Music writer Jessica Novak profiles Onondaga Community College’s Legends of Jazz series, which starts Friday with Chick Corea and the Vigil
The Legends of Jazz music series is now in its sixth season of bringing world-class jazz names such as Allen Toussaint, Joey DeFrancesco and Pat Metheny to the intimate Storer Auditorium at Onondaga Community College. The series, part of the college’s Arts Across Campus initiative, will keep the tradition going with four major acts, starting with this week’s appearances by Chick Corea and the Vigil. The Heath Brothers, Cecile McLorin Salvant and the Rebirth Brass Band will perform later in the season.
“No one is doing a series of this caliber,” says Frank Malfitano, producer of the event as well as founder and producer of the Syracuse M&T Jazz Fest. “No one is bringing jazz legends of this magnitude into a facility of this size. It’s kind of unprecedented. We’ve got two NEA Jazz Masters this year (Jimmy Heath and Chick Corea).”
Considering the quality of the acts and the size of the Storer venue (only 353 seats), the combination is unique. It’s one that Malfitano hopes works as a bridge between Jazz Fests each year, also held at OCC.
“The point is to provide a link between festivals,” he says. “It’s a link to keep an interest in world-class jazz and a presence in world-class jazz here throughout the calendar year.”
The showcases begin with Chick Corea and the Vigil, with performances at 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 19. Keyboardist Corea is no stranger to Central New York, with several previous Jazz Fest gigs under his belt. Now aligned with a hot new band, Malfitano promises, “They’re going to blow the roof off Storer.”
Chick Corea and the Vigil
Friday, Sept. 19, 4:30 and 7 p.m.
Malfitano says: “Chick Corea is unparalleled when it comes to jazz keyboard. The Vigil is the next incarnation of Chick. It’s Return to Forever to the next power.”
Why you should go: Corea’s jazz-fusion keys playing and composition has led him to 59 Grammy Award nominations and 20 wins. Return to Forever, which boasts a stellar membership including Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Frank Gambale and Jean-Luc Ponty, is a definitive group in the jazz-fusion lineage. Corea has also performed with various groups at Jazz Fests since the mid-1980s. “The relationship goes back 30 years,” Malfitano says.
Listen to: Return to Forever, Romantic Warrior
The Heath Brothers
Friday, Oct. 31, 4:30 and 7 p.m.
Malfitano says: “Jimmy Heath has won every award conceivable. He’s the most decorated jazz player on the planet and unquestionably the most beloved. He’s been here for decades.”
Why you should go: Formed in 1975, this band of brothers–Jimmy (tenor sax), Percy (bass) and Albert “Tootie” (drums)–has provided years of music to the world of jazz. Jimmy Heath, who performed at the first Jazz Fest in 1983, will also celebrate his 88th birthday during the Halloween gigs. “I think we’re gonna give away Heath bars,” Malfitano says. “Definitely a birthday cake to celebrate this incredible friend.”
Watch: The DVD Brotherly Jazz: The Heath Brothers, recorded in 2004 just before Percy Heath’s death.
Cecile McLorin Salvant
Friday, Feb. 27, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Malfitano says: “Cecile is like Cyrille Aimee, she’s an up-and-comer, future legend. She’s won every best new artist and rising star poll out there. She’s a superstar in the making and the darling of the jazz world. She’s young, but carrying on the tradition her own way. She’s old school. Each season we try to feature a future legend. We think she’s gonna be great 20 to 30 years from now.”
Why you should go: Drawing immediate comparisons to voices like Billie Holiday, Salvant has pipes that defy the generation she was born into. She snagged a Grammy Award nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2014 and is known for her unique interpretations of jazz and blues. The ghosts of jazz past have been known to haunt her performances in the very best ways.
Listen to: WomanChild
The Rebirth Brass Band
Friday, March 27, 4:30 and 7 p.m.
Malfitano says: “Rebirth maintains the tradition that Jazz Fest has with New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. Anyone who likes Trombone Shorty, Preservation Hall, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, they (Rebirth) started all of that. They were at the forefront of the shift in New Orleans music. They will be our Mardi Gras.”
Why you should go: After the success of Trombone Shorty at the 2014 Jazz Fest, this is a natural fit. Rebirth, founded in 1983 by tuba and sousaphone player Philip Frazier and his bass drummer brother Keith Frazier, in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, has been respected as the NoLa brass band in the decades following. The mix of funk, jazz, soul and hip-hop will make it hard for bottoms to stay in seats.
Listen to: Do Whatcha Wanna
Just the Facts
Ticket prices for both afternoon and evening shows are: Chick Corea ($50), Heath Brothers ($40), Cecile McLorin Salvant ($30), Rebirth Brass Band ($30).
Any Central New York high school vocal or instrumental student musician can attend the 4:30 p.m. shows for free by contacting OCC Jazz Ensemble director Joe Carello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited.
Storer Auditorium is located on the Onondaga Community College campus, 4585 W. Seneca Turnpike. For ticket information, visit srcarena.com or call 498-2772. For Legends of Jazz information, visit sunyocc.edu.