MFM’s 1st Official Public Event…An Evening of Jazz and Solidarity
Event review by Dawoud Kringle
On Wednesday, Sept 5th, 2018, Musicians for Musicians (MFM) and Eclectix (a composers and musicians organization) united forces to present an Evening of Jazz in Support of Professional Musicians at Zinc Bar (NY). The night’s music was offered by tenor sax master and MFM board member Billy Harper and his Quintet, and the E.C.O. Ensemble, a quintet of jazz composers / musicians led by guitarist and MFM supporter Roger Blanc. Kim Schmidt hosted and opened the event.
Billy Harper’s ensemble (featuring Freddie Hendricks on trumpet, Francesca Tanksley on piano, Hwansu Kang on bass, and Aaron Scott on drums) opened with “Illuminations,” a piece that started with hits and silences. Hendricks and Harper joined the drums, bass, and piano. This led into a melodically vivacious head.
Harper took the first solo. He explored the song and interjected it with a personality of its own. The rhythm section responded to him and gave him a lot to work with. There were inevitable moments of “out” (like cycle of fourths tonality bridging the changes), but the structure of the song was never lost. Hendricks has the unenviable task of following Harper’s masterful solo. As the band responded to the change in soloists, he began with an easy melodic introduction which grew into his own poetic contribution to the song’s vibe. His trumpet cried with joy and navigated its way around the changes, while the band followed him in their own expressions of joy. Tanksley followed with a slightly more reserved and contemplative interpretation of the song. The drums and bass provided a widely varied background for her to paint her picture. The head returned with trading of measures and hits with the drums, and gave way to a duet between Harper and drums. The band joined them, and the song ended on a high note.
The next piece, “Soran-Bushi,” (which is one of the most famous Japanese traditional folk dances. A dance which subjects the scenes of catching herrings.) began with Tanksley giving an intro that had an almost Gospel feel. The drums responded with a jazz mood, with the bass answering her chords. Harper and Hendricks rose above this with a unison head. Hendricks took the first solo. He brought the blues out of this piece beautifully. Harper took his solo. He eased into the song with casual understatement, and mostly treated his solo as an extension of the melody rather than a vehicle for far reaching exploration. He proved, as he always does, that he has a master’s understanding of what this music must achieve. Tanksley began her solo with a sense of understatement not unlike Harper’s approach, but eased in and out of the extended harmonies that are part of the jazz vocabulary. The head re-emerged after her brief solo, with Harper and Hendricks playing the unison parts.
Kang’s work on the bass had, the whole night, providing a deceptively subtle and complex underscore behind the other musicians, his strong sense of melody bridging the drum’s rhythms and the piano’s harmonics. Scott is a marvelous drummer, whose work balances power and subtlety, and, like the greats who preceded him, brings a poetic element to the function of jazz drums.
After an all too brief set, MFM founder Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi spoke to the audience about the mission of MFM. His brief and heartfelt statement underscored the entire reason MFM and Eclectix joined forces for the night – the entire reason for the existence of the organizations. Saadat also emphasized that the night’s event was an official announcement of MFM’s goal of the 500.000 musicians DC March in 2020, and MFM’s new slogan #UnityInTheMusicCommunity. This would unite professional musicians through a common cause: endorsing the Music Modernization Act (MMA) by inviting members (and friends of MFM) to email their senators to urge them to vote for this bill.
After Schmidt spoke briefly, Saadat addressed the audience once again, reading messages from friends of MFM who couldn’t be there. Mark Ribot, Dave Liebman, Dr. Cornell West, Arturo O’Ferrell (who was there when Sohrab read his message), Banning Eyre, and Ken Hatfield had all sent their well wishes and support.
After Kim Schmidt offers a lively introduction, the E.C.O. Ensemble (with Roger Blanc on guitar and composition, Michael Laderman on flute and composition, Emiko Hayashi piano and composition, David Picton on drums and composition, and Jeong Hwan Park on bass) took the stage. They started with “Out of Nowhere.” Blanc’s guitar set the tone for a light and happy exploration of the standard. Laderman carried the melody during the head, and took a beautifully executed solo (which was, regrettably, not quite loud enough in the house mix). Blanc took a solo that evoked the lyrical essence of the song. Hayashi stepped up with a masterful interpretation. Bass came forward and offered another perspective on the standard. Fours were exchanged with Picton, as per the time honored jazz tradition.
They followed with an original called “Catching the Express.” The song took of with a brisk and lively pace. Laderman really stepped out and showed what could be done with the song. Blanc’s solo was brilliant. He interspersed Wes Montgomery inspired phrases with blues licks. Hayashi and Park each soloed with the skill and aplomb the music demands. Park’s solo showed a marvelous sense of melody. Fours were once again traded with the drums, and the head returned.
They continued with “The Shadow of Your Smile.” Blanc’s masterful comping ushered in a smooth samba. Blanc seemed well in his musical element in this song, with a solo that was beyond criticism (except for being too brief: I was really enjoying it).
Another original, named “Dog Days” followed. The languid and sedate feel of the song was perfectly suited to the season and heat wave we’d been experiencing in NYC. After Laderman’s flute solo, Hayashi cane in and offered a bluesy, ballad interpretation of the song. Blanc had a similar understanding of the song, making it almost a lament.
The standard “How High the Moon” was next. They gave the classic the respect it merits, and breathed a new life into it. They followed this with an original; “Thunder Luck.” This was a Latin Jazz piece, a dreamy samba with liquid melody and airy chords.
They concluded with the original “Semaphore.” This was the most adventurous piece of the set; a rollicking 6/8 with a happy, confident feel that abruptly gave way to a brisk 4/4 swing. Blanc, Laderman, and Hayashi all soloed with a joyful abandon. Picton’s drum solo seamlessly ushered in the 6/8 that began the piece.
It is important to note that both ensembles performed voluntarily; their music was an offering to help promote an important agenda.
The success of the evening was principally due to three factors: 1. The work of the master musicians who graced the stage at Zinc Bar, 2. The acknowledgement of the need for solidarity among musicians behind the basic idea that musicians must be paid for their work, and 3. the stated intention and objectives of the 2020 march in Washington DC, and our unified support of the MMA.
The idea is picking up serious momentum, and it’s clear it cannot be stopped.