My friend Kris King, publisher of ejazztravel, calls me a “jazz head” now that I follow jazz beats around the world. Last November, I cruised from Lauderdale to the Caribbean with Dav Koz & friends; then followed smooth and cool sounds to New Orleans’s Jazz Fest; attended Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Gala Tribute to Frank Sinatra with Michael Finestein and Diahann Carroll, and now I’ve become a regular at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola . . . one of the greatest jazz clubs in the world . . . with breathtaking views of Central Park (the most famous park in the world), and conveniently located around the corner from where I live.
Last week I interviewed Todd Barkan, Dizzy’s Programming Director and a legend in his own right, who shared his challenges in keeping the architecture of audience demographics and artistic elements flowing and in balance; then stayed to hear Bucky Pizzarelli, who Todd introduced as “ one of the last great rhythm guitarists in the world “.
Todd not only takes personal pride in booking every artist who performs at the club, but he also loves introducing each musician with great honor, respect and love . . . and with deep appreciation for the moment, thanks both the audience and performers for sharing this warm and very creative music.
Tonight, I am sitting in on a set with piano maestro/composer Randy Weston’s African Rhythms Sextet. Joining him: Benny Powell on trombone, Lewis Nash (special guest) on drums, T.K. Blue on saxophone and flute, Neil Clarke on African percussion drums, and Alex Blake on bass.
The careers of the men who are playing with Randy span many decades; they have faced personal and professional highs and lows as black musicians; they have mellowed with a dignity that is humbling; they share a commitment to the audience, but there is also a strong bond between each other and their instruments.
As Randy puts it “music is a spiritual language; when we play we exchange the language of love; there is a timing between who takes the high notes and who plays the low notes; it is a collaboration; sometimes we don’t know where the music is going to go. Life is what you make it, and so is music”.
There is no sign or sound of competition, just a bunch of jazz legends doing what they love to do, and what they do best; their timing is impeccable as they jump in and out of harmony, adding their passion and love for their instrument to the mix. They are having fun, and so am I . . . along with everyone else in the club.
They bounce into a melancholy piece that sounds like a herd of elephants swinging their trunks through the African bush, camels crossing a dusty dry desert or slaves in chains coming in from a hard day in the fields. The wail of the horn and the trombone cry out for compassion; the saxophone is smooth and yet provoking; it prods me to reach deeper into my soul. I watch Randy’s fingers as they fly across the keys; sometimes they linger as he caresses a note; he speaks to the audience with poetic thoughts that question “what music was like in ancient times”. They close with Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing”. Lewis Nash on the percussion drums is inspiring; it is a melodious magical performance that transports me to a higher level of appreciation for music in all forms.
At the end of the set, Lewis Nash, no doubt one of the busiest drummers on the planet, tells me: “when I’m here, it’s easy for me to be in the moment”. To quote Randy and the rest of the guys “Its one of the nicest places to play; we love being here”.
When greats get together, you are guaranteed a great night. Come join me one evening to celebrate the music, the view and Great Performances’ comfort food. Executive chef Sherwin Holloway meets the challenge of putting the pictures he has in his head into the plate. “I put love in my cooking which is a missing ingredient for many chefs; I’m an artist and my plates are my palates. For me, cooking is like music, either you can play the note or not”. An evening at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola will never let you down”.
Jazz at Lincoln Center and Dizzy’s Coca-Cola, Broadway & 60th Street, New York City
For a schedule of performances and reservations: www.jalc.org
You can view the Babbie De Derian Blog at www.travelbeyondexpectations.com