The 48th season of the popular Highlights In Jazz continues on March 19, 2020, when producer Jack Kleinsinger presents “Ellington Everlasting.” The concert turns the spotlight on the maestro’s timeless compositions and enduring legacy, through the dynamic vision of featured performers like trombonist Art Baron & The Duke’s Men, drummer Bernard Purdie, bassist Bill Crow, saxophonists Bill Easley and Mark Hynes, pianist James Weidman and vocalist Ira Hawkins. In keeping with the beloved HIJ tradition, a surprise special guest will be on hand for the concert, to be held at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center.
Each season, a Highlights In Jazz event focuses on the music of one of the departed geniuses of the genre. It’s hard to think of anyone worthier of the honor than this year’s pick, the legendary pianist and composer Duke Ellington, one of the most influential figures in jazz. As Ellington famously said, “There are simply two kinds of music: Good music, and the other kind.” There’s no doubt which category his contributions fall into, and listeners continue to enjoy his music more than 45 years after his death.
Ellington sparked international interest in “American Music,” his preferred term for his art, playing more than 20,000 gigs outside the U.S. during his half-century-long career. He wrote or co-wrote more than 3,000 compositions including beloved standards such as “Mood Indigo,” “Caravan,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Solitude,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “C Jam Blues.” Ellington’s tunes have been used in hundreds movies, TV shows and stage presentations, with the elegant bandleader sometimes making onscreen appearances himself. He garnered countless awards and honors, including a Pulitzer Prize, 13 Grammys, the President’s Gold Medal, the Medal of Freedom, and the French Legion of Honor. Duke even appeared on a postage stamp.
Trombonist Art Baron joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1973, and was the last trombonist Ellington ever hired. Since then Art has performed and appeared on hundreds of recordings with Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Bruce Springsteen, George Gruntz, Mel Tormé, Frank Wess, David Sanborn, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band, Sam Rivers, Lou Reed, James Taylor, John Legend, and others. The trombonist regularly fronts his own ensembles, including The Duke’s Men, which often comprises alumni from Ellington’s orchestra.
When producer Jack Kleinsinger says that drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie “played with just about everybody,” it’s no exaggeration. Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson Five, Isaac Hayes, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong, Donny Hathaway, Herbie Mann, Albert Ayler, Herbie Hancock, and Eddie Palmieri are on the list, as are Gene Ammons, Dizzy Gillespie, Leon Thomas, David “Fathead” Newman, Shirley Scott and Hank Crawford. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: The energetic octogenarian, whom Rolling Stone has ranked among its top 20 drummers of all time, is said to be the most recorded drummer in history, appearing on more than 4,000 albums. He’s even penned a memoir, Let the Drums Speak!, about his experiences. This concert will be the legendary stick man’s third Highlights In Jazz appearance.
Bassist Bill Crow has encyclopedic knowledge of jazz history, much of it based on personal experience. An avid photographer, he even has pix dating to the 1950s to illustrate his treasure trove of tales. Bill has held down bass clef duties with Stan Getz, Claude Thornhill (including playing arrangements Gil Evans wrote for the band), Marian McPartland, Gerry Mulligan, Benny Goodman, Mose Allison, Roger Kellaway, Al Jarreau, Carol Sloane, Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Clark Terry, Anita O’Day and others. He ranks a 1958 concert he played with Duke Ellington’s orchestra as one of the greatest thrills of his life. Bill has published two books about his musical experiences, as well as countless columns, articles and tributes.
A fourth-generation musician, Bill Easley plays saxophone, flute and clarinet. Over the years he made his mark on the road and on recordings with the likes George Benson, Isaac Hayes, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Bobby Short, Grady Tate, Ron Carter, Frank Foster, Jimmy Heath, and in big bands fronted by John Lewis, David Baker, Wynton Marsalis and Jon Faddis. The versatile musician has also played about a dozen Broadway shows and released a generous handful of albums as a leader.
A resident of Chicago and Detroit before moving to the Big Apple, saxophonist Mark Hynes has played with David Berger, Rodney Whitaker, James Carter, Marcus Belgrave, Steven Bernstein, Britt Woodman, Jerome Richardson, Quincy Jones, Christian McBride, Craig Taborn, John Hendricks, Chaka Khan, The Duke’s Men and more. He’s also a respected educator, and leader of his own trios and quartets.
Pianist James Weidman’s credits include sharing the bandstand with players as diverse as Max Roach, Woody Herman, Archie Shepp, Joe Lovano, Jay Hoggard, Cassandra Wilson, Marty Ehrlich, Abbey Lincoln and Kevin Mahogany. James also has enjoyed a long-running musical partnership with saxophonist T.K. Blue, with whom he co-leads the band Taja. In addition to fronting a variety of ensembles—he’s released several albums as a leader—the pianist also appears regularly with The Duke’s Men and other bands.
