Jazz united considers the return of live concerts: Video, Photo

- in FESTIVALS, NEWS, VIDEOS

If you’ve followed Jazz United at any point since our inception, you know how important live performances are to us. In this latest phase of the pandemic, hearing improvised music in person — with an audience, inside a club — has become all the more precious, and more than a little fraught.

The situation on the ground keeps changing, at a breakneck pace. In June, when the Blue Note Jazz Club announced the return of its summer festival, our entire podcast team felt comfortable enough to catch the series opener, keyboardist Robert Glasper, during his weeklong residency.

Glasper’s sets were a perfect blend of contemplation, relief and fire that captured the collective consciousness almost completely. But since that time, COVID-19’s new viral mutations are on the rise and forcing the question, “Are we really in the clear yet?”

As this episode drops, the Newport Jazz Festival is underway with COVID-19 protocols in place, and a highly concentrated lineup of talent. Musicians worldwide who have been forced onto the sidelines are now back out on tour.

And venue owners — like Smalls Jazz Club’s Spike Wilner, who speaks with us in our show’s second half — continue to find ways to honor the music’s living legends while keeping the current generation playing for in-person and streaming audiences. There’s so much uncertainty, but we’re going to (safely) enjoy live music as much as we can.

Robert Glasper at Blue Note

Be sure to catch Greg Bryant’s “In the Club” feature on Jazz After Hours.

When the pandemic paused festivals around the world, the scrappy, first-rate Exit Zero Jazz Festival kept the music going. The organizers were nimble, producing an entirely outdoor experience including circle-pods in the grass for lawn chairs and special PA systems. “We found a new way to do things,” says festival director Michael Kline, “and just had to reimagine everything … every facet of the production we had to take a look at to make sure that it was safe.”

Exit Zero began in 2012 and occurs twice a year in Cape May, a quaint shore town on the most southern tip of New Jersey, and features a lineup combining marquee talent with young musicians from around the country.

Like Pedrito Martinez, New York’s most vibrant Cuban conguero, leading his powerhouse band’s folkloric grooves. And Gabrielle Cavassa, a 26-year-old vocalist from New Orleans and recent winner of the 2021 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, who brought a quartet to present her original ballads.

We round out the medley of performances with the singer and eight-time Blues Award-winner Shemekia Copeland. Exit Zero was only her second gig in front of a crowd in over a year.

“I had already told myself we wouldn’t go back to work until 2022,” said Copeland, “so for me, everything I do the second half of [2021] is a bonus, you know, and I really feel grateful for it.” If you missed her set from last week’s episode, we recommend you check it out here:

Festival director Michael Kline echoes that gratitude when he speaks for Exit Zero audience who endured overcast, windy, and brisk temperatures for April’s event.”As they’re getting to hear the music, they’ll put up with all the protocols, the weather … the music will make it work.”

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