We were once a must-play tour stop for jazz, a city known among artists as one comprising an open-minded and “into it” group of listeners who not only would fill the club, but give back to the musicians as much as they were receiving. At a recent tour stop in the area, renowned jazz and funk bassist Marcus Miller said as much.
“This is Buffalo, man, and we up here on the stage know that you guys in Buffalo don’t mess around.”
It was nice to hear this, really, because as a major jazz market, we’ve spent the better part of a decade on the decline, while we simultaneously watched our neighbor to the east, Rochester, build one of the most prominent yearly jazz festivals in the state, if not the country.
So how has Rochester taken over our role as a jazz mini-mecca? A colleague put it very succinctly: “Radio,” he said. “When we lost WBFO as a jazz station, we lost our hold as a jazz market.”
Indeed, WBFO’s turn away from jazz programming – which began in earnest in 2010 and concluded with the complete elimination of jazz programming earlier this year – seemed to coincide with the Tralf Music Hall’s gradual erosion of jazz bookings. The club hosted several generations of jazz giants over the years, from early icons like Stephane Grappelli and Max Roach, to their “children in jazz,” McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea and Pat Metheny, among others. But jazz bookings at the club are a rarity these days, and it’s likely that the lack of radio support in the area had something to do with this gradual shift.
It’s interesting, then, to note that between now and Thanksgiving, three of the greatest living jazz artists will be performing high-profile gigs in our region.
Friday, Chick Corea will bring his new band, the Vigil, to Artpark’s Mainstage Ampitheatre; Oct. 8, the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts welcomes iconic keyboardist Herbie Hancock and his band; and Nov. 21, that same venue will present an evening with Wayne Shorter.
What do these three shows have in common, other than the fact that Corea, Hancock and Shorter all came to prominence in the jazz world while young men in the employ of the great Miles Davis? They represent a veritable onslaught of marquee-level jazz activity in the region – particularly when you factor in a performance by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra at Artpark earlier in the summer and bookings for Pat Metheny’s Unity Band and jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan already scheduled for the early months of 2014.
Here’s the lowdown on the three jazz legends coming to town between this Friday and Thanksgiving, and a hint of what you can expect from their appearances.
Who: Chick Corea & the Vigil
8 p.m. Friday, Artpark
What to expect: Corea has been a moving target since emerging as a major “young gun” in the late ’60s. In both the more traditional acoustic world and the electrified idiom of fusion, Corea has rarely repeated himself.
With the Vigil, Corea has assembled an incredibly hot band, one that pushes him to even greater heights as both player and composer. Fans of Return To Forever and Chick Corea Electric Band will likely freak out over the album “The Vigil,” due on Aug. 6, and the band that bears the same name – Corea, saxophonist Tim Garland, guitarist Charles Altrua, bassist Christian McBride, drummer Marcus Gilmore, percussionist Pernell Saturnino, and vocalist (and wife to Corea) Gayle Moran Corea. This is burning jazz-fusion, with an emphasis on the jazz.
Tickets: $30, $37, $45 (All reserved, no general admission lawn for this show.)
Who: Herbie Hancock, UB Center for the Arts, Oct. 9
What to expect: Like Corea, Hancock has reveled in a restless creativity since he first hooked up with Miles Davis while still in his teens. He is considered a game-changer in the world of funk-jazz fusion, with records like “Headhunters” and “Thrust” widely held to be absolute classics within the form. He prefigured EDM with several of his ’80s recordings. He is still completely capable of holding an audience in the palm of his hand with a solo piano performance. And sometimes, he combines all of these various micro-personalities within a single concert.
No firm word yet on exactly who will be in his band this time around, according to the concert’s promoters, but Hancock seems to be completely incapable of offering a disappointing show at this point in his career.
Tickets: $77.50, $67.50, $57.50, $37.50, $27.50
Who: Wayne Shorter, UB Center for the Arts, Nov. 21
What to expect: My colleague Jeff Simon begs to differ – he insists that this title belongs to Sonny Rollins, which is tough to argue – but for my money, Wayne Shorter is the greatest living jazz saxophonist. He is an eloquent and inventive soloist and a profoundly daring composer. Shorter, at 78, is still in full possession of his estimable gifts. And his quartet – made up of drummer Brian Blade, bassist John Pattitucci, and pianist Danillo Perez – is among the very finest in all of jazz.
If I had a million dollars, I’d bet it all that this show will be nothing short of sublime.
Tickets: $54, $46, $38
Buffalo jazz is alive and well
It’s indeed a wonderful thing that so many major names in the world of jazz are once again making Buffalo a stop on their concert tours. But even when this hasn’t been the case, the independent jazz scene in Buffalo has always offered world-class talent in a variety of venues on a consistent basis.
Among the top-tier musicians regularly playing jazz in the area are Michael McNeil; Kelly Bucheger; Matt Michaud; Carlos Day; Nelson Rivera; Dan Hull; John Bacon; Bill Todd; Cameron Kayne; Nelson Starr; Eric Crittenden; (full disclosure: Starr and Crittenden are personal friends of mine); Rick Holland; George Caldwell; Wayne Moose; Stu Weissman; Bobby Millitello; Mike DiSanto; and Bobby Jones. They are many others, too. All of these players could cut it in even the most competitive jazz scene. That they choose to live and make music in Buffalo should be accepted as a blessing for us.
If you’re looking to hear some fine local live jazz, you have plenty of choices, among them The Iris in the Maple Entertainment Complex; Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar, which presents Soul-Jazz/Neo-Soul programs featuring the band Verse every Tuesday; the Tralf Music Hall, which still books jazz acts on occasion; Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center; the Colored Musicians Club; the Sportsmen’s Tavern, which is widely held to be an Americana room, but has been stretching out to accommodate jazz of late; and Pausa Art House.
Check the Gusto listings each week for the full lineup at these venues.
- Jeff Miers