|Jack Kleinsinger’s Highlights In Jazz closes its 46thseason with a tribute to lauded jazz guitarist Russell Malone. A mainstay on the Manhattan music scene since the 1980s, as well as a regular at international festivals and concert halls, Russell has attracted critical and fan recognition for his work as an accomplished leader and in-demand sideman.
The versatile guitarist has been praised for his tender touch on ballads, as well as for revealing a smokin’ side that made him right at home in organ bands fronted by icons like Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff.
“Russell is so versatile, and we have such great people joining him, this is going to be quite a concert. We salute a living jazz artist every year. I believe in doing it while they’re alive and it means something, that’s part of our tradition,” producer Jack Kleinsinger declares.
The unique Highlights In Jazz series thrives on bringing together musicians with a mix of styles from across the generations, and welcoming the sometimes unexpected results of their collaborations. Kleinsinger loves the freshness and spontaneity guaranteed by this approach: “There are always two concerts: The one I envision and the one that actually takes place,” Jack reveals with a laugh. “Different kinds of players sound wonderful together,” he continues, pointing to the concert’s two saxophonists as examples: “Jimmy Heath is a bopper and Houston Person swings and has that big tone. They’ll find common ground and it will be great.”
The guest of honor, guitarist Russell Malone, has released more than a dozen albums as a leader, including 2017’s well-received Time for the Dancers. Critics have called him “the gifted torch-bearer” of jazz guitar, and cited him for as an exemplary player of “irrepressible charisma” and “underrated artistry.” Russell has enjoyed long associations with musicians as varied as Jimmy Smith, Harry Connick Jr., and Diana Krall, appearing on three of her Grammy nominated albums. He has frequently collaborated with pianist Benny Green, and shared stages and/or studios with Roy Hargrove, Kenny Barron, Mulgrew Miller, Jack McDuff, Ron Carter, Sonny Rollins, and more than one Marsalis brother.
Saxophonist Jimmy Heath titled his autobiography I Walked with Giants, and that says it all. In the late-1940s, the Philadelphia-born 2003 NEA Jazz Master’s first big band included John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Cal Massey, Johnny Coles, and Ray Bryant; Charlie Parker and Max Roach sat in with them. The three-time Grammy nominee also played with the likes of Dinah Washington, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Pat Metheny, and, of course, his illustrious brothers, Percy and Albert “Tootie” Heath. At 91, Jimmy Heath shows no signs of slowing down, continuing to play, teach, and influence the jazz community.
Saxophonist Houston Person is among the most in-demand tenor players on the New York jazz scene. He has a special affinity with singers, honed during his two decades-long association with vocalist Etta Jones. Houston has released dozens of albums as a leader, alongside greats such as Ron Carter, Steve Nelson, Cedar Walton, Bill Charlap, Joey DeFrancesco, Bernard Purdie, Les McCann, Benny Green, Grady Tate, Curtis Fuller, and other notables.
Drummer Lewis Nash called his first album as a leader Rhythm is My Business, and he certainly got that right! The Phoenix-born drummer started the New York phase of his career in the band of the redoubtable Betty Carter, followed by stints with Ron Carter, Branford Marsalis, and J.J. Johnson. Lewis stepped into the fabled George Adams/Don Pullen quartet (following the late Dannie Richmond), and also played with Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Clark Terry, and Milt Jackson. Besides releasing dozens of recordings as a leader, Lewis is featured on more than 300 albums as a sideman with Joe Lovano, Nancy Wilson, Bette Midler, and Kenny Rankin, among scores of others.
Drummer Willie Jones III was barely into his teens when he began gigging professionally. He received a scholarship to Cal Arts, where he studied with Albert “Tootie” Heath; in another early milestone, Willie was a semi-finalist in the respected Thelonious Monk Jazz Drum Competition. He also won the John Coltrane Young Artist Competition with his band Black Note. Willie has played with Milt Jackson, Horace Silver, Arturo Sandoval, and Roy Hargrove, as well as Kurt Elling, Michael Brecker, Hank Jones, Herbie Hancock and others. He continues to record as a leader, compose, produce, and be an invaluable member of the current jazz scene.
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt is among the most prominent players on the scene today, having appeared with the Mingus Big Band, Vincent Herring, Ravi Coltrane, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Frank Wess, John Hicks, Bobby Short, Lonnie Plaxico and more. A perennial on “best trumpeter” lists from numerous publications and associations, Jeremy has released close to 20 albums as a leader, including 2017’s critically acclaimed Make Noise!
Guitarist Gene Bertoncini is sometimes referred to as “the Segovia of jazz,” the New Yorkermagazine has sung his praises, and Gene’s concerts and recordings are regularly spotted on the top 10 lists of publications from the Washington Postto Jazzizmagazine. Versatile enough to play with the Tonight Show band and the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, Gene’s jazz credentials comprise collaborations with greats including Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Wayne Shorter, Hubert Laws, Paul Desmond, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, and Nancy Wilson.
Vibraphonist Steve Nelson has been singled out by jazz journalist John Murph as “one of today’s most revered jazz vibraphonists.” He’s built his sterling reputation on his contributions to bands fronted by Kenny Barron, David “Fathead” Newman, Dave Holland, Renee Rosnes, Grant Green, Johnny Griffin, Jackie McLean and Mulgrew Miller. Steve has been described as a “reluctant bandleader,” explaining that he learns so much as a sideman that he’s not always eager to step out in front. But when Steve does put a band together, he goes for the best: On his well-reviewed 2017 CD, Brothers Under the Sun, Steve leads an all-star quartet featuring pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Lewis Nash
Bassist Luke Sellick is still in his mid-20s, but has already become the bassist of choice for Russell Malone, Johnny O’Neal, Jimmy Greene, and others. The Juilliard alumnus was mentored by the great Ron Carter and has played with Orrin Evans, Carl Allen, and Renee Rosnes. Luke’s 2017 debut album,Alchemist, features nine original compositions, performed with some of New York’s best players.
As is the tradition, a special surprise guest will be on hand, the player’s identity a closely held secret till show time. In past years, scheduled guests have occasionally showed up with guests of their own in tow, to universal delight. “Sometimes we get lucky,” Jack Kleinsinger muses. “Buddy Rich was our scheduled guest at one of the concerts, and he asked if he could bring a friend. Lo and behold, it was Stan Getz.” The veteran producer still sounds a little bit amazed by that occurrence, all these years later.
Keep your fingers crossed for surprises–who knows what could happen to top off the smashing 46thseason of Highlights In Jazz!
All lineups are subject to change without notice.
Russell Malone Photo Credit by Chris Drucker
Thursday, June 21, 2018- 8 P.M.
Guest of Honor: guitarist Russell Malone, plus saxophonists Jimmy Heath and Houston Person, drummers Lewis Nash and Willie Jones III, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, guitarist Gene Bertoncini, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist Luke Sellick, and a surprise special guest!
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