Jun 22, 2023
InGardens, White Plains Fest, ‘The Conductor’
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While summer comes to a misty close as pleasurable shouts of children splashing at the beach turn to schoolbooks and birds instinctively journey south, don’t fret: Outdoor summer jazz festivals will linger longer than that pesky unwritten fashion formality of not wearing white shoes after Labor Day.
The InGardens’ annual free outdoor concert series every weekend spreads its wings from September 4–October 9, at two locations on the Lower Eastside: Children’s Magical Garden (129 Stanton Street, near Essex Street) on September 4, 9, 10, 23, and 24, and First Street Green Culture Park (33 East 1st Street) on September 16, 17 & October 1, 7, 8, and 9.
On September 4, the InGardens series kicks off with three noteworthy trios pushing the edges of jazz into avant garde flexibility: the Warren Smith Trio with bassist Hilliard Greene, pianist Rod Williams, and drummer/leader Smith, who was a founding member of Max Roach’s percussion ensemble M’Boom. During the 1970s and ’80s, Smith had a loft called Studio Wis that functioned as a popular performing and recording space for many young New York jazz musicians. His percussive, abundant colors of sound rendered him as a first-call drummer for such musicians as Muhal Richard Abrams, Quincy Jones, Henry Threadgill, and Carmen McRae. The afternoon will also include TA Thompson’s Sonic Matters with bassist Ken Filiano and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. This instrumentation is another side of jazz vocabulary with the inclusion of the bassoon, but drummer/composer Michael T.A. Thompson is no stranger to being on the opposite side of regular, having performed with Charles Gayle, Matthew Shipp, Fay Victor, Oliver Lake, and William Parker.
For a complete schedule of one of New York City’s most inventive free jazz festivals, visit artsforart.org/ingardens-2023.html.
For some crazy territorial inclination, Manhattanites have never felt Westchester, particularly White Plains, was ever an enclave of jazz hipness. But be informed as JazzFest White Plains returns for its 12th year, with aspiring and established jazz musicians permeating the air with engrossing sounds from September 6–10, playing at various venues around White Plains. The five-day festival will feature free and affordable events.
JazzFest opens on September 6 with pianist and composer Helen Sung presenting PUSH, a solo piano program that celebrates the music and artistry of landmark women in jazz. This free event will be held (12–1 p.m.), the Downtown Music at Grace (33 Church Street). Sung’s multi-layers of colored harmonies like the rainbow will captivate listeners. The day will also include guitarist, composer Doug Munro and his spirited octet, the La Pompe Attack; and Lynette Washington, born and raised in Brooklyn. She will present an evening of song, crossing genres between jazz to r&b and gospel (Columbia House Restaurant, 175 Main Street).
Ongoing performances will include NEA Jazz Master drummer Louis Hayes Quartet (featuring keyboardist David Hazeltine, bassist Dezron Douglas, saxophonist Abraham Burton); the guitarist John Scofield and saxophonist Joe Lovano Quartet; exhilarating vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant & Sullivan Fortner, one of this generation’s most important pianists; saxophonist Mike Phillips, known on the contemporary smooth jazz scene; the exciting bassist Richie Goods & Chien Chien Lu, a vibraphonist, whose passion for classical music and r&b brings a fresh sound to the forefront; and Endea Owens and The Cookout after a recent rousing performance at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival.
For a complete schedule, admission prices, and free concerts, visit artswestchester.org/programs/jazz-fest-2/.
Ishmael Reed’s stellar reputation is built on his burning wit, penetrating humor, and satire to reveal the brutal truth of racial hardships perpetrated by America’s social structured doctrines in such plays as “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” “The Slave Who Loved Caviar,” and “Life Among the Aryans.”
“The Conductor,” Reed’s 11th play, returns to Theater for the New City now through September 10. It premiered at the theater last spring to enthusiastic audiences. “The Conductor,” in its satirical backdrop, responds to the 2021–22 events that led to the recall of members of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education. Well-schooled in the art of “divide and conquer,” the backers of the SF Recall movement used some minority faces to front the Recall. The character’s face as the Recall leader is Shashi Parmar (Sri Chilukuri). But his role is threatened when the downing of a U.S. spy plane over Indian airspace occurs, coupled with other nationalist Indian tensions. This leads to an anti-Indian sentiment on the West Coast. Indian Americans must hide or leave the country. A 21st-century Underground Railroad is established to get Indian Americans to Canada for passage to their homeland. Ironically, the Conductor of this Underground Railroad is a Black journalist named Warren Chipp (Brian Anthony Simmons), Shashi’s rival. Simmons puts on a tour-de-force performance—if he doesn’t make it to Broadway or Hollywood in a big way, this writer will be surprised.
The scenes that take place in the home of the Chipp are quite poignant and combative between the two protagonists, trading a war of words with some ignorant comments from Shashi, who thinks he understands Black life but is confused by propaganda. His role, along with Simmons eloquently spouting Black and European history, are the cornerstones of this engrossing play.
Reed is brilliant when it comes to importing Black history into the present when it comes to making a point in the now, but as the Conductor Chipp points out, “Black history is American history.” In this return engagement, Reed took time to infuse some important facts into the conversation, which he calls “A Living Newspaper,” from the Supreme Court reversing the ruling on Roe v. Wade to Moms for Liberty, the foolish new rising star in the Republican Party Vivek Ramaswamy, as well as the missing Asian American voice at Harvard University during and after the Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action programs.
The entire cast, who bring this reimagined Underground Railroad speeding down the tracks with its twists and turns, are all outstanding: Laura Robards as (Hedda “Buttermilk” Duckbill), Kenya Wilson (Melody), Monisha Shiva (Kala Parmar), Emil Guillermo (Gabriel Noitallde, Lester Bright, Ed Blum). The play was directed by Carla Blank, with music composed by Ishmael Reed.
Humor, factual research, and satire are the combustive elements that make “The Conductor” this year’s masterpiece!
Now playing at the Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue, Manhattan’s Lower Eastside). For ticket information, call 212-254-1109 or visit theaterforthenewcity.net.
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