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Looking Back – The 2021 JazzFest White Plains

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                             The Theo Croker Quartet © Kevin R. Mason

It is almost time for the summer jazz festival season to begin. Before it starts, here is a look back at one of the best major festivals in the New York area.

The 2021 JazzFest White Plains was originally scheduled for September 9 to 12. Unfortunately, the outdoor benefit concert starring The Ravi Coltrane Quartet that was originally scheduled for September 9 was postponed to October 7, due to stormy weather conditions. However, the rest of the weekend that ended on September 12 was blessed with beautiful weather, and it was a great return to in-person music.

Friday, September 10

The Emmet Cohen Trio

Emmet Cohen © Kevin R. Mason

Esteemed pianist Emmet Cohen was joined by drummer Kyle Poole and bassist Russell Hall at Grace Church in downtown White Plains. Emmet is one of the busiest musicians in jazz, and this was his third time at JazzFest White Plains. At the beginning of the pandemic, Emmet was instrumental in keeping live music going for the public through his weekly series each Monday evening, Live From Emmet’s Place, which included his bandmates Poole and Hall, and special guests. For more than a year, Cohen performed at his Harlem apartment, and recently, he is continuing the series from various locations. Previously streamed concerts can be viewed at www.emmetcohen.com.

 

Not only is Cohen blazing his own trail in jazz, but he has also been honoring veterans of the genre. On his website, it says the following:

“Emmet Cohen is committed to the intergenerational transfer of the knowledge, history, and traditions of jazz. His signature professional undertaking is the “Masters Legacy Series,” a celebratory set of recordings and interviews honoring legendary jazz musicians. He serves as both producer and pianist for each album in the series. This landmark, ongoing project provides musicians of multiple generations the means to share the unwritten folklore that is America’s unique artistic idiom. Cohen has observed that jazz “is enriched immeasurably by connecting and studying with jazz masters, forging backward to the very creation of the art form.” Four volumes of the “Masters Legacy Series” have been released, spotlighting Cohen’s collaborations with Jimmy Cobb, Ron Carter, Benny Golson, Tootie Heath, and George Coleman.”

 Aaron Paige © Kevin R. Mason

Aaron Paige, Director of Folk Arts at ArtsWestchester, welcomed the Grace Church audience. “Thank you all for being here tonight… It’s my pleasure to introduce the artist Emmet Cohen, who has now presented at this jazz festival three times in the last four or five years, and it’s just amazing to have him back! The White Plains JazzFest is a collaborative effort between ArtsWestchester, the White Plains BID, and the City of White Plains. We work as a partnership together in putting on this amazing 5-day, multi-concert festival for you all.” Paige thanked the sponsors, including Presenting Sponsor Bank of America, Ginsburg Development Companies, and New York State Council on the Arts. He continued, “I’d also like to give a shout out to our JazzFest committee. This is not something we just do overnight. Actually, as soon as this festival is over, we are going to meet the following week, and we’re going to start planning for 2022!”

Aaron also spoke about upcoming events at the festival, then introduced the Emmet Cohen Trio, who launched into a charmingly laid-back version of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s “Django.” Cohen and his simpatico cohorts looked utterly delighted by how well they played together on this song of many moods and rhythms. The second piece was a swinging rendition of “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” with Poole surprising the audience with a staccato riff after a quiet interlude. Cohen was so happy with this moment, that he laughed out loud! The chemistry of the group was exceedingly strong, and it was obvious that they were thrilled to be playing together once again.

The third offering started as a beautiful ballad that picked up the pace in the middle, then transitioned into Thelonious Monk’s “52nd Street Theme.”  A rapid-fire bebop cut followed with some great interplay between the musicians, who all kept pace with the quickness of the changes. Emmet looked intently while Poole played an outstanding drum solo that moved from whisper quiet to a shout.

