Highlights from NJPAC’s fourth annual TD James Moody Jazz Festival

Pictured above: Sharon Jones sings with The Dap-Kings in “Jazz, Soul & Funk.” (Photo by Laura DiMeo)

entertainment cardTo a certain extent, organizers of NJPAC’s fourth annual TD James Moody Jazz Festival know how show-stopping moments will play out, but have no way of predicting the impromptu encounters that crop up when longtime jazz colleagues, friends and fans cross paths on stage or along Sarah Vaughan Way in front of the building.

As President and CEO John Schreiber put it, in an homage to Duke Ellington, fortune smiles on “being at the right place at the right time, doing the right things with the right people.”

Schreiber himself was part of an unbilled quartet that was seen frequently and in all the right places from Nov. 4-15. His mates included jazz aficionado Nick Miceli, Market President of TD Bank, the festival’s title sponsor; Linda Moody, widow of the famed Newark saxophonist for whom the festival is named; and NJPAC Jazz Advisor and Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride, whose duties took him on stage and behind the scenes. (Even busy NJPAC staffers will go out of their way to listen in when he conducts a master class at the free family event, Day of Swing, this year commemorating the Billie Holiday centennial.)

And not all of these reunions and special interactions among artists and their supporters occurred in front of audiences. Here are some instances of karma that could only happen at Moodyfest:

  • Following the festival’s opener of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the orchestra’s trumpeter and Artistic Director, Wynton Marsalis, as well as most of his musicians, met backstage with a group of jazz students to talk about artistic values like camaraderie and work ethics. “He gave the kids a life lesson they’ll never forget,” says Miceli, who observed the session.
  • Two powerful vocalists, Dianne Reeves and Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, were booked together for a Jazz, Soul & Funk concert on Nov. 14, where the unstoppable Jones strutted around the Prudential Hall stage while belting “New Shoes.” Setting a wistful tone, Reeves sang “Beautiful” in solidarity with a stricken Paris, while audience members held up their phone torches.
  • Newark’s Bethany Baptist Church, where the Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, Jr. spreads the good word on jazz for NJPAC by hosting a free concert each year, welcomed the Oliver Lake Organ Quartet on Nov. 7. Lake, on alto saxophone, performed a selection of original compositions such as “Move Groove,” which incorporates his spoken word remembrance of the late Newark poet Amiri Baraka. The quartet’s appearance ended on a note of praise with the rousing “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.”
  • The first of three special events at NJPAC this season to celebrate Frank Sinatra’s centennial, The Real Sinatra Songbook showcased tunes written or commissioned by the Chairman of the Board, sung masterly by Kevin Mahogany, Sue Raney and Tom Wopat. But three members of the sextet also lent their voices to the occasion: Music Director Ken Peplowski, trumpeter Bria Skonberg (with a sultry rendition of “Empty Tables”), and bassist Niki Parrott.
  • Speaking of Sinatra, the “voice of God” announcement for Tony Bennett’s back-to-back concerts on Nov. 12 and 13 was the voice of Frank, clipped from a years-ago stage introduction for the “greatest singer in the world.” (Bennett returned the favor by evoking Sinatra with Arlen-Mercer’s “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”) A couple of rarities: The 89-year-old jazz statesman sang the first number he ever recorded (Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”) and pulled out a little soft-shoe for “Steppin’ Out with My Baby.” Of his recent Cheek to Cheek hit album of duets with Lady Gaga, Bennett encouraged the audience to pick one up because “she really needs the money.”
  • McBride’s conversation series, One on One with Christian McBride, began earlier this season at NJPAC in a sit-down with Pat Metheny. On Nov. 12, pianist and singer-songwriter Bruce Hornsby recounted his escapades with McBride (they met while opening for Bonnie Raitt at Radio City) and spoke about the influence of modern classicists like Anton Webern and Elliott Carter on his compositions. To illustrate, he performed “Preacher in the Ring,” “S**t’s Crazy Out Here,” and other examples in duets with McBride on bass.

Jazz: a man’s world? Not according to the women whose presence at the festival was felt mightily, beginning with the Judy Carmichael Trio on Nov. 8.

  • A surprise appearance by pianist Bill Charlap’s mom, acclaimed Songbook interpreter Sandy Stewart, had the audience buzzing at Charlap’s live re-creation of Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool on Nov. 14. Charlap’s nonet performed tracks from the iconic album by the pioneering bebopper (“Jeru,” “Venus de Milo,” “Israel”), along with related material, while Stewart chose a 1939 song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie DeLange, “Darn That Dream.”
  • Earlier that day, at the Newark Museum, some of the greatest jazz love stories ever told were shared by wives and widows at the panel Jazz Wives/Jazz Lives, moderated by Linda Moody. The sisterly, insider gab revealed just as much about the women’s careers as artists, attorneys, businesswomen, caregivers and road managers as it did about their spouses’ pursuit of the spotlight. “Newark First Lady of Jazz” Dorthaan Kirk of festival co-presenter WBGO Jazz 88.3FM, who was married to multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan “Roland” Kirk, joined Brenda Feliciano (saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera); Cecilia Foster (saxophonist-composer Frank Foster); Sandy Jackson (vibraphonist Milt Jackson); and Laurelyn Douglas (trumpet player Jon Faddis). The front row of the auditorium was occupied by a community of other “jazz wives” as special guests.
  • Newark’s Sarah Vaughan, “The Divine One,” probably would have said Arianna Neikrug had moxie. The 22-year-old gamine from Los Angeles took the grand prize in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition (The SASSY Awards) on the final day of the festival, besting more than a thousand applicants. Neikrug performed two Vaughan classics (“Devil May Care,” “My One and Only Love”) and the jazz standard “After You’ve Gone” in the final round. First runner-up was Angela Hagenbach and second runner-up was Nicole Zuraitis.

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