Sunday, September 3, 2017

Concert Review: The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival at Tompkins Square Park

After years of pledging to attend the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in New York City, I fulfilled the longstanding goal last weekend.  I caught the final day of the 25th edition of the event at Tompkins Square Park.  The free afternoon concert featured performances by the Joshua Redman Quartet, Lou Donaldson, Tia Fuller and Alicia Olatuja.

The composition and demeanor of the audience of more than 3,000 was as striking as the auspicious lineup.  Rather than treating jazz as background music, the audience dominated by people born in the ‘80s and ‘90s was reverent.  Only the yipping of a dog at the back of the park broke the deferential silence during Redman’s unaccompanied introduction of an exquisite reading of “Stardust.”

The cultivated sound of saxophonist Redman, pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Marcus Gilmore seemed stuffy following a raucous outing by Lou Donaldson.  The ninety-year-old saxophonist was responsible for the day’s most memorable moment. Much to the consternation of the mortified emcee and a livid stage manager, Donaldson refused to cede the stage when his allotted time had expired.

After asserting that “I haven’t played in six months,” Donaldson and his band of guitarist Eric Johnson, organist Akiko Tsuruga and drummer Joe Farnsworth launched into a loose reading of his 1967 classic “Alligator Boogaloo” as the festival’s organizers fumed.  In addition to playing “Blues Walk,” “Wade in the Water,” “Wee” and singing a Kansas City-style blues, Donaldson told bawdy jokes and talked smack on music made after 1970.

Tia Fuller isn’t stuck in the past.  Abetted by pianist Shamie Royston, bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn, the saxophonist played state-of-the-art soul-jazz that was accentuated by refreshing bursts of anarchic shrieks.  Olatuja’s opening set was highlighted by an extended rendition of “Amazing Grace.”  How sweet the sound, indeed.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)