The Emmet Cohen Trio © Kevin R. Mason

Cohen said to the crowd, “Good evening, how are you doing tonight?” He then gave affectionate introductions to Kyle Poole and Russell Hall. Emmet Cohen is one of a few jazz artists who are equally adept at interacting with the audience as they are at playing their instruments. He is very charming and at ease speaking with the crowd, interspersing humor and information with a light touch, while his musical virtuosity speaks volumes about the seriousness of his commitment to his craft. Cohen’s composition with Brian Lynch, “Distant Hallow,” started with a moving bass solo by Russell Hall. When the other instruments joined the conversation, it became an emotive and sometimes percussive number that highlighted Emmet’s piano acumen to great effect.

From Cohen’s latest CD, Future Stride, the group played Louis Armstrong’s “Symphonic Raps.” With his piano technique front and center, the song had a distinctly ragtime feeling, and Cohen’s talent was fully displayed, with fine support and distinctive phrases from Poole and Hall. The song included an enjoyable bluesy section before returning to ragtime. The trio slowed things down with an achingly romantic “Where Is Love?” from the musical Oliver, which was truly lovely, with an emotional crescendo.

Emmet said, “This is actually my third time at ArtsWestchester. Every time has been really magical, but last time I was here with Russell and Jimmy Cobb, the late Jimmy Cobb…I think he was 90 at that time, and George Coleman. Two of the masters of all time of American music…It really showed me what kind of community this is, what kind of people are looking out for the music here at ArtsWestchester. That was a really, really special night…a magic moment that may never exist in any form, ever again. Just the fact that you guys would support that, support what this music is really about, which is the legacy of the ancestors, but also the youth, and pushing music forward…It’s a memory that I will never forget…I will forever hold this place in my heart, and hope to be back here many, many times.”

There were two sets that evening, and in between, Cohen signed CDs and greeted fans. After the break, Aaron Paige once again introduced the trio for the second set. “Hello everyone. Welcome back…to the 10th annual JazzFest White Plains. This is a really special performance I’m so thankful to have the Emmet Cohen Trio back in White Plains…As a community, we love him, we love what he brings.” Aaron also praised Russell Hall and Kyle Poole. When the trio returned to the stage, they began with a sweetly sentimental “Be My Love” that showed off each musician’s dexterity. They followed with some lively ragtime, Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” with several excellent runs by Cohen.

Next came the moving “Hatzi Kaddish,” based on a Jewish prayer. Emmet said to the crowd, “Thank you very much. Welcome to set number 2, always the more freaky of the two sets! The first one we’re figuring out the room.” He also talked about what he had done during quarantine, then introduced Russell Hall’s composition “The Loneliest,” which was a beautifully somber ballad, which picked up the pace in the middle, while retaining the calming feeling of the song.

The group continued with a cool version of Monk’s detailed “Trinkle, Tinkle.” This song is noted for its challenging melody, but the trio sailed through it with the greatest of ease. Cohen’s composition “My Love Will Come Again” was full of yearning, and it really touched the audience. They followed with a lively, syncopated number where they maintained the up-tempo pace in perfect harmony. Their last whimsical song really tickled and entertained the crowd, containing snippets from several familiar songs, including “Meet the Flintstones.” From the resounding standing ovation, this show was one of the highlights of the JazzFest!

Saturday, September 11

Music in Motion: Alphonso Horne and the Gotham Kings

      Alphonso Horne & The Gotham Kings                  © Kevin R. Mason

On Saturday afternoon, Alphonso Horne and the Gotham Kings did a New Orleans-style jazz stroll in downtown White Plains, starting with an exciting, brass-filled “Little Liza Jane” that got things off to a swinging start. They followed up with a jazzy “When the Saints Go Marching In” where they sang as well as wailing on their instruments on this crowd-pleaser, and they got the crowd to join in. Next came an enthusiastic “Bourbon Street Parade.” People were eating at the outdoor sections of restaurants while they listened to the irresistible music, and many people danced in the street, following the band. At one restaurant, someone was having a birthday celebration, and the band played “Happy Birthday.” They continued with a jaunty rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” that was an amalgam of gospel and New Orleans-style jazz. “I Can’t Afford to Miss This Dream,” which was recorded by Louis Armstrong, was sung at the jazz stroll by Alphonso Horne. In the crowd was Ronni Atkins, the daughter of the writer of the song, Lillian Friedlander. The band included Alphonso Horne on trumpet, Rashaan Salaam on trombone, Boyce Griffith on tenor saxophone, Cory Wilcox on tuba, Moses Patrou on bass drum and cymbals, and Evan Sherman on snare drum. The band closed with a jaunty “What a Wonderful World.” This jazz stroll, which was often impromptu, was a lot of fun for all those who listened along the way and continued one of the oldest traditions in jazz.

