This Friday at Jorgensen, Jazz at Lincoln Center put on their local performance of “Songs We Love,” an impressive two-hour performance that takes a look at 50 years of jazz. Covering some of the most prominent artists and composers — Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Ma Rainey — this performance sought to be as true as possible to the original versions.
With strong vocal performances, it was easy to be moved along to the music as the three vocalists — Brianna Thomas, Vuyo Sotashe and Shenel Johns — covered a wide variety of vocal ranges and passion through their singing. From swing to blues, to more modern sounds, each set was sure to impress even the most critical of listeners. Words can’t describe the awe within the theater as song after song was performed. The energy in the room was electric, yet silent as we all gazed upon the stage drawn to the melodies like moths to a flame.
Unaware to most, jazz has been one of world history’s most important musical genres. Stemming from the blues and chain songs sung by slaves and workers during the late 1800s, it evolved into a full-blown genre at the turn of the new century. Black people hoping to escape their hardships turned to swing melodies and complex drumlines and white teens and young adults seeking to be rebellious found homes on integrated dance floors and clubs. Long before rap became the Boogeyman of straight-laced Christian homes across America, jazz was the “devil’s music” performed by those who didn’t conform to the strict structures of Bach and Mozart.
This very disdain for jazz in the early 20th century is what makes its relevance today so important. Both on the stage and in the audience, we see a unified front of people across generations joined together for one of America’s most underrated music genres. Jazz stretches across all age groups, identities and genders as it truly is music for the people. The slower, yet powerful performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has gone on to be one of the most recognizable songs in the world, born from a time when the civil rights movement was nothing more than a pipe dream.
Bandleader and trumpet player Riley Mulherkar’s ensemble of bandmates brought their A-game the entire evening. From the impressive solo performances of drummer TJ Reddick to the smooth and elegant piano provided by Mathis Picard, there were too many moments of musical genius to count. A stunning performance from start to finish made it clear to see why the group gained traction no matter where they went on tour.
The Jorgensen production of Jazz at Lincoln Center was a love letter to 50 years of jazz at a time when it’s often forgotten by younger audiences. With names and melodies popular enough to be known by the most casual of listeners, even those new to the genre can still come to appreciate the quality of the performance. Although brief, this trip through history proves that a passion for the genre still exists and that jazz is still far from the grave.