April 26, 2015
Yesterday was the Queens Jazz OverGround’s Third Annual Spring Jazz Fest at Flushing Town Hall. It’s something that I, along with my partners-in-crime Josh Deutsch and Brian Woodruff, work on for most of the year. It’s a lot of planning that ends in one 14-hour fireworks display of master classes for the general public, working with student ensembles from Queens public schools, and performances by professional Queens-based jazz groups.
I have called Queens home since 2004, when my then-fiancé-now-husband Andrey and I moved to Long Island City to a railroad apartment with exposed brick walls and mice that our cat, Gretta, loved to hunt and kill, their tiny corpses left for us as a gift. At the time the neighborhood had one high rise and another on the way; eleven years later we have dozens of new skyscrapers and apartment buildings, all billed as “luxury” and almost more expensive than Manhattan.
But I digress. Borough President Melinda Katz has championed Queens as a destination for the arts – her mother founded the Queens Foundation of the Arts, her father the Queens Symphony – and Josh, Brian and I embrace that statement with enthusiasm and vigor. All three of us being jazz musicians and jazz educators, we are dedicated to bringing as much jazz to the people of Queens as possible.
Yesterday started pretty early. Convergence Arts board member Ana met me at my place, and Andrey helped us pack the (tiny) car full of amps, guitars, and concessions for purchase. Tucked in nicely, we began the trek to Flushing Town Hall on an empty Long Island Expressway, where our conversation became so intense I took the wrong exit (but corrected our direction pretty quickly).
We arrived at Flushing Town Hall at 10:40, which meant we were able to load in with plenty of time to spare. Everyone else pretty much showed up on time at 11, with Josh bringing delicious tarts from a local Chinese bakery, as well as his super cool parents who were visiting from Seattle and wanted to volunteer for the event. Brian’s mother and sister were also there (as they are every year) and together we were ready to go in no time. Tina Seligman (who runs these amazing jazz collage workshops) set up in the Gallery, ready to work with budding collage artists of all ages. (Did you know that Louis Armstrong was a collage artist in his spare time? He made thousands of them.)
Sadly, our first middle school jazz band had to cancel, which meant that things were a little slow for the first hour or so. But our first middle-school band was swingin’ – and clinicians Javier and Tom were there to work with them on specifics. It’s always so inspiring to hear these kids playing through the jazz repertoire and really giving it everything; it’s this sense that you’re passing the music on to the next generation and they’re owning it, making it personal…
As the day progressed, we moved on to high school bands such as the Frank Sinatra big band (unbelievably mature and together!) and gave some master classes (brass, woodwinds and rhythm section) before moving on to the professional bands. We had such a great mix this year, from George Gee’s swing quintet to Thana Alexa’s modern vocal jazz. Martin Kelly’s Affinity Trio rocked the Gallery; Josh Deutsch’s Pannonia gave us folk songs from an imaginary land. Brian Woodruff’s sextet featured a vocalist this year for a powerful, uplifting performance.
I was fortunate to be sharing the stage with trombonist Joe Fiedler and bassist Sean Conly. We call ourselves “MoFiCo” and play music from the classic 1968 record Zo Ko Ma (Attila Zoller, Lee Konitz, Albert Mangelsdorff) as well as some Jimmy Giuffre. Playing with Joe and Sean is always so easy; we have this trust that propels the music to the highest of levels.
The evening ended on a super high with our Guest of Honor, bassist/composer Rufus Reid. Rufus was my teacher/mentor at William Paterson College where I finished my undergraduate degree in 1996. He was the Director of Jazz Studies at the college and he ran a program that was focused on the music and on everyone respecting each other, something I never forgot. Rufus played a set with alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, Josh, Brian and me. It could not have been more amazing. I hadn’t played with Rufus since college, and that alone was quite profound.
The entire day left me feeling very grateful. I love sharing the music with students and audiences alike; I love playing the music with people I consider friends and mentors for whom I hold the highest regard.