The Theo Croker Quartet

  Theo Croker © Kevin R. Mason

At The Playgroup Theater, Aaron Paige once again took on hosting duties, and welcomed the crowd. “Today, we want to celebrate jazz music, but we also want to recognize that this is an incredibly emotional day for many of us as well, the tragedy of 9/11, the 20th anniversary. I think this is also a time for us to figure out the healing power of the arts, and what the arts have done for us through all kinds of tragedies that we’ve experienced in our lives, personally, individually, but also collectively, as a community. So please keep that in your mind as you experience tonight’s performance.” Then Paige introduced the Theo Croker Quartet; Grammy-nominated trumpeter/composer/producer Theo Croker, bassist Giulio Xavier Cetto, drummer Shekwoaga Ode, and pianist Michael King. Croker addressed the crowd, “What’s up, everybody? Welcome!”

The group’s first set included music from their CD, BLK2 Life // A Future Past. They started with a solemn tune that included spoken word played in the background, as well as some surreal sound effects, along with tweeting birds. It became a driving and forceful number. Next came a song that was both ethereal as well as percussive, with a haunting, atmospheric feeling. They seamlessly transitioned into a number with a steady, almost military cadence created by the rhythm section followed by Theo’s trumpet lead. The band’s collective improvisations worked well on this piece.

Croker spoke to the audience, “Good evening to the fine city of White Plains. I’m so happy that all of you braved everything going on to come out and hear some music…The first three songs we played, I’m so focused on the present that I don’t remember.” He gave props to his band members, then the group launched into a cut with an insistent backbeat from Ode, and some Latin vibes and stellar trumpet solo phrases from Theo, who did double duty on the next song, a gorgeous ballad, “Never Let Me Go.” It started with a lovely trumpet solo, moving into a tranquil bass section, then it segued into Theo singing in a charming voice that had the audience clapping as soon as he started. Most of the crowd seemed unaware that Croker could sing, which made it a delightful surprise for the end of the first set.

 The Theo Croker Quartet © Kevin R. Mason

The second set began with a poignant trumpet solo, which Croker performed with strength and passion. The other musicians slowly chimed in very effectively, adding their own subtle touches to a piece that had many moods and tempos. The concert continued with “Understand Yourself” and “The Messenger,” both eliciting impressive contributions from everyone in the quartet. Theo said, “Thank you very much. Please give a round of applause for Michael King on the piano, Giulio Xavier Cetto on bass, and Shekwoaga Ode on drums…How’s everybody feeling?…We’re going to play something older…something I wrote at 15.” The composition was fast paced, with a driving beat and an effusive feeling that carried the audience along with it. This tune showed how advanced Croker was, even at an early age!

The set ended with an expressive “How Deep is the Ocean,” where once again, Croker effectively employed his vocals, adding a nice extra touch. The Theo Croker Quartet did an outstanding job, expressing cohesive conversations between the musicians to the delight of the jazz patrons!

Sunday, September 12

Joe Boykin © Kevin R. Mason

Singer Joe Boykin was the host of the all-day concert in downtown White Plains. Boykin addressed the crowd, “Welcome to the 2021 JazzFest…We’re here to bring you a nice, nice array of talent…How’s everybody doing out there? Are you okay, ladies and gentlemen? Are you ready to hear some jazz?” Boykin talked about all the problems of the pandemic that made the 2020 JazzFest mostly virtual. There were only two outdoor live concerts. “But we’re here now! I’m going to take ten seconds of silence for those we lost in the last few years.” After the moments of silence, Joe said, “Ladies and gentlemen, a big round of applause for the Westchester Center for Jazz & Contemporary Music!”

Westchester Center for Jazz & Contemporary Music

On the ArtsWestchester website, it says: “The Westchester Center for Jazz & Contemporary Music provides opportunities for musicians of diverse backgrounds, abilities, and ages to develop their skills in jazz and other related musical forms. This performance features a selection of the Center’s top student musicians and faculty.”

