The TIDAL Guide to the 2020 Winter Jazzfest Marathon

The TIDAL Guide to the 2020 Winter Jazzfest Marathon

The Winter Jazzfest is one of the more promising stories in the jazz world over the past couple of decades. Since its founding in 2005, the festival has grown into an annual juggernaut of sound, perhaps the most comprehensive jazz showcase in the world, offering audiences the chance to hear both established artists as well as up-and-comers.

This year, the festival, which starts this week and ends on January 18, features hundreds of artists performing in select venues throughout New York. A series of stand-alone shows includes a tribute to the late trumpet mentor Marcus Belgrave and Detroit’s jazz legacy on Sunday, January 12, as well as special performances from drummer Mark Guiliana, this year’s artist-in-residence. Daytime panel sessions delve into such topics as environmental activism, wellness and jazz and gender. The main event, however, is the marathon string of shows that take place this weekend in Manhattan and next Friday, January 17, in Brooklyn.

These shows, which run late into the night, give listeners the chance to take in an ungodly amount of music in a very short period of time, from neo-soul to straight-ahead to experimental sounds. There is no other event like it in jazz. In fact, attending Winter Jazzfest is the best way to get a sense of the modern state of improvised music, both for jazz aficionados and newcomers looking for a crash course.

Here’s a sampling of the musicians you should look out for.

Robert Glasper Electric Trio
With DJ Jahi Sundance
January 11, 10:45 p.m.
Webster Hall, 125 E. 11th St. 

Robert Glasper does it all. Since he released his first album, Canvas, on Blue Note in 2005, he has expanded his aesthetic reach considerably — from scintillating acoustic piano-trio music on In My Element to R&B on Black Radio to hip-hop on Fuck Yo Feelings, released last year. At Webster Hall on Saturday, Glasper will be doing something new with his Electric Trio, featuring Burniss Earl Travis II on bass, Justin Tyson on drums and DJ Jahi Sundance, the son of saxophonist Oliver Lake, on turntables.

Jaimie Branch “Fly or Die”
January 10, 12:15 a.m.
The Dance, 428 Lafayette St.

The trumpeter Jaimie Branch is one of the more impressive musicians to have emerged from the Chicago jazz scene in recent years. Branch has a clean, bright sound on her horn, but she lays it on thickly and distinctly, and her music is sly, loose and suggestive. At the Dance, she’ll be playing selections from last year’s Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, the follow-up to her acclaimed 2017 release Fly or Die. Joining her will be Lester St. Louis on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass and Chad Taylor on drums.

José James
January 17, 10:45 p.m.
Rough Trade, 64 N. 9th St. 

José James’ most recent studio album is a soulful tribute to Bill Withers, a testament to James’ stylistic range. The 41-year-old vocalist with the deep baritone is capable of moving in and out of several different idioms, including big-band swing, small-group jazz and soul. On the 17th, he’s teasing a new album called No Beginning No End 2. If the music is anything like the first one from 2013 — simmering neo-soul mixed with jazz — you won’t be disappointed. He’ll be performing with BIGYUKI on keyboards, Marcus Machado on guitar, Aneesa Strings on bass and vocals and Justin Brown on drums. Special guests have yet to be announced.

Uri Caine’s “The Passion of Octavius Catto”
January 11, 11 p.m.
Zürcher Gallery, 33 Bleecker St.

The pianist and composer Uri Caine’s new 10-part oratorio, The Passion of Octavius Catto, is a powerful and moving tribute to the African-American civil-rights pioneer. The piece, which includes bits of jazz, gospel and classical, functions as a kind of musical biography of Catto, who lived in Philadelphia and was a passionate advocate for education and equal rights. He died in 1871, a year after he helped ratify the 15th Amendment in Pennsylvania.

Brandee Younger
January 11, 7 p.m.
Webster Hall, 125 E. 11th St. 

The list of jazz harpists is extremely short, the two most well known being Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane. The harpist Brandee Younger makes a compelling case that her instrument is relevant again. Her excellent album, Soul Awakening, released last year, puts her lush sound front and center. She’ll be playing music from that record at Webster Hall, alongside Chelsea Baratz on tenor saxophone, Anne Drummond on flute, Dezron Douglas on bass and Allan Mednard on drums.

Sasha Berliner
January 17, 10:30 p.m.
National Sawdust, 80 N. 6th St. 

The vibraphone is likewise an instrument you don’t see all that often in jazz, but lately a couple of auspicious young players have been gaining stature and attention. One is Joel Ross, who released his first album, KingMaker, on Blue Note last year. The other is Sasha Berliner, the 21-year-old vibraphonist whose shimmering and thoughtful new record, Azalea, is one of the more promising recent debut albums. On January 17, she’ll be joined by Kanoa Mendenhall on bass, Chris McCarthy on keyboard, Jongkuk Kim on drums and Morgan Guerin on saxophone and EWI, among others.

Matthew Kassel is a writer based in New York who has contributed to the New York Times, Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Image: In a special stand-alone concert at last year’s Winter Jazzfest, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, tenor titan Pharoah Sanders, trumpeter Charles Tolliver and others celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bartz’s LP Another Earth. Credit: Jati Lindsay. 


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