Low Plaza

At Columbia, Jazz Brings Upper Manhattan Together

By Lauren Marshall

Some scholars say America's jazz greats adopted the sounds of the many places they played and blended these sounds with their own voice to create new "living" music. If this is true, following the Aug. 11 Verizon music festival concert at Columbia University, Abbey Lincoln, Wayne Shorter, James Carter, and other contemporary jazz musicians left with a touch of the campus and Upper Manhattan in their music.

As if on cue, the rains that tempered New York City's heat wave ceased as 4,500 jazz lovers from around the city filled South Field and Low Plaza for a quadruple bill of first-rate artists. The evening featured a spectrum of jazz tunes from the1930's through the 1990's. Saxophonist James Carter and his Chasin' the Gypsy band revived bluesy ballads that were offset by the Wayne Shorter Quartet's rhythmic explosions of modern jazz. Singer Abbey Lincoln brought a deep and agile solo voice to the evening's performances. Mario Brillo, Tito Rodriguez Jr. and Tito Puente Jr presented the tunes previously played by their trailblazing fathers, who brought Latin jazz to the big band in the 1930's. And pianist Magali Souriau and her orchestra introduced classical jazz blends to the mix.

Music mingled with the scent of Caribbean roti from Harlem's Roti Plus and southern specialties from Spoonbread restaurant as well as the cuisine of Morningside Heights favorites, such as Camilles, Milano's Market and others. The local restaurants were invited by the University to sell refreshments to the concertgoers cascading down the Low Library steps to Butler.

Robert O'Meally, founder and director of the three-year-old Columbia Center for Jazz Studies, and Columbia's Office of the Executive Vice President for Administration helped bring the concert to campus. Such events are an important part of the Center for Jazz Study's activities and play a crucial role in University's cultural and academic environment, with impact extending beyond campus.

"Jazz studies at Columbia also means connecting fruitfully with the City of New York, particularly with our neighbors in Harlem, jazz's most history-rich capital," said O'Meally.

The concert realized in music the messages of "The Sources of Jazz" symposium, sponsored by the Center for Jazz Studies, which convened Columbia and guest scholars, photographers and musicians for a day-long discussion on the geographical history of jazz. With its open classroom setting, the symposium offered a common ground for the University community and neighboring jazz enthusiasts. A highlight of the day was poet Amiri Bakara's view of the Newark jazz scene. Blending poetry with social criticism, Bakara's improvisational prose mimicked the strides and bursts of jazz music. "Half country, half city, half black, half pretty."

The concert brought together Columbia and its Upper Manhattan neighbors. Commenting on the cross section of the community in attendance , Councilman Bill Perkins said, . "Columbia does well as a community neighbor when it sponsors events such as this that bring our community together for free music, especially when the evening gives us access to artists of the caliber of Abbey Lincoln, Wayne Shorter, James Carter, and others."

The free concert and symposium, along with the ongoing photo exhibition of jazz moments in Harlem and New Orleans in Dodge Hall, were timed and staged on Harlem's doorstep to coincide with this year's Harlem Week festivities. Harlem Week is a month-long celebration of Harlem's community and heritage. (Click for a schedule of ongoing events and favorite jazz venues)

The Center for Jazz Studies considers jazz a cultural touchstone of American life, not simply a musical style, presenting scholars with a way to study societal, political, historical, cultural and even spiritual issues. Through its annual series of concerts, seminars and events that are free and open to the public, the Center strives to include Columbia's neighbors in these cultural and social explorations.

Click for the New York Times review of the concert.

Click to view photos of the jazz concert

Published: Aug 21, 2001
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002


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