 

              Westchester Center for Jazz &                           Contemporary Art © Kevin R. Mason

The band started with “Afro Blue,” which was darkly intense with some elements of free jazz. Although most of the musicians were young, they all performed at quite a sophisticated level. Director/tenor saxophonist Joey Berkley said, “We are the Westchester Center for Jazz, and we’re based in Yonkers. I think everybody took a solo on the last song, so I think I’ll just introduce the whole horn section. This gentleman right here, Malachi Walton on soprano, Nadia on trumpet, Elian Herrera plays the baritone saxophone, and Will Tucker on trombone. Great contributions from each musician filled a fantastic swinging version of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ “One By One.” Berkley then introduced Phil Gigante on guitar and Josh Sherwood on bass. “We really combine the professional world with the teaching of students.” He welcomed his friend, guest drummer Tiger McHale, and pianist Liz Sander, who is also an owner of the school, as well as a student there.

The set continued with Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.” The group had a very full big band sound on this percussive Latin-infused number that matched the heat of the beautiful late-summer weather, and the solos were quite impressive. They closed with an original composition by Berkley, “Itty Bitty Funky Ditty Doo.” This entertaining, up-tempo tune really had the crowd in the outdoor plaza jumping. The Westchester Center for Jazz & Contemporary Music really got the day off to an excellent start!

Gilberto Colón, Jr. & Ensalada De Pulpo

On the ArtsWestchester website, it states: “Gilberto “Pulpo” Colón Jr. is a pianist, composer, arranger, producer, and band leader best known for his role as Musical Director for salsa superstar Héctor Lavoe. Colón has worked and recorded with some of Latin music’s most popular artists.”

         Gilberto Colón Jr.  & Ensalada De Pulpo               © Kevin R. Mason

This talented nonet began with some sizzling Latin jazz. In fact, the music was so hot, that several people immediately got up to dance. The first song, “Plante Bandera,” featured impassioned singing from Ray Bayona and spirited performances from each member of the band, which included Gilberto Nelson Matthew Gonzalez on percussion, Gilberto “Pulpo” Colón Jr. on piano, Alex “Apolo” Ayala on bass, Jose Davila and Charlie Garcia on trombones, George Delgado on timbales, Danny Méndez on bongos and vocals, and Luis Soto on güiro and vocals. They continued with the Héctor Lavoe salsa classic “Rompe Saraguey,” a hot and highly danceable number, where all the musicians contributed to the street dance party that developed!

 

The next tune had a sensuous, swaying beat, enhanced by Bayona’s dynamic singing, an affecting piano solo by Colón, and impressive riffs from the band. “Apariencia” added some upbeat, spicy salsa to the party, highlighted by Bayona’s excellent vocals throughout, with notable support on trombones by Charlie Garcia and Jose Davila. The next piece was an impromptu jam session where everyone explored the rhythm including the dancers in front of the stage. The band closed the set with “Alejate De Mi” which lived up to the fabulous salsa that preceded it.

Erena Terakubo Quartet

              Erena Terakubo                       © Kevin R. Mason

Born in Sapporo Japan, alto saxophonist Erena Terakubo started playing the sax at age nine. She has performed with Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Lee Pearson, Christian McBride, Dominick Farinacci, Jimmy Cobb, and Vincent Herring, just to name a few. Erena was joined by Yasushi Nakamura on bass, Dave Whitfield on keyboards, and Hank Allen-Barfield on drums. The group started with two mellow numbers, Charlie Parker’s “Repetition” and Horace Silver’s “Barbara,” where Terakubo’s alto saxophone and Dave Whitfield’s piano were front and center on both tunes. The group’s on-stage chemistry was readily apparent, and they gently, yet confidently eased into their set. Then, Erena addressed the crowd. “Hello, everyone! How is everyone doing? Thank you so much. My name is Erena Terakubo…I’m so happy to be here, my favorite town, White Plains. I live not too far from here, Riverdale, Bronx, so I come here all the time.”

