All photos by Derek Meade
The motto for the Jazz Foundation of America is “Saving jazz and blues one musician at a time.” For the past 13 years, the foundation has been fighting the good fight to provide jazz and blues musicians in need with a range of services and opportunities. Its annual climatic moment is “A Great Night in Harlem,” a star-studded event at New York’s famed Apollo Theater. This year’s event was certainly historic, featuring appearances by none other than Quincy Jones, Bruce Willis and Chaka Khan, there to honor legends like trumpeter Clark Terry, Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White and the evening’s main honoree, pianist/composer Herbie Hancock.
The cause is a worthy one indeed; the recipients are more than deserving of their recognition; and the evening’s once-in-a-lifetime performances were truly miraculous. In honor of Maurice White, brother and Earth, Wind & Fire co-founder Verdine accepted the award on his behalf, expressing his gratitude for his brother and for the foundation. “Jazz is an American culture; it’s what America created,” White told Elmore. “It’s always great that we keep that in mind in honoring all the great artists.” Joining Verdine on stage for a special tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire were Chaka Khan, Angelique Kidjo, Paul Shaffer and Ray Parker, Jr, performing “That’s The Way of the World” and “Shining Star.”
Hancock then gave the Apollo a special treat, reuniting with his classic Mwandishi sextet for the first time in 40 years! Hancock—along with trombonist Julian Priester, flautist/saxophonist Bennie Maupin, bassist Buster Williams, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and drummer Billy Hart—thrilled everyone in the house with “Toys” and brought everyone to their feet with the funky “Chameleon.”
Beyond the amazing tributes, there were also standout performances from guest artists, such as a bruising blues tune from Susan Tedeschi and even Bruce Willis, who stepped away from his presenting duties to blow on the harmonica some. Brooklyn’s soulful 60-something Charles Bradley blessed the stage with his pain-drenched, down-home “The World (Is Going Up In Flames),” riling up the crowd with his dance moves as well.
Khan ended the night with her propulsive hit with Rufus, “You Got the Love,” reuniting on stage with the song’s co-author, Parker, whose rhythmic strumming is instantly recognizable.
All in all, it was a great night in Harlem, indeed.
– Matthew Allen