NYC diary: exhausted, I’m spending the night in for a change

by wijeratneworks

I’m in New York City again this week. As usual it amazes me how, with little or no planning at all, one can attend utterly unique events back-to-back. On Sunday night, it was to Avery Fisher Hall (yes, the one where you can hear Mahler 9 complete with incessantly ringing cellphone) for the Essentially Ellington concert.

On Monday night, I was at the United Nations General Assembly Hall (yikes yes, the one we’re used to seeing daily on TV) to celebrate the International Day of Vesak, a Buddhist holy day. After accepting, last-minute, an invitation from the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN, it felt somewhat surreal to find myself sitting in that space, listening for hours to speeches by delegates from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, and Indonesia.

And on Tuesday night, it was for the groundbreaking Spring for Music Festival to witness the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra make their debut at Carnegie Hall (yes, the one you have to practise to get to).

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I’d like to mention Sunday’s Jazz evening in some detail. This celebratory concert was the high-spirited culmination of the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival. Annually organized by Jazz-at-Lincoln-Center, it is just one part of one of the most innovative jazz education events in the world. How fortuitous for me, during my listening-to-everything-Ellington-phase, that I was able to hear the three finalist high school bands perform selections from Duke’s magnificent oeuvre in front of, and alongside, their mentors: the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO). Their standard of performance was astounding, and they had been whittled down from over one hundred applying bands from across the USA.

The evening’s program had been designed so cleverly: in the first half, the band finalists each performed a couple of Ellington pieces, including one which would feature a soloist/mentor from the LCJO. For me, Walter Blanding stole the show.

In the second half we got a real treat: the LCJO played an entire set of Ellington. Yeah baby. As you can imagine, by this point I was in Ellington heaven. If you’ve never heard this ensemble play, then just know that they can simmer, cook, and boil your house down in no time at all:

Wynton was particularly low-key on Sunday night. But hey, he was there and he took a solo. Btw, I’ve read many sick bios in my time, but his is the sickest.

Sitting there on Sunday night, I couldn’t help think that we were one of the most educated Jazz audiences the LCJO would ever play for. I mean, pressed into the front rows of the venue were hundreds of high school musicians – no doubt the cream of the USA’s youth Jazz elite – who had just spent an entire year scrutinizing the very repertoire that their heroes and mentors were now performing live in front of them. The youth knew every riff and every rhythm of this music. Whenever a soloist pulled out a killer solo, they would swoon in harmony with every phrase. Before long, the air was filled with cheers and whoops from the audience that were so precisely timed, it was hard to imagine that these vocals were not part of the original musical fabric. But wait, maybe they were….this was a live concert of the LCJO playing Ellington.