Erena Terakubo Quartet © Kevin R. Mason

Erena introduced her fellow musicians, then they performed “Parker’s Mood,” a bluesy number where the contributions from each solo made its mark. It was the perfect song for the middle of the day’s festivities, with a laid-back vibe and relaxed improvisations. Terakubo’s composition, “Passing Clouds” was a delightful, joy-filled romp. The last offering was another original composition by Erena, “Little Girl Power.” It started with strong bass licks by Yasushi, followed by powerful back-up by Dave and Hank, then an outstanding sax display from Terakubo. This wonderful concert really brightened the day in White Plains.

 

Kotoko Brass

On the JazzFest website, it states: “Kotoko Brass melds the traditional drum rhythms of Ghana, the sturdy bass and keyboards of the Caribbean, and the joyous horns of New Orleans to forge a new sound of its own. The band has shared the stage with Femi Kuti, the California Honeydrops, Vieux Farka Toure, Innov Gnawa, Take 6, Boston Pops and more.”

Kotoko Brass Band © Kevin R. Mason

Joe Boykin introduced the band. “I’m so excited to have this band here…this is their second time playing here. They played several years ago…We had to bring them back, all the way from Boston, Kotoko Brass!” The group began with a dynamic song that got things off to an energetic start. The music was jubilant, and it had the crowd tapping their feet, nodding their heads, and swaying to the beat. The band was made up of the following members: Kwame Ofori on percussion, Ben Paulding on several types of drums (including the Atumpan – twin drums, the Donno talking drum, the Kwadum drum, and the Aburukuwa drum), Andy Bergman on tenor saxophone, M’talewah Thomas on bass, Brian Paulding on trombone, Dillon Zahner on guitar, and Yusaku Yoshimura on keyboards.

                 Dancing in the streets at JazzFest                       © Kevin R. Mason

They then performed “Kete Unity,” a song that had a striking syncopated beat and lively feeling that really moved the crowd. Next came “Sikyi,” inspired by a traditional dance from Ghana. Some of those dance moves were demonstrated by the band, and the audience joined in, leading to much enjoyment in the crowd. There was an animated song with call-and-response that had the crowd shouting out phrases repeatedly and with gusto. The set continued with “Milkweed” and “Abomey,” and they finished with a soaring “Adampa.” This set was filled with fun, laughter, audience participation, and exhilarating music. Both the band and the audience had a splendid time!

 

 

The Ray Blue Quartet with Special Guest Samara Joy 

About the final act of the day, the ArtsWestchester site described them as follows: “Ray Blue is a soulful and tender saxophonist, composer and music educator. Ray has toured extensively both nationally and internationally. He has seven releases with his most recent project, Jazzheads. His newest recording, which features Kenny Barron on piano, is scheduled to be released this fall. Samara Joy, winner of the 2019 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, has a voice as smooth as velvet. In her self-titled debut album (Whirlwind Recordings), she is backed by guitarist Pasquale Grasso, bassist Ari Roland and drummer Kenny Washington.”

Ray Blue © Kevin R. Mason

The group, saxophonist Ray Blue, keyboardist Greg Murphy, drummer Alvester Garnett, guitarist Jeff Barone, bassist Belden Bullock, started with George Coleman’s “Amsterdam After Dark.” It was a swinging yet smooth piece that really highlighted Ray Blue’s tenor sax skills, with some notable contributions from the rest of the players. Blue said,” Welcome everybody, and thank you so much for being here. How’s everybody’s day been?…We’re really grateful to be a part of this, this year.”

The second tune was Ray’s composition, “Dark Berries,” a superb song where the group’s integrated conversation was clear. They continued with a gorgeous rendition of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “The Dreamer,” which evoked thoughts of beautiful beaches and island breezes. Then, Blue said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands back together and welcome Ms. Samara Joy!” Samara began her part of the set with “Day By Day,” and she really put her own stamp on the standard with her rich, expressive voice. The song was enhanced by compelling input from Blue’s saxophone and Murphy’s piano.

