Big Apple.
Of course, some of the two-night, five-venue festival’s best performers did have roots in D.C. Howard University jazz studies graduate Geri Allen, who often returns to the District, performed with legendary reedist Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet (above), one of the weekend’s most unexpected and exhilarating acts. Allen applied driving abandon to the group’s knees-on-the-ground, hands-in-the-air, rump-shaking-every-which-way repertoire of Black church music.
And the prescient Ben Williams, a bassist with D.C. origins who now lives in New York, played in a range of settings. Performing at Zinc Bar with the Marcus Strickland Quartet, Williams’s commanding bass emitted warmth as he locked in with drummer E.J. Strickland. For a downloadable audio excerpt from the quartet’s performance of the Marcus Strickland original “Dawn,” including part of Williams’s lyrical solo, see below. Further down, there are photos from around the festival (most of the pictures aren’t of D.C.-related acts). For a thorough recap of the whole festival, see Ben Ratliff‘s New York Times review.
Ben Williams with the Marcus Strickland Quartet – “Dawn” (excerpt)
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photos by Giovanni Russonello/CapitalBop