Musicians Rally for Obama at Symphony Space
Posted 10/16/2012

“As the Upper West Side goes, so goes America,” joked The New Yorker magazine satirist Andy Borowitz, warming up the 550 people who came to New York’s Symphony Space on Oct. 9. That night, an elite cohort of jazz’s best-and-brightest players performed gratis towards a common goal of electing President Barack Obama for a second four-year term.

With VIP seats priced at $250—the peanut gallery went for $100—the Jazz for Obama gala netted $40,000 for the Obama campaign.

“It’s important that the jazz community show we have some political gumption,” noted emcee Dee Dee Bridgewater. NEA Jazz Masters Jimmy Heath, Kenny Barron and Ron Carter came onstage—they hadn’t rehearsed—with drummer Greg Hutchinson to swing “There Will Never Be Another You” at a medium groove. On “Autumn In New York,” Heath, who sounded keening and ever so soulful, offered a 7-minute master class on the art of balladry. Carter remained onstage to play a pair of duets with guitarist Jim Hall, who appeared frail but undiminished in the brainy vigor of “All The Things You Are” and “Bags Groove,” the latter addressed with a spare, funky feel. As Hall exited, Barron reentered to resume his long-standing duo relationship with Carter. Barron improvised an abstract, kinetic invention on “Like Someone In Love,” to which the bassist responded with a motivic horn-like solo.

An ad-hoc quartet of individualistic artists—saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Geri Allen, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Ralph Peterson—uncorked a ferociously lyrical-to-turbulent tour through John Coltrane’s “Wise One.” McBride launched into a definitive, Jimmy Garrison-evoking statement, Coltrane and Allen played ascendent solos, and Peterson concluded with a spirit-catching Elvin Jones refraction. Together, pianist McCoy Tyner and Joe Lovano sustained this intensity on Tyner’s “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit” and “Search For Peace.” Lovano caressed the gorgeous melodies and gave ample room for Tyner, who belied his gaunt countenance with grand, celestial sound and put forth a pair of resonant orchestral declamations.

To open the second half, Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens delivered a pair of well-harmonized vocal duos. Pianist Brad Mehldau and McBride presented an informed, discursive treatment of Thelonious Monk’s “Think Of One,” as Mehldau’s ruminative minimalist variations on the melody and beat countered McBride’s florid lightning bolts and earthy groove. As Mehldau entered the middle of a solo, Jeff “Tain” Watts strolled to the drums for a fascinating exchange of rhythmic ideas that ensued for another 10 minutes.

Pianist Arturo O’Farrill guided a sextet through “Moondance,” featuring his sons, Adam and Zack, on trumpet and drum set. Other members of the sextet included Alex Hernandez on bass, Craig Haynes on congas and the inimitable Claudia Acuña, who deployed her voice not only as a storytelling device, but as an ensemble instrument. Allen and Watts returned with bassist Henry Grimes for the meandering tune “Freedom Jazz Dance.”

But the energy rose consequentially on the finale, as Lovano, McBride, Goldberg and drummer Roy Haynes danced through Monk’s “Epistrophy.” Each member was custom-propelled by 87-year-old Haynes, who soft-shoed his way from stage right to the drum chair. He didn’t stop until he’d extracted every last drop from an epic invention that spring-boarded from McBride’s insistent vamp.

—Ted Panken


Dee Dee Bridgewater and Christian McBride (Photo: Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos)

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