How Newark became one of the greatest jazz cities in the world

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How Newark became one of the greatest jazz cities in the world


“It was legendary,” said Junius Williams, a Newark author and educator who also saw Dizzy Gillespie at Sparky J’s back in the day.

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It was also kind of prescient. In 2016, Newark is one nonstop, ongoing, jazz parade: Wynton Marsalis, the Robert Glasper Experiment, Dianne Reeves, Phil Perry, David Sanborn and Anjelique Kidjo have been in and out town for shows. Dorthaan Kirk, the widow of Rahsaan who goes by the nickname “Newark’s first lady of jazz”, has hosted longtime greats including Freddy Cole, Jon Faddis and Rufus Reid at a pair of local series she organizes (both of them running through 2017, one of them free). And by the end of the year, a new, intimate club called Clement’s Place connected to the city’s renowned Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark will have attracted the TS Monk Sextet and the soul-threaded and Eubie Blake Award-winning Houston Person Quartet.

Behind all the action is a celebration of the city’s birthday – 2016 marks Newark’s 350th year – that, together with the TD James Moody jazz festival, an annual celebration of jazz running through the end of November, has revived its reputation as a serious jazz town.

The Grammy-winning bassist and bandleader Christian McBride, who is performing at Moody Fest on 18 November alongside Sharon Jones, Bettye LaVette and the James Brown Alumni Band at the city’s most thriving jazz venue, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, saw it coming.


“Newark’s place in jazz history includes Sarah Vaughan, Wayne Shorter, James Moody, Woody Shaw and Larry Young, among others. That coupled with its modern-day vibrancy makes Newark one of the greatest jazz cities in the world,” McBride said in early November from Europe, where he was touring.

He is especially qualified to say so. McBride first played in Newark as a young performer 26 years ago and, since 2012, has been NJPAC’s jazz adviser; he also hosts the NPR show Jazz Night in America, a co-production with Lincoln Center and WBGO-FM, the only full-time jazz format station broadcast in New York and New Jersey. On 20 November he will be among the judges of what John Schreiber, founder of the Moody festival and NJPAC’s president and CEO, called one of the centerpieces of a monthlong event: the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition.

“Jazz singing is bred in the bone. And Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald were kind of No 1 and No 2 in terms of the great individual voices of jazz singing,” Schreiber said. “Sarah Vaughan was an authentic Newark girl – she went to high school here and lived a lot of her life here. And so I said, ‘OK, what can we do to honor Sarah?’”

That was five years ago, when Schreiber signed on with NJPAC after decades of producing and curating festivals including Newport Jazz and JVC Jazz.

Read the full piece from: The Guardian

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