Classy offerings for the winter/spring season of 2016 burst out of the claustrophobic confines of any top ten category.
Scores of premier jazz and blues concerts reign from the Connecticut shoreline to western Massachusetts, from clubs to campuses, from the nation's oldest continuously-operating public art museum in Hartford, to the iconic New England entertainment depot at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Nonetheless, here are top ten-worthy nominees, choices ranging from the earthy blues belter Shemekia Copeland in Hartford, and the brilliant pianist Bill Charlap in Old Lyme, to the rhythmic wit and wisdom of drummer Matt Wilson at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a once-in-a-lifetime piano trio summit meeting at Yale University in New Haven.
Passionately soulful, Copeland exhibits her blistering blend of gospel-fueled blues, roots rock, funk-filled Americana, high-voltage vocal power, and glory seasoned with charismatic authority and emotional nuance on Friday, February 5, at Hartford's venerable Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
As the daughter of the legendary Texas blues guitarist/singer Johnny “Clyde” Copeland, the now 36-year-old skyrocketing star was already up on stage and grooving by age eight, knocking out audiences in Harlem clubs with her precocious prowess -- a mighty mite blessed with diva dynamite.
By 16, Copeland was touring with her then seriously ill but still formidable father, opening for the blues maestro and master showman. Suffering from a congenital heart defect, her father died at 60 in 1997, six months after he had a heart transplant.
Just one year later, Copeland dramatically emerged out of her famous father's long shadow with her successful debut disc, Turn Up the Heat. And that is exactly what this once-shy, now assertive performer has been doing since then, with her red-hot recordings and steaming live performances.
As a commendable example of cultural comity among three of the capital city's non-profit arts organizations, the Copeland concert is presented by a partnership of the Hartford Jazz Society, Real Art Ways and the Wadsworth Atheneum. Tickets are available only online.
You can double your pleasure with Bill Charlap's art of the jazz piano trio, thanks to his back-to-back performances on Friday, January 29, and Saturday, January 30, at Old Lyme's Side Door Jazz Club. Joining the pianist at the shoreline jazz haven are his longtime collaborators, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. Information: thesidedoorjazz.com and (860) 434-0886.
You can enjoy yet another Charlap victory lap with his trio as they return to the area on Thursday, April 14, to celebrate the essence of the American Songbook at the Iron Horse. Information: iheg.com and (413) 586-8686.
If you love piano summits, Yale's Ellington Jazz Series offers a splendid trifecta that features Barry Harris, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Aaron Diehl on Friday, March 4, at Sprague Hall in New Haven. Harris and Akiyoshi have long been revered figures enshrined in the jazz piano pantheon. Diehl, a phenomenal young player, shows promise of someday being elevated to that demigod status, as he will no doubt demonstrate in this summit’s living proof that true art knows no generation gap.
Here are six more top tenners which, aptly enough, even include one top tenor:
If you love percussive prestidigitation and invention spiked with humor, you should definitely check out drummer/composer/bandleader Matt Wilson as he leads his well-honed quartet on Thursday, February 25, at Bezanson Recital Hall at UMass, Amherst. His excellent colleagues are cornetist Kirk Knuffke, saxophonist/clarinetist Jeff Lederer and bassist Chris Lightcap. Information: (413) 545-2511.
West African wizard guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke serves his intoxicating brew of world music and jazz rocking in polyrhythms and odd meters on Friday, February 5, at The Side Door Jazz Club.
Invoking mystery and celebrations as ancient as Africa, the native of Benin simultaneously sounds as contemporary as today with his stream of sophisticated harmonies and seductive melodies. His kaleidoscopic soundscapes can probe earthy rock elements or soar into celestial, Afro-Cosmic corners crackling with surprise and delight. Information: thesidedoorjazz.com and (860) 434-0886.
Two great, innovative women jazz artists -- Maria Schneider, an orchestra leader/composer par excellence, and Jane Ira Bloom, the superb soprano saxophonist/composer -- grace the region with displays of their bold, lyrical work in April on college campuses in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Schneider presents her rich, evocative poetic visions first on Friday, April 8, in the popular cabaret series at the University of Connecticut's Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts at Storrs. In that intimate setting at UConn, you can savor Schneider’s latest recorded masterwork, The Thompson Fields, alive with beauty and multi-hued nuances resonating in the magnificent colorist’s luminous palette of sound.
On the next night, Saturday, April 9, Schneider and her exceptional orchestra present more magical mystery tours at UMass’s Fine Arts Center, Amherst. Information: (413) 545-2511.
On April 28, Bloom -- an intrepid, inventive explorer -- leads her fine quartet in creative reflections on the poetry of Emily Dickinson at UMass’s Bezanson Recital Hall. Information: (413) 545-2511.
No winter/spring top ten would be complete without including tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson and his power-packed quintet on Thursday, February 18, at UMass's Bowker Auditorium at Stockbridge Hall, Amherst.
Jackson's dream team features trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist George Cables, bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Information: (413) 545-2511.
Pianist/vocalist Warren Byrd, Dutch trumpeter Saskia Laroo, and a special guest -- noted vibraphonist Jay Hoggard -- light up the free Baby Grand Jazz series with their incandescent collaboration on Sunday, February 7, at Hartford Public Library's downtown headquarters. Information: hplct.org.
Along with the season’s invigorating heat and fire, you might want to sample some sweetness and light—sweetness that is not saccharine and light that is not lite -- served by diva Jane Monheit to help you through the wintry blahs.
A longtime favorite of regional fans who were mesmerized by her dazzling appearances in Connecticut when she was a complete unknown, Monheit brings her emotionally edged finesse to Hartford on Friday, January 15, at Infinity Hall. Information: (866) 666-6306.
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