Vocalist Ira Hawkins “is a wonderful singer, and this year we’re proud that he’s making his first appearance at Highlights In Jazz,” notes producer Jack Kleinsinger, who praises Ira’s deft touch and deep experience with the Ellington repertoire. The singer has often appeared with Mike Longo’s Big Band, and has developed a reputation as a versatile crowd pleaser who is equally at home with the blues, standards and ballads, able to add a personal twist to even the most familiar tune.
Kleinsinger always surprises audiences with unannounced special guests. In fact, the producer claims that at least a quarter of the special guests are a surprise even to him. “Players show up in the audience and we put them on,” Jack explains. “If I see them in the audience, they’re there at their own peril—I’ll get them onstage.” One case in point is “Everlasting Ellington” headliner Bernard Purdie: “He was in the audience one night when Roy Haynes was on stage. I went out and got Bernard and got him to sit in,” Jack recalls.
Dizzy Gillespie, Eubie Blake, Stan Getz, Carmen McRae and Maxine Sullivan are among the audience members recruited to sit in during the series’ early years. Throughout the 48 seasons of Highlights In Jazz, “We’ve been very lucky with guests. When someone was in town, they’d call me and make last-minute arrangements to show up. Musicians love the series and the jam is part of the tradition, which you don’t get at most other performances. It’s very exciting for the audience when a big name comes on stage unexpectedly.”
In addition to the annual tribute concert honoring a past master, each season the venerable Highlights In Jazz series includes a concert saluting to a living legend of jazz, as well as an all-star jam session bringing together respected jazz journeymen and the best of the up-and-coming young players. The 2020 season is no exception.
This year’s tribute takes place May 7, 2020, when Highlights In Jazz presents “A Salute to Roger Kellaway,” honoring the versatile pianist, composer and arranger. “Every year we honor a living jazz great—I want to salute them and show them how much we love their music while they’re still with us,” producer Jack Kleinsinger declares. Roger, who celebrated his 80th birthday on Nov. 1, 2019, is a remarkably versatile musician, having landed a Grammy, earned an Academy Award nomination, and penned the closing theme of the ground-breaking TV show All in the Family. NEA Jazz Master trumpeter Jimmy Owens, along with bassist Jay Leonhart, clarinetist/saxophonist Eddie Daniels and guitarist Roni Ben-Hur will gather at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center to pay tribute to the lauded pianist Roger Kellaway.
“The Return of the Jam Session” wraps up the 48th season on June 4, 2020. “This is a throwback to the old-school, all-star lineup on the bandstand, and combinations of people who have never played together before. It’s not what you’d get elsewhere,” Jack Kleinsinger says. Pianist Ted Rosenthal, saxophonists Peter and Will Anderson, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, drummer Victor Lewis, guitarist Frank Vignola and trumpeter Brian Lynch form the core ensemble, and a special guest will also be on hand to join in the fun.
Kleinsinger is proud that his Highlights In Jazz concerts have always attracted an audience of avid listeners. Each season he aims to present multiple facets of jazz: “We’ve done mainstream, Dixieland, swing, bebop; not avant-garde, not far-out, nothing that will scare anybody,” the producer explains. And with the series’ half-century mark just a couple of years away he continues to produce well-received events spotlighting the finest players from across multiple generations. “There are amazingly wonderful players out there and we want to feature them!”
You won’t want to miss a single show!
Jack Kleinsinger’s HIGHLIGHTS IN JAZZ 2020
Now it its 48th year
All concerts are at
BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center
199 Chambers St., in Manhattan
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Ellington Everlasting: Art Baron & The Duke’s Men
Trombonist Art Baron
Saxophonist/flutist/clarinetist Bill Easley
Drummer Bernard Purdie
Bassist Bill Crow
Pianist James Weidman
Saxophonist Mark Hynes
Special guest: Vocalist Ira Hawkins
Plus, surprise special guest!
Thursday, May 7, 2020
A Salute to Roger Kellaway
Pianist Roger Kellaway
Trumpeter Jimmy Owens
Clarinetist/saxophonist Eddie Daniels
Guitarist Roni Ben-Hur
Bassist Jay Leonhart
Plus, surprise special guest!
Thursday, June 4, 2020
The Return of the Jam Session
Saxophonists Peter and Will Anderson
Pianist Ted Rosenthal
Guitarist Frank Vignola
Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon
Drummer Victor Lewis
Trumpeter Brian Lynch