For connoisseurs of live improvisation, it’s hard to beat Jazz in July. Curated for its first 20 years by Dick Hyman, a veritable one-man jazz institution, Jazz in July is now under the capable tutelage of Bill Charlap, who injects his own sensibilities and substantial experience into the mix. Consider this year’s lineup: opening night with the Phil Woods little-big band playing original arrangements of the music of Oliver Nelson and Quincy Jones; an evening of Cole Porter tunes featuring Frank Wess and vocalists Sandy Stewart and Richard Rodney Bennett; a bebop workout by members of One For All; the James Moody quartet with Renee Rosnes, guested by Jon Faddis, Antonio Hart and Paquito D’Rivera; an all-star two-piano jam session; capped by Eddie Palmieri and Brian Lynch presenting Latin jazz from their recent Grammy Award-winning Simpatico. Continuing a tradition established by Hyman, a pre-festival master class will introduce professional-level students from various conservatories. “If you went to every single one of the concerts,” Charlap asserts, “you’d get a very good idea of what’s happening in mainstream jazz today…we have a unique opportunity to present certain combinations that you just simply won’t hear anywhere.”
In addition to the impressive roster of talent, the festival is graced by the admirable acoustics of the venue; Charlap calls the Y’s performance space “a perfect listening hall”, in part, he claims, because it’s “comfortable” and in part because it sounds great to the players on stage, enhancing musical interactivity and enabling the musicians to give their best performances. “We hear so well,” he notes. “It sounds great to us, so it’s going to sound great to you.”
Hyman continues to stay involved with the Y through the Jazz Piano series, including a gala International Stride Summit slated for this coming January and two piano nights in March and April. The Makor Café, a satellite outlet for Y-sponsored performances, formerly located on W. 67th Street, recently vacated its premises and is relocating to a new facility at 200 Hudson Street, where jazz programming will resume. Meanwhile, the people at Makor are staging eclectic fare in guest venues such as The Highline Ballroom and The Knitting Factory.
For those who want to participate in jazz more actively, the Y caters to students of all ability levels. Employing a staff of over 50 music teachers and 20 teaching artists, including more-than-able-bodied artists such as trombonist Rafi Malkiel, saxophonist Peter Brainin and guitarists Ed MacEachen, Christopher Renquist and John Hart, the facility offers a high-quality, low-pressure environment - in the form of private lessons, workshops and ongoing ensembles - for developing improvisers. For some 7,000 students in the surrounding community, the Y also fosters a strong educational outreach program, bringing high-caliber musicians to some 20 public elementary and middle schools, many in East Harlem, hoping to ignite and inspire improvisational impulses in the younger generation. “The people we send to the schools,” says Misty Pereira, director of these programs, “are real musicians who are out there playing at clubs and playing with bands every night of the week, so they really do bring that when they come to teach.” When students, she suggests, are given the chance to interact, by listening to and actually jamming with accomplished professionals, it opens their ears to broader possibilities and leads to quicker mastery of their instrument. Malkiel, a staff member of three years, finds himself continually inspired by the energy of young musicians: “The kids are exploding with expression. They want to be noticed and do fun things and they love improvising. They like reading and everything, but they really like improvising, ‘cause then they have the chance to experiment, be cool and try different things and it’s different every time.”
The Y is a fitting forum for jazz people from all walks of the bass line-perspiring practitioners and armchair aficionados alike-to meet, make connections and co-create culture.