Get Cultured — June 15, 2015 at 12:25 pm

How I Jazzed Up My Weekend with the Blue Note Jazz Festival

Photo credit: Jack Vartoogian

Photo credit: Jack Vartoogian

Recently having had to cancel a much-anticipated trip to the New Orleans Jazz Festival, I was feeling a little bummed out. I had just envisioned myself, a nice bourbon on the rocks in hand, eyes closed, nodding along to the sweet sounds of the saxophones and trumpets, as the music flowed into my ears and through my brain, right down to my soul, where it would relax both my mind and my muscles until all I could feel was unadulterated happiness. Ok, yes, I was REALLY bummed about not going.

But then, in a turn of serendipitous events, I heard about the Blue Note Jazz Festival, being held at SummerStage in Central Park only a few weeks later. Naturally, I jumped right on board the opportunity to go see this, and my visions of relaxation and joy began to resurface. I was so excited!

The day of the concert was perfect. The music was scheduled to begin at 3pm, and the sun was shining bright and there was (all clichés aside) quite literally not a cloud in the sky. Everything you could possibly ask for in an outdoor concert. When I first arrived, there weren’t many people there. Everyone was still starting to trickle in; it was still about a half an hour before it was going to start. My date and I were able to get a lovely shaded spot on the bleachers, in perfect view of the stage. It was all just so pretty and festive, there were a handful of stands, selling beer and food and ice-cream and, of course, memorabilia. The grass was so green, the air was so warm, and the stage looked so inviting. I was in heaven.
Before the music even started, we obviously had to get settled in with a beverage. We strolled on over to the beer tent to see what they had. For one thing, the bartenders had set up a sign that said, “Good tippers make great lovers,” which, as someone who as been a longstanding member of the service industry, I appreciated greatly. That was enough to make me want to buy a few beers from them (and tip them generously!). The concert was also partly sponsored by Rekorderlig, a Swedish hard cider that was absolutely to die for.

Photo credit: Aehee Kang Asano

Photo credit: Aehee Kang Asano

Already very happy, I settled down and waited excitedly for the music to begin. I didn’t have to wait very long: as if out of nowhere, the trumpets began playing and the music started. There were three jazz musicians set to play that day—Meshell Ndegeocello, Roy Hargrove, and Gabriel Garzon-Montano.

First up was Gabriel Garzon-Montano, a Brooklyn-based Columbian-French artist. If I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be him, though all the musicians were outstanding. I think it was because he was not only jazzy, but there were elements of funk and hip-hop in his songs. He didn’t just play, but sang, as well, and I was so drawn in to his lyrics and style. It was both bouncy and upbeat, while simultaneously soothing and relaxing. His sound sort of reminded me of Bill Withers, and I found myself wanting to sing along, though I didn’t know the words. I couldn’t help but to move to the beat and sway with the intoxicating rhythm of his words. He really did set the stage (no pun intended) for the rest of the show. After he left, I was even more ready to drink more beer, hear more jazz, and really enjoy my Saturday afternoon.

Next to take the spotlight was Roy Hargrove who, according to a jazz enthusiast sitting behind me, is the leading face of the new generation of jazz. A pretty big claim, sure, but once he started playing I could see this statement was strongly founded. Unlike Garzon-Montano, he did not sing (at least not at this particular concert, though I think that he does do vocals). The way he played the trumpet was inconceivable to me, though. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how someone just takes an instrument and makes it part of his body in such a way that as an audience member, I was unsure of where the trumpet ended and Hargrove began. It was exceptional. I couldn’t help but to lean my head on my date’s shoulder, close my eyes and just let the sounds wash over me as my body just drank in the music. It was, in many senses of the word, completely intoxicating.

Photo credit: Aehee Kang Asano

Photo credit: Aehee Kang Asano

As he was wrapping up, many more people had trickled in and the venue was quite crowded. Everyone seemed so happy and relaxed, however. Unlike a more theatrical or showy concert, it never felt necessary to keep your eyes fixed on the stage at all times. Instead, it was more about enjoying yourself as you listened. I saw people lying on their backs with their eyes closed, a slight smile lingering on their faces. Other people were playing cards on blankets, drinking and tilting their faces to the sun, as the trumpets’ music floated around them.

We decided to move at this point, before Meshell Ndegeocello took her turn on the stage. I wanted to lay down on the grass in the sun, too, and just listen to the music while enjoying the atmosphere. I was excited for her performance because one, she was the only female and two, I heard she was a rapper, as well as a bassist and jazz musician. I was looking forward to seeing and hearing that type of combination firsthand. And although I didn’t see her, since I was in the grass a few yards away, I only needed to hear her to really enjoy her performance. Ndegeocello’s sound is a unique, but amazing combination of soul and funk and jazz and hip-hop. At certain points, her music even reminded me of Alanis Morissette’s for some inexplicable reason. Maybe it was just the way she was entertaining and empowering all at the same time, and just conveyed this sense of power and beauty. It is hard to articulate, but was wonderful to experience all the same.

As I’m sure it’s clear to see, I had an incredibly enriching and fulfilling time at the Blue Note Jazz Festival. Central Park’s SummerStage was a perfect venue, the artists were beyond talented, and the music was inspiring and just simply gorgeous. It was an impeccable way to spend a Saturday.

Twisted Talk: Have you been to a Summerstage concert before? Who are you most looking forward to seeing this summer? Discuss below!

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