   The Ray Blue Quartet and Samara Joy                          © Kevin R. Mason

Samara told the crowd, “I have to tell you that I had the wonderful opportunity to record an album for the very first time during the pandemic, October 2020, and it was released this past July…I had the opportunity to sort of look back on all the standards that I developed a relationship with while studying the music in school, and I came across one song by the great Nat King Cole…I had the opportunity to record it. I’m going to share it with you. It’s called “It Only Happens Once.” This might not be one of Cole’s most well-known songs, but obviously it is close to Samara’s heart, as she put a lot of emotion into her performance of her splendid version of this romantic ballad.

At one point, Joy’s microphone went out, but she had enthralled the crowd so much that one person called out, “We don’t need no mic!” and another said, “Sing It Girl!” Fortunately, the sound system was soon fixed, and the show continued with Samara singing the Latin-infused “The Breeze and I” where her multi-octave range was on full display.

 

Samara Joy © Kevin R. Mason

Ray said, “Samara and I met a few years ago. This was pre-Covid, and Dr. Barry Harris was having a rehearsal for a very grand, very large project with…25 voices and an 18-piece big band, and I think 10 or 12 strings…and she had one of the featured tunes. That’s when I first heard her…The point of this whole thing is that we met through Dr. Barry Harris. For those of you who may not be aware of who he is, Barry Harris is one of the last gurus. He has trained and taught so many musicians, who have taught so many more musicians. At the age of 91, he’s still doing it! I feel blessed and honored to know him, and to call him my friend and mentor, and I wrote a tune for him, entitled, “Barry’s Blues.” This swinging bebop number really moved the crowd, and it was a fitting tribute to Harris. “Got to acknowledge our elders,” Blue said, “who brought this music to us.” (Dr. Barry Harris died of complications from Covid-19 on December 8, 2021, seven days before his 92nd birthday.)

 Wayne Bass © Kevin R. Mason

Ray Blue finished addressing the audience, “You’ve been lovely. Thank you so much. Give yourselves a hand. Thanks to Wayne Bass, the Commissioner, City of White Plains (Recreation and Parks Department), and all the folks that make this thing happen, photographers, technicians, etcetera. We’re gonna close with the title cut of one of my first recordings…This one is called, “Always With a Purpose.” The song was an intense, minor-key number with driving beat that made for an impressive finish to the day’s music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, October 7

Jazz’n ArtsBash Benefit Concert with Ravi Coltrane

ArtsWestchester and Ginsburg Development Companies (GDC) presented the first annual Jazz’n ArtsBash Benefit Concert with live music by The Ravi Coltrane Quartet. Since the original outdoor concert, scheduled on Thursday, September 9, was rained out, it was rescheduled on a beautiful early-autumn evening, Thursday, October 7. Luckily, it was warm, clear night, perfect for the last night of the 2021 JazzFest White Plains, at City Square Park. A representative of GDC welcomed the audience. He said that although Martin Ginsburg, Founder of GDC, could not be there that night, “He couldn’t be happier that the first public event taking place in City Square Park is a fundraiser for ArtsWestchester. City Square is the reinvention and the repurposing of the old Westchester Financial Center, and from the very beginning, Martin wanted to make it an arts-focused transformation…Martin has always believed that art is a critical component of creating a special place…Here in City Square, he really went above and beyond, and that could not have happened without the collaboration between GDC and ArtsWestchester. So, at this point, it is my pleasure to introduce to you the dynamo of arts in Westchester, Janet Langsham!”

Janet Langsham © Kevin R. Mason

Janet Langsham, CEO of ArtsWestchester, said, “Good evening, everybody, and welcome. Isn’t it wonderful to see the city of White Plains become an arts city? And we’ve just begun.” She talked about all the extraordinary properties Martin Ginsburg has created and how much money and time he has put into art. She also spoke of the dream that Mayor Tom Roach has for an art path from the train station to City Hall. She spoke about the remarkable partnership between the County of Westchester and ArtsWestchester, and one of their projects together is JazzFest White Plains. Langsham expressed gratitude for the sponsorship of Bank of America, and she added that their support “helps us bring people like Ravi Coltrane to you.” Janet also thanked the audience for their backing.

