Jazz in New York
[ Issue 26 ]

Emily Bronto clearly approves of Jazz in Black and White

Bikwil will always sing the praises of Jazz in Black and White

Jazz in New York

Clare Hansson here recounts a musical visit of hers to New York.

Have you ever heard snow fall? You don't — it descends silently like a hick marshmallow cloak coating everything in sight with layer upon layer of pristine whiteness.

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Jazz in Black and White — Clare Hansson

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Have you ever heard snow fall? You don’t – it descends silently like a thick marshmallow cloak coating everything in sight with layer upon layer of pristine whiteness. After a 32-hour flight from my home in Brisbane to JFK airport in New York, the blinding spectacle of twelve inches of snow hurt my eyes as I gazed at Central Park. My hostess, a famed art historian, enticed me out into the frozen landscape to frolic with gay abandon. For a tropical Australian, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Despite spending my first New Year’s Eve in the Big Apple, the spectacle of Times Square, freshly cleared by snow-ploughs, was best viewed on television. The first two days of 2001 were spent hibernating in a state of surreal suspension until my hostess left for her field trip in Egypt and I became custodian of her artistically lavish apartment and two feline friends.

The primary purpose of my visit was to present a research paper at The International Association of Jazz Educators’ Conference from January 10 to 13. Marian McPartland, jazz pianist, and host of the long-running radio program Piano Jazz, is the subject of my PhD research, and the focus of my Conference paper. Meeting up with Marian again, after my appearance as a guest on Piano Jazz in 1999, rekindled my passion for the daunting task of writing a dissertation on her remarkable life in jazz. In the ten days leading up to the Conference, I spent long hours at the Institute of Jazz Studies in New Jersey, an invaluable jazz archive for a long-distance researcher. The journey involved three forms of transport, and on my last visit I was “arrested” for misunderstanding the complexities of the Newark Subway. Despite the intervention of two fellow researchers and my tearful pleading, a summons was issued. Oh, Praise the Lord, for leading me to a spiritually uplifting gospel service in a Harlem Baptist church to wash away my sins!

Seeking out live jazz as consolation, I returned to the enclave of Jazz at Noon, sitting in with a remarkable group of retired businessmen/musicians who have kept the flame of mainstream jazz flickering for 35 years. At one of the classiest club venues, The Jazz Standard, I drank in every note played by the formidable pianist, Tommy Flanagan, one of my idols. Exhilarated by the elegant artistry of his trio, I splurged on a cab that swept me along the grand illuminated boulevards of the “city that never sleeps”. Just as there is a seedier side to New York, the jazz life can breed heartache. A viewing of the Broadway show Sideman on video at the Performing Arts Library Annex, recommended to me by Cleo Laine, reduced me to tears. The highs and lows of both jazz and its musicians are evocatively portrayed in the Ken Burns documentary simply entitled Jazz. Nine riveting episodes went to air in January 2001, taking a historical, musical and critical perspective on America’s gift to music. For Australian fans, Jazz will be shown on the ABC.

The day of the Conference dawned, and after registration among thousands of jazz delegates, I haunted the ballrooms of both the Hilton and Sheraton hotels for a feast of jazz performances, panel discussions, seminars, workshops, exhibits and research presentations, all focusing on the theme of jazz education. My paper Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz: A Model for Jazz Education was scheduled for Friday the 13th, but it proved to be a good omen as the topic attracted an audience of devoted listeners to the popular program. Apart from the Conference highlights, the peak experience for me was attending a solo performance given by Marian in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in the Lincoln Center, the first time I had seen her in concert. She enthralled the audience with a sophisticated program of jazz standards and originals, and her pianism and quirky patter turned every head in the room away from the panoramic views of the New York skyline. Marian McPartland is a shining example of the rejuvenating power of jazz, as is saxophone player Neall Strand, who invited me to play piano on a second CD of Mellow Jazz in Colorado before flying home. Recording with American musicians was inspirational, and I returned home enriched by such a kaleidoscope of musical experiences, by renewing old friendships and cementing new ones, and by resonances of my previous visits to the jazz capital of the world. Long live jazz!

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