It’s difficult now to remember a time when January in New York City was a chilly lull between the closing days of a packed fall culture season and the onset of its spring successor – and that’s due in no little part to the advent and steady growth of Winter Jazzfest, an annual celebration of the state of the art in adventurous, future-forward jazz. Founded in 2005, the festival has become a reliable destination for aficionados and curiosity seekers alike – not least for its banner showcase, the Winter Jazzfest Marathon.
“We’re particularly proud to welcome thousands of new jazz fans and avid listeners to our signature two-day Winter Jazzfest Marathon, which features over 100 different groups performing on a dozen stages around Greenwich Village,” Winter Jazzfest founder Brice Rosenboom stated by email about the event. “As always, the Marathon is an ideal way for any music lover to discover so many new artists.”
The announcement of just who’s playing each year’s Marathon is itself a hotly awaited event. Today, the wait is over: National Sawdust Log has the official word on the initial lineup for the 2018 NYC Winter Jazzfest Marathon, scheduled for January 12 and 13, 2018.
That imposing lineup represents a slight decrease from last year’s festival, a necessity prompted by ongoing labor union negotiations and cost-cutting measures, according to a recent New York Timesreport. But instead of cutting corners, the marathon will feature some artists – notably the British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, the Chicago flutist Nicole Mitchell, and the New York guitarist Marc Ribot – leading multiple projects. Some artists also will play longer sets.
The rest of the festival, the lineup of which was announced previously, embraces and extends a theme of social justice introduced with the 2017 Jazzfest. “In a year that has forced us all to be more socially conscious on many levels, Winter Jazzfest is pleased to support artists presenting relevant musical statements around racial justice, gender equality, immigration rights and other serious issues of the day – issues that affect all of us,” Rosenboom explained. In addition to sets inspired by protest songs and conscious messages, the festival will present panel discussions and for-credit academic programs.
Further highlights of the 2018 festival include a British jazz showcase hosted by Gilles Peterson and featuring Shabaka Hutchings (Jan. 10); an eclectic showcase featuring jazz and neo-soul singer José James paying tribute to Bill Withers, drummer Louis Cole’s Knower, and vocalist/composer Shara Nova’s My Brightest Diamond (Jan. 11); a Town Hall showcase for Spanish singer Buika and Chilean singer-guitarist Camila Meza (Jan. 12); a celebration of Alice Coltrane led by her son, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (Jan. 14); and a star-studded tribute to Geri Allen directed by drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington (Jan. 15).
“We feel privileged to have the opportunity to stage a grand musical homage to the inspirational life and music of the late Geri Allen,” Rosenboom said. “Presenting her at Winter Jazzfest many times over the past years, we experienced firsthand how influential she was on the lives of so many different accomplished musicians. We’re proud to partner with Terri Lyne Carrington, who will music-direct the show, as well as Motéma Music, her label from 2010 onwards, and Geri’s longtime manager, Ora Harris.”
Ambitious projects close this year’s festival in two evenings featuring Nicole Mitchell, the 2018 Winter Jazzfest Artist-in-Residence. “We’re very pleased to celebrate the music of Nicole Mitchell in multiple settings with New York and Chicago musicians,” Rosenboom said. On Jan. 16, Mitchell mounts her elaborate, fantastical science-fiction song cycle Mandorla Awakening II, sharing the bill withrecent MacArthur Foundation grant recipient Tyshawn Sorey, who performs a solo set with percussion and synthesizer. And on Jan. 17, Mitchell and her poetically earthy chamber-music quartet Maroon Cloud appears alongside the dynamic art-pop quartet Deerhoof (recently profiled on National Sawdust Log) and its special guest: the venerable trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith.
In a recent Winter Jazzfest newsletter, Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier described what led to this seemingly unlikely collaboration:
The first time I saw Wadada, he was playing a duo with a poet reading her work. Satomi heard that Kazuko Shiraishi was coming to San Francisco and said we had to go. I’m not sure I ever heard somebody listen as intently, or find such perfect moments to put isolated musical gestures. The sound of the trumpet was quiet, fragile, and heartbreaking, but extremely bold and decisive. The audience was like 10 old ladies. At the end we had to talk to Wadada. He exceeded any expectations with his kindness. He gave us a new CD of his trio with Malachi Favors and Andrew Davis. Next time Deerhoof was planning a show in southern California, we reached out. We knew he taught at Cal Arts so we got in touch that way and asked if he wanted to be on the bill. He said no. Instead he suggested to our extreme surprise that he just join our band that night. I sent him a few mp3s but really we had no idea what was going to happen. That night at the Echoplex in LA, we met him at soundcheck and chatted vaguely a bit about the plan. Mostly we wanted to listen to stories. When it came time to play he just came on. Every bit as forceful as he had been fragile with Kazuko. Just as decisive, and seemingly clairvoyant. We had been on tour playing the same songs for some time, but there was no way we could play them the same way in that moment. Wadada was shooting from the hip, no decorative or background stuff. His gestures were so bold, they reshaped the songs and turned them into new songs that we didn’t really know and had to improvise our way through. The familiar became unfamiliar. Playing with Wadada was one of the great thrills of our career.
Tickets for the 2018 NYC Winter Jazzfest go on sale Nov. 3. For ticket information, additional details, and possible schedule changes, check out the festival’s website at winterjazzfest.com.