Tony Pankhurst © Kevin R. Mason

Then Langsham joked about who should go next, the representative from Bank of America, or the mayor of White Plains. After a jest about tossing a coin, she introduced Tony Pankhurst, who said, “It’s a pleasure to be here tonight to represent Bank of America. We believe that the power of the arts is what it’s all about, which is why we have partnerships with Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, to name a few. And of course, we like to be a part of the local community through ArtsWestchester. So, on behalf of Bank of America, I’m delighted to introduce tonight’s extraordinary performance of The Ravi Coltrane Quartet. Ravi Coltrane is a critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated saxophonist, bandleader, and composer who’s released six albums.” Pankhurst praised Coltrane’s dedicated efforts to restore the home of his parents, John, and Alice Coltrane, to celebrate their legacy, and as a resource for music education.

Mayor Tom Roach © Kevin R. Mason

Then, Janet Langsham introduced Tom Roach, Mayor of White Plains, saying that he “has led this city, really, into the 21st century.” Mayor Roach came to the microphone and said, “I want to start off by thanking all of you for supporting ArtsWestchester. It’s such a key component of our county, of our region, and particularly of this city. Janet has been such a great partner, and everyone at ArtsWestchester has been such a great partner with the city. We meet often, we work together to try and bring all types of performing arts…everything we can bring into this city…And now, Ravi Coltrane!”

Ravi Coltrane © Kevin R. Mason

Coltrane said, “Thanks so much everybody, and good evening. It’s a pleasure to be here in White Plains.” He stated that although he was a born and raised New Yorker, he had never been to White Plains before, and quipped that he might stick around after that night to pick up some local gigs. Ravi introduced the band, Adam Rogers on guitar, Noah Garabedian on bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. Their set began with Charlie Parker’s fast-paced swinging gem “Segment,” with Watts having fun pushing the tempo on the drums, and the other band members contributing superb solos. It was dark by the time the quartet really got going, and the music was the perfect accompaniment to the beautiful evening.

They continued with a lovely ballad, “Theme for Ernie,” written by guitarist Fred Lacey in tribute to alto saxophonist Ernie Henry and recorded on John Coltrane’s 1958 album Soultrane. It was a beautifully laid-back meditation where all the musicians took their time and played splendid improvisations at a relaxing pace. Next came “Los Caballos,” a composition by Alice Coltrane, which was originally featured on her 1975 album Eternity, released by Warner Brothers. The  striking tune featured some outstanding drumming by Jeff “Tain” Watts,. The group took a short break, and Ravi said, “Thank you so much for listening. We’ll be back with some more music.”

The Ravi Coltrane Quartet © Kevin R. Mason

After the break, Andy Katell, a board member of ArtsWestchester, took the microphone and said, “To see live music again in person, one mile from where I live, is just phenomenal!…30 years I’ve lived here, I never knew about this space. I know it was recently renovated. This is just a gem for White Plains…My dream would be to have concerts like this every week. So, count me in on the committee for this!” Then Katell re-introduced The Ravi Coltrane Quartet for their second set. It began a swinging tune that enthralled the audience with a thrilling guitar solo by Adam Rogers, and the rest of the band playing all out! Then the band performed a moving version of “Lush Life” where Ravi’s exquisite saxophone phrases really created a wonderful atmosphere. The final song of the evening, “Happy House,” was a beautiful send-off to the audience, and this fundraising gala was a wonderful ending to the 2021 JazzFest White Plains!

Despite the pandemic and the world being turned upside down, it was reassuring that JazzFest White Plains returned in 2021 to live performances, giving audiences the joy of in-person concerts once again.

The Upcoming 2022 JazzFest White Plains

On the ArtsWestchester website, the announcement of this year’s upcoming festival in September is as follows:

“Plan to jazz up your calendar with our upcoming JazzFest performances! For its eleventh year, the festival remains true to its roots, presenting jazz from an outstanding roster of Westchester and NYC musicians. From September 14-18, we welcome audiences back to see established jazz greats, as well as rising stars who are carrying jazz in new directions. Our 2022 programs will be presented in-person and streamed live!!”

The line-up for the JazzFest will be announced soon. For more information about the 2022 JazzFest White Plains, and other upcoming events, go to: https://artswestchester.org/programs/jazz-fest.