The 48th season of the popular Highlights In Jazz series gets off to a roaring start on Feb. 13, 2020, when producer Jack Kleinsinger presents the Highlights In Jazz 47th Anniversary Gala. Featured performers include bassist Jay Leonhart, pianist Tomoko Ohno, drummer Bobby Sanabria, saxophonist Steve Wilson, percussionist/drummer Memo Acevedo, violinist/mandolinist Aaron Weinstein, and drummer Vito Lesczak. And, in keeping with the beloved HIJ tradition, a surprise special guest will be on hand for the concert, held at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center.
Heading up the gala’s lineup is bassist Jay Leonhart, who has been dubbed “the Fred Astaire of jazz” by the L.A. Times’ Don Heckman. The noted critic described Jay as “a craftsman so seamlessly smooth that casual observers often fail to grasp the immensity of his talent.” A Highlights In Jazz mainstay, Jay has kept good musical company throughout his career, having performed with Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Jim Hall, Buddy Rich and Roy Eldridge, among other jazz greats. The bassist is also lauded for his singing, composing, and witty lyrics. Though one of Jay’s best-known tunes is called “It’s Impossible to Sing and Play the Bass,” he does both with great skill, much to the delight of his audiences.
According to Jack Kleinsinger, Jay Leonhart has probably performed at more Highlights In Jazz concerts than any other musician. “Jay is so flexible: He plays bass, he’s a singer, a song writer, he’s even written as tune about me,” the producer points out with a laugh. Jay is doing two Highlights In Jazz events this year. In addition to the gala, he will appear May 7, in a concert saluting pianist Roger Kellaway.
Pianist Tomoko Ohno is a Highlights In Jazz first-timer. She’s a long-time collaborator with bassist Jay Leonhart, and the twosome have released a duo album. Tomoko began her piano studies at about the age when most kids are just starting to learn the alphabet. She earned a degree in law and politics in her native Japan, before moving to the U.S. to continue her music studies with jazz icons such as Harold Mabern and Rufus Reid. Since then, the pianist has gone on to play with Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, Joe Henderson, Wynton Marsalis, the Diva Jazz Orchestra, the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Big Band, and her own ensembles, appearing at some of the world’s most renowned music venues. Tomoko has also released several well-received recordings as a leader.
Calling Bobby Sanabria a drummer is only telling part of the story of this musical powerhouse. The Bronx-born winner of countless awards and an eight-time Grammy nominee, Bobby is also a percussionist, composer, arranger, band leader, conductor, documentary film producer, educator, activist, philanthropist, radio host and more. He’s played and recorded with a litany of jazz, Latin jazz and salsa luminaries such as Max Roach, Mario Bauzá, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría, Dizzy Gillespie, Chico O’Farrill, Ray Barretto, Cándido, Larry Harlow, Rubén Blades, Celia Cruz, Henry Threadgill, Charles McPherson, Randy Brecker, Joe Chambers, Jon Lucien and the Mills Brothers, to name just a few.
Alto and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson is among the most in-demand players on the jazz scene today, with a breath-taking variety of credits. In addition to fronting his own band, just a glance at Steve’s recent calendar reveals gigs with Maria Schneider, Buster Williams, Christian McBride, Rufus Reid and Jay Leonhart, plus studio time with Geoff Keezer. Steve has released eight albums as a leader and appeared on more than 100 more recordings, with the likes of Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Dave Holland, Dianne Reeves, Gerald Wilson, Joe Henderson, Charlie Byrd, Billy Childs, Karrin Allyson, Don Byron, James Williams and Mulgrew Miller.
Percussionist/drummer Memo Acevedo excels at both jazz and Latin music. He honed his craft around the globe, immersing himself in the music at its source while living in Colombia, Spain, Mexico, Canada, California and New York. Memo has performed and recorded with musical masters including Tito Puente, Moacir Santos, Ivan Lins, Mark Murphy, Jackie & Roy, Dave Valentín, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Angelique Kidjo, Hilton Ruiz, Louie Bellson and the Cuban band Irakere, as well as with his own ensembles. Renowned as an educator as well as a performer, Memo has written books on Brazilian and Afro-Caribbean drumming, and won numerous awards.
It's easy to discover Aaron Weinstein’s great sense of humor—just check out the recent Jazz Times feature on the self-described “bow-tie rights activist.” But according to jazz luminary Bucky Pizzarelli, the violinist/mandolinist is “a perfect musician.” The legendary guitarist is not the only one who has found a lot to like about Aaron Weinstein. This young string maven has garnered positive notices from Tony Bennett and Regina Carter, and performed with the likes of Les Paul, John Pizzarelli, Dick Hyman, Dave Frishberg, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross. Aaron Weinstein has released several albums as a leader, and recorded with musicians as diverse as Skitch Henderson, Jessica Molaskey, Jim Caruso, Christine Ebersole, Jay Geils and others.
Drummer Vito Lesczak moved to the Big Apple in 1992, and since then has become an indispensable part of the jazz scene. He has appeared on dozens of albums, working with recognized giants of the genre such as Art Farmer, Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Mark Murphy, Jay Clayton, Don Braden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Gene Bertoncini, Bob Cranshaw, Eric Alexander, Larry Goldings, Andy Bey and Bill Charlap. Vito also fronts his own ensembles and has performed in New York and around the globe at major festivals and renowned venues.
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. People sitting in is part of our tradition. It’s exciting for the audience when a big name comes on unexpectedly.”
In addition to the annual opening gala, each season the Highlights In Jazz series includes a concert focusing on the music of one of the departed geniuses of the genre, a salute to a living legend and 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.
Art Baron & The Duke’s Men will be onstage on March 19, 2020, as Highlights In Jazz celebrates the music of the great Duke Ellington. The theme, “Ellington Everlasting,” turns the spotlight on the maestro’s timeless compositions and enduring legacy. Trombonist Art Baron, drummer Bernard Purdie, bassist Bill Crow, saxophonists Bill Easley and Mark Hynes, pianist James Weidman and vocalist Ira Hawkins will be on hand, along with a special guest.
May 7, 2020, will bring “A Salute to Roger Kellaway.” Last year’s honoree, guitarist Russell Malone, 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 pianist Roger Kellaway. Roger, who celebrated his 80th birthday on Nov. 1, 2019, is a remarkably versatile musician, having won a Grammy, received an Academy Award nomination, and penned the closing theme of the ground-breaking TV show All in the Family. “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.
“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.
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, February 13, 2020 - 8 P.M.
Highlights In Jazz - 47th Anniversary Gala
Bassist Jay Leonhart
Pianist Tomoko Ohno
Drummer/percussionist Bobby Sanabria
Saxophonist Steve Wilson
Percussionist/drummer Memo Acevedo
Violinist/mandolinist Aaron Weinstein
Drummer Vito Lesczak
Plus, surprise special guest!
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
Guitarist Russell Malone
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