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Suit up for Winter JazzFest, and a flurry of other musical highlights

Nate Chinen

New York City always presents a movable feast for jazz fans, but never more so than in the second week of January. That's when the usual abundance kicks into overdrive, thanks to the overlap of APAP|NYC+ — the conference of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals — and Winter Jazzfest, which began as a trade showcase in 2005.

The last full-scale Winter Jazzfest took place in 2020, weeks before the coronavirus pandemic settled into its disruptive course. Now, after virtual editions in 2021 and 2022, the event has rumbled back to life, bringing hundreds of musicians to crowded stages in Manhattan and Brooklyn. It's a lot to process, and it isn't even the full picture.

Here are some highlights to consider over the next several days. We'll be back next week with a Winter Jazzfest review. In the meantime, see you out there!

Thursday, Jan. 12: New Standards Live | James Brandon Lewis

Here are two Winter Jazzfest concert programs, each worthy of serious consideration. As the title implies, New Standards Live enlarges on a Grammy-nominated album by Terri Lyne Carrington, spotlighting music by women composers. The concert, hosted by Melanie Charles, will bring its spirit to life with more than a dozen of Carrington's peers, including Kris Davis, Linda May Han Oh, Mary Halvorson and Helen Sung. At City Winery.

The timing probably won't make it practical to dash between one and the other, but Thursday also brings a showcase by James Brandon Lewis. My first encounter with Lewis was on a Winter Jazzfest stage in 2014, and it's been inspiring to follow him since. He made the most critically acclaimed jazz album of 2021, and his latest, Eye of I, will be released on Anti- Records in just a few weeks. At Nublu.

Friday, Jan. 13: NYC Winter Jazzfest Manhattan Marathon

In many ways the centerpiece of Winter Jazzfest, the Manhattan Marathon convenes dozens of bands across a swath of urban landscape in Lower Manhattan — in seven venues this year, as far west as City Winery at Pier 57 and as far east as Nublu on Avenue C. This year, hosts from Jazz Media Lab stations will emcee much of the marathon; look out for WRTI's Greg Bryant at the City Winery Loft and Josh Jackson at Le Poisson Rouge, with folks from KMHD and WBGO at other stages.

Lakecia Benjamin at Winter Jazzfest in 2020.
Jonathan Chimene
Lakecia Benjamin at Winter Jazzfest in 2020.

Every listener should assemble their own itinerary, factoring in taste profile, timing and proximity. But you'd do well to prioritize Immanuel Wilkins (6:30 p.m., Le Poisson Rouge); Endea Owens and The Cookout (7:30 p.m., Zinc Bar); Chris Lightcap's Superette Deluxe (7:30 p.m., The Jazz Gallery); Ben Wendel (8:30 p.m., City Winery); the Marta Sánchez Quintet (10 p.m., Zinc Bar): Reid Anderson (10:15 p.m., Nublu); Lakecia Benjamin (11 p.m., City Winery); and Linda May Han Oh (11:15 p.m., City Winery Loft). To be clear: nobody, not even someone with teleportation powers, could catch all of the above. But as any marathon runner will tell you, agony is part of the deal.

Friday, Jan. 13 to Monday, Jan. 16: The New York Jazz Piano Festival Marathon

As it happens, Winter Jazzfest doesn't have the only marathon in town this APAP season. Jim Luce, a longtime champion of the pianistic arts, has returned to his old stomping ground — the Klavierhaus, a deluxe piano showroom in midtown — to gather more than two dozen elite jazz artists in a series of performances. Among the pianists taking part: Philadelphia's own Dave Burrell, Uri Caine and Orrins Evans; Miki Yamanaka; Arturo O'Farrill; Ethan Iverson; Marc Cary; and Rachel Z. Buy tickets here.

Saturday, Jan. 14: NYC Winter Jazzfest Brooklyn Marathon

By now it should be widely understood that the jazz scene has an epicenter, if not much of an infrastructure, in Brooklyn. This year's Brooklyn Marathon is a welcome acknowledgment of that fact, with programming at spaces both on the standard itinerary (Brooklyn Bowl) and off the usual grid (Loove Labs). Once again, members of the Jazz Media Lab — mainly KMHD, which seems to have flown its entire crew over from Portland, Ore. — will take care of host duties.

You'll want to keep an eye on the scene at Superior Ingredients in Williamsburg, which boasts successive sets by Gilles Peterson, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Makaya McCraven, Irreversible Entanglements, and Nate Smith with Jason Lindner and Tim Lefebvre. But don't sleep on The Opera House, which will feature Impulse! artists Julius Rodriguez and Brandee Younger, or Baby's All Right, which will welcome Sarah Elizabeth Charles.

Sunday, Jan. 15: Winter Jazzfest Jazz Talks

Continuing a Winter Jazzfest tradition, the music comes with a complement of discussion, deliberation and debate. The Jazz Talks series actually begins on Thursday with "Why the Jazz World Needs Gender Equity," an important conversation that naturally ties in with New Standards Live (but also considers a wider view). But the bulk of the talks will happen on Sunday, including two at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem: a roundtable anchored by Willard Jenkins, in conjunction with his new book Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story; and a panel discussion titled State of Jazz Radio in the Digital Age, which I'll moderate, with Matt Fleeger (KMHD), Darek Mazzone (KEXP), Josh Jackson (WRTI) and Keanna Faircloth (Artimacy podcast).

Sunday, Jan. 15: Flock Up and Fly: A Night Honoring Jaimie Branch

jaimie branch, who died in 2022, performs with her group FLY or DIE in New York in 2020.
Jonathan Chimene
jaimie branch, who died on Monday, August 22 at 39, performs with her group FLY or DIE in New York in 2020.

The fearless trumpeter and composer jaimie branch, who died last fall, embodied many of the principles that Winter Jazzfest sets out to represent: conviction, community, a spirit of urgency in the moment. There have been other gatherings in her memory, but this one promises to be fittingly epic, featuring former collaborators like guitarists Jeff Parker and Anthony Pirog, drummer Chad Taylor, and vocalists Amirtha Kidambi and Fay Victor. The evening's music director will be Lester St. Louis, branch's former band mate in FLY or DIE.

Monday, Jan. 16: Verve at Winter Jazzfest

There was a time when Winter Jazzfest was understood mainly in underground terms, as an indie gathering. This Verve Records showcase merely underscores the reality: major labels are as invested in this festival, and what it represents, as anyone else. It helps, of course, that the artists on the current Verve / Impulse! roster include free spirits like Brandee Younger, Julius Rodriguez and Samara Joy, who'll all appear here, on a label showcase at Le Poisson Rouge.

Tuesday, Jan. 17: Samora Pinderhughes, GRIEF & PROCESS

Singer-songwriter, pianist and composer Samora Pinderhughes has a longstanding commitment to social justice, and in the exploration of emotional healing. He has been presiding over a multimedia installation piece at The Kitchen, titled GRIEF: A New Project of Revolutionary Songs. (He also released an album of related music last year.) This concert event, co-presented by The Kitchen, will feature a handful of collaborators utilizing both the musical and visual arts.

Wednesday, Jan. 18: Closing Night Show

For those who are still left standing by next Wednesday, there's a lot to get hype about in the Winter Jazzfest finale at Nublu. Katalyst, the nine-piece groove collective recently featured in the Jazz is Dead series, will deliver its blend of improv, hip-hop and more. And drummer extraordinaire Antonio Sánchez will perform both in solo format and with his partner, vocalist Thana Alexa — as on her projects and his own group Bad Hombre.

For more information about Winter Jazzfest, visit the official website.

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