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Marc Cary

On Ellington and beyond, by Eugene Holley, Jr.

As we celebrate Duke Ellington’s 125th birthday, 57 year-old pianist/keyboardist Marc Cary’s three-decade career exemplifies the “beyond category” credo that Duke lived by. Marc’s sideman cred includes work with trumpeter Roy Hargrove, drummer Art Taylor, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and singers Abbey Lincoln and Betty Carter. His dozen-plus recordings as a leader that melds jazz and Indian music include his 1999 and 2023 releases, Trillium and Marc Cary Quartet Live at Zebulon’s 2003, and his Fender Rhodes/go-go grooved Indigenous Peoples albums include N.G.G.R. Please and Rhodes Ahead, Vols. 1 & 2.

This month, Marc performs at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s final installment of their Ellington at 125 series with pianist James Hurt, with both pianists playing Duke selections in alternating solo and duo and possibly four-hand settings. For Marc, this concert joins him with an equally iconoclastic fellow piano traveler whom also worked with Abbey Lincoln.

“James Hurt and I have played in all kinds of situations, whether it's with the rhythm section, or just the two of us,” Marc says. “I like to work with him, because he's so dynamic. He's so awesome. He pushes me. I really love his approach to the piano and harmony, his understanding of rhythm and the history of the piano. it's hard to play with another pianist. You gotta know how to play parts, and he's a great part player, he's a great contributor, and our styles complement each other. That's why I chose him as my partner in this [Duke tribute].”

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KAVITA SHAH

CELEBRATES A VISIONS OF STORIES

New York born Kavita Shah is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and French. Music, singing and other languages were really common for her as a baby. Kavita’s mother would speak often to her in Gujarati, while her father and she would sing songs in Gujariti, Hindi, English and one in French. Kavita studied Spanish in school, but what really made it a more fulfilling practice was being able to travel to Ecuador to spend time with a family there when she was 16, making the language a more lived experience. Having that exposure has provided an opportunity to develop “a sonic palette for sound,” she says.

From the age of 10 to 18, Kavita sang with the Professional Young Peoples Chorus of New York City, where she was exposed to music and sang in more than 20 languages. “Often music was the first way to have an introduction to another place, another culture,” Kavita says. The Chorus “really valued authenticity, so if we were singing Brahms, we would have someone come in and really work with us on perfecting our German and getting the right pronunciation.”

Kavita studied college level Spanish, and was into AP classes and literature. She majored in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard, but she was not interested in the existing theoretical European classical music classes that were available. She was more interested in spanish literature, especially Latin American literature. Since it was a very small department, Kavita was able to take advantage of a more intimate learning experience, as she was able to get to know her professors and teachers and go to their houses.

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Jeff Hamilton

Swinging The Band By Ken Dryden

Jeff Hamilton was focused on being a jazz drummer from an early age. Jeff says, “I was playing to Count Basie and Oscar Peterson Trio records, memorizing all the music and thinking if someday I get to do this, I’m going to be ready.”

Jeff enrolled at Indiana University as a percussion major, under the tutelage of John von Ohlen. Jeff says, “He was a major influence and mentor. He said, ‘Don’t read music when you’re on the bandstand, you’ve got to get all the way inside the arrangement, make everybody comfortable and make them want to play.’ So I had the book memorized and it made it a lot easier.”

Jeff was encouraged by the bandleaders who hired him. “I set goals of working with Woody Herman’s band, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson and the Basie band. So I learned their music. When I met Ray, I felt like I knew his playing and so much about him – you go in prepared so you aren’t surprised by a lot of things when you play with these people. If you go in with the thought, ‘This is my chair and I’m going to play so they can’t think of anybody else. I want to own this chair.’ When I joined the LA4, Ray Brown stopped the first rehearsal and told me, ‘We know what Shelly Manne did in this band, we hired you for you. Now what are you going to bring to the music?’ He made me think more about what my voice was and what I had to offer.

“He and Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida were encouraging in letting me develop that in that group. I learned from Woody Herman as a leader to let the musicians grow and develop, don’t be a dictator, and make things go down a path that you think they should go and let the musicians find their way.”

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Christian McGhee

A Young Man Already Making a Name By Don Jay Smith

The award-winning film composer and multi-instrumentalist Christian X.M. McGhee leads his band The Xtet plus a 10-piece string orchestra for two shows at Dizzy’s Club, within Jazz at Lincoln Center, 10 Columbus Circle, on Monday, May 20 at 7 and 9 p.m.. You may not be familiar with Christian because he just graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and is just beginning his career. You will be!

This show will be the world premiere of his debut album A Winged Resilience (BMI). The music combines his love for film scoring with his passion for improvisation as it brings together styles ranging from standards to free improvisation, groove and funk to classic film compositions, and it always swings!

As Christian explains, “A Winged Resilience combines my background in film scoring and my love for improvisation. I’m trying to strike a balance with a music that is jazzy, intricate, and spiced with complex forms, but also has lyrics that tell a story.”

It’s clear that Christian enjoys writing for and working with talented vocalists. With him at Dizzy’s will be Tyreek McDole, winner of the 2023 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, recent Juilliard graduate and rising star Georgia Heers, Olivia Chindamo, Master’s recipient from The Juilliard School where she received the Joseph W. Polisi prize for “Artist as Citizen,” and the powerful jazz singer, Imani Rousselle.

“I love singers,” says Christian. “That’s probably why there are vocals throughout A Winged Resilience. While I have been fortunate to already work with many great musicians, I would love to work with someone like Cécile McLorin Salvant who not only is a great vocalist, but also draws on the whole history of singing.”

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STEPHANE WREMBEL

THE TOWN HALL / MAY 4

To say that Stephane Wrembel is a virtuoso doesn't begin to describe the rich and nuanced guitar playing that he’s famous for, or the brilliance on display in his steady stream of musical compositions. Growing up in France, surrounded by the colorful Gypsy Jazz guitar music made famous by Django Reinhardt, Stephane has devoted his career to the perpetuation of that music. He has also added his own original voice to the mix, enriching the genre. A composer, performer and educator, Stephane has released seventeen albums, including his most recent, Triptych. Stephane also produces Django a GoGo, an annual music festival. At his Town Hall concert, Django Reinhardt's grandson Simba Baumgartner will perform, as will Angelo Debarre and his world-famous Gypsy jazz trio. At the Maplewood concerts, Stephane performs new compositions that merge the Gypsy style with New Orleans jazz. Check out djangoagogo.com for a more complete breakdown of event details and performer listings. JZ

Photo Credit: Lawrence Sumulong

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WALLACE RONEY JR

BRUSH CULTURE / MAY 6