I got lucky and scored one of the last tickets to the concert at the Apollo Theatre that was part of the Jazz Foundation of America’s Annual Gala. What a night – jazz, gospel and rock ‘n roll – starting off with a musical tribute to civil rights leader Julian Bond. Next up were the great Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath and Randy Brecher, performing in a tribute to tenor sax legend Sonny Rollins, who was given the JFA Lifetime Achievement Award. Rollins, who at 85 is slow of gait, was full of spirit, invoking a long list of jazz lions who have passed on, including Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, who “set our world in motion with the music.” Lastly, Keith Richards and friends performed a tribute to Merry Clayton, who gave us those wonderful vocals on Gimme Shelter. Ms. Clayton was honored with the first annual Clark & Gwen Terry Award for courage in the face of adversity – she lost both her legs in a car accident in 2014. Her videotaped acceptance speech was very moving, with Ms. Clayton singing a few lines of the Joe Cocker hit, You are so Beautiful. (If you haven’t seen the movie “20 Feet from Stardom” drop what you’re doing and see it – a terrific documentary about back up singers, many of whom you’ll recognize, if not by face, then by their vocals).
Throughout the evening, there were many fine performances as one would expect from Davell Crawford, Ivan Neville, Keb’Mo, Donald Fagen, Ravi Coltrane, and the Cecil Bridgewater Big Band, to name a few. A big surprise for me was opera great Renee Fleming’s rendition of the Beatles classic In My Life.
The Jazz Foundation of America does wonderful work, providing housing assistance, healthcare and emergency financial support to musicians and their families, as well as running a jazz in the schools program.
Here in New York City, on Monday nights they host a jam, free of charge and open to the public – you can join in the jam and open mic if you want, but even if you just sit and listen, you’ll hear great music! And, its a wonderful way to unwind on a Monday night!
Congratulations to Executive Director Wendy Oxenhall, who was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts for her work as a musicians’ advocate!