It’s in Queens
#PickoftheWeek | The Jamaica Downtown Jazz Festival is ALL weekend
It’s a three-day celebration of a world-reaching American art form and the borough where many of its super stars have lived.
The Jamaica Downtown Jazz Festival — which features free and ticketed concerts, tours, an exhibition, and a special screening — will take place all weekend.
Headlining this first-ever extravaganza is Queens native Milford Graves, a former Guggenheim Fellowship winner who pioneered the evolution of the Free-Jazz/Avant-Garde genre as a drummer and percussionist. In fact, the fun kicks off with “Full Mantis,” a film on his life, at the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning, 161-04 Jamaica Ave., on Friday, July 12, at 5 pm. The 2018 documentary combines archival footage with interviews conducted at the South Jamaica residence where he still works, teaches, and gardens. ($10.)
Then at 8 pm, Jason Moran, Artistic Director for Jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Tyshawn Sorey, a recent MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, will offer a tribute performance to Graves at JCAL. ($20.)
There’s also an exhibition on four legendary drummers who frequented a jazz club at 108-20 Merrick Blvd. Dubbed “1961, Copa City, Four Drummers,” the show recalls Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Dannie Richmond, and Roy Haynes and their performances while situating them amid the simultaneous Civil Rights struggle and decolonization of Africa.
Here’s the schedule for Saturday, July 13.
- JazzWalk, 10 am. A van tour of specific neighborhoods, most notably Addisleigh Park, where Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, and other musicians lived. It begins and ends at JCAL. ($25.)
- Amazing Grace, noon. The screening of a 1972 documentary on Aretha Franklin at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, 153-10 Jamaica Ave. ($10.)
- Keith Jordan at Queens Central Library, 89-11 Merrick Blvd., 2 pm.
- Camille Thurman with the Darrell Green Trio at JCAL Gallery, 2 pm.
- Napoleon Ravels-Bey at King Manor Museum, 150-03 Jamaica Ave., 3 pm.
- Secret Mall at JPAC Front Lawn, 3 pm.
- Giveton Gelin at JCAL Theater, 3 pm.
- Simona Premazzi at JCAL Gallery, 4 pm.
- York College Alumni Combo at Queens Central Library, 4 pm.
- Kendra Shank at JPAC Front Lawn, 5 pm.
- Morgan Guerin at King Manor Museum, 5 pm.
- Jonathan Finlayson at JCAL Theater, 5 pm.
- The JPAC Main Stage Concert with Milford Graves (7 pm), Don Byron (8 pm), and the Alchemy Sound Project with Sumi Tonooka (9 pm). ($30.)
Here’s the schedule for Sunday, July 14.
- JazzWalk, noon. Same ride that begins and ends at JCAL. ($25)
- Tomoko Omura at JCAL Gallery, 2 pm.
- Chris Morrissey at JCAL Theater, 3 pm.
- Jarawa Brian Gray at JCAL Gallery, 4 pm.
- Flamenco Latino at JCAL Theater, 5 pm.
- Roopa Mahadevan at JCAL Gallery, 6 pm.
- Pheeroan akLaff at JCAL Theater, 7 pm.
Here are short biographies on the participating artists.
Alchemy Sound Project is a collective of composer-performers who combine elements of jazz, world, and modern chamber music.
American drum-set doyen and teaching artist Pheeroan akLaff reflects music centered in powerful ritual and imagination.
Don Byron was named “Jazz Artist of the Year” by DownBeat in 1992. Continually striving for what he calls “a sound above genre,” he has created a unique musical aesthetic in a wide range of contexts over the years.
Jonathan Finlayson is a disciple of saxophonist/composer/conceptualist Steve Coleman, having joined his band Five Elements in 2000 at the age of 18.
Bahamas native Giveton Gelin taught himself how to play the trumpet by emulating what he would hear on his favorite records. He now attends the Oberlin Conservatory of Music on a full scholarship.
Morgan Guerin is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, and engineer.
Jarawa Brian Gray has more than 30 years of experience as a percussionist, songwriter, and band leader. He favors Natural Centric Drumming and music of the African Diaspora.
Keith Jordan writes, produces, and performs. He also teaches music at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows.
Flamenco Latino mixes flamenco rhythms with jazz improvisation and Latin flavors.
Roopa Mahadevan is known for her powerful and emotive voice. She directs the Navatman Music Collective and is an active member of Brooklyn Raga Massive.
Secret Mall was formed in 2016 by four young musicians looking to combine their jazz upbringing with their similar senses of humor and fascination with internet culture.
Chris Morrissey is a songwriter, bassist, and singer.
Tomoko Omura is among today’s leading voices in jazz violin.
Pianist Simona Premazzi is also a composer and bandleader.
Napoleon Ravels-Bey, a percussionist, is in high demand in the Broadway, jazz, and soul worlds.
Kendra Shank is a vocalist with crystal-pure tone, powerful musicianship, and elastic phrasing. She combines jazz, standards, world music, French songs, folk, pop tunes, and open improvisation.
DownBeat described singer Camille Thurman as a “rising star” with “soulful inflection and remarkable, Fitzgerald-esque scat prowess.” She also creates a lush, rich, and warm sound on tenor saxophone.
The York College Alumni Combo performs styles ranging from jazz to Latin to pop and beyond.
Image: Milford Graves Full Mantis