James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival and Sarah Vaughn Vocalist Contest

Sarah was discovered at the Apollo Theatre, but was born just across the river in Newark, NJ. Her life and history as one of the premier jazz singers of all time needs no reiteration.

The brilliant bassist Christian McBride formed a big band and invited several singers to come and perform in honor of “Sass”: Cyrille Aimee, Melissa Walker, Jeffrey Osborne, Dianne Reeves, and me. I was also asked to judge a Sarah Vaughn singing competition the day after the grand performance. More about that later.

We flew in from Charleston, South Carolina so we were puffin’ a little bit at our 2:30pm rehearsal. My music director Joe Turano helped me get settled in with the big band, and we had a too-short rehearsal. They were probably the same for everybody else. I found myself thinking about how infrequently I have ever gotten to Newark, NJ. Wow. I’m many years into my career, and I still very frequently find myself saying, “I hardly got to know you.” It’s real uncomfortable in all the obvious ways. As a recording artist and performer, you really hope to reach lots of people. If you had heard how they greeted me, you’d be saying, “Wow! Al! Those people really like you…” And you’d be right. What I know, however, is that in my entire career, I’ve been to Newark fewer than half a dozen times. Wow, I’ve got a lot of work to do. This beautiful downtown performing arts center was full at showtime and how appropriate for Cyrille to be here and open the evening. She’s a hot new jazz singer from France that I heard at Thelonious Monk Competition in DC around 3 years ago. She was my pick for “winning,” and she was magical tonight.

The enthusiasm from the audience was remarkable from the beginning. They laughed and clapped in time, and applauded all the solos and begged for more. I felt it! And Jeffrey Osborne felt it. And Dianne Reeves drank it in, too.

I am bowing to Christian McBride and the band, and really congratulate Darlene Chan our producer on a really wonderful and beautiful event. I’m so glad about this 2013 contact with Newark, NJ. The next day began a singing competition between 5 semi-finalists of the Sarah Vaughn “Sassy Awards” Competition. This competition was organized by Larry Rosen and Carl Griffin’s Jazz Roots educational organization. Ramsey Lewis and I appear frequently on their stages and in their classrooms.

All women for this Sass competition, and a very impressive class they were. Without detailing everything, let me just say that we heard some wonderful improvising with really advanced professional stage presence and audience appeal, and some scat singing that was already world class… This is exceptional beyond words. Our Sass semi-finalists were Teira Church of Los Angeles, Lydia Harrell of Boston, Jazzmeia Horn of New York City, Barbra Lica of Toronto, and Camille Thurman of New York City. After a first round, the 3 finalists were Jazzmeia, Barbara, and Camille, with Jazzmeia being the winner. My impression is that the audience agreed with our decisions and selections, and if I had had a chance, I’d have told them how pleased, reassured, and grateful I am, and would have been if there had been this kind of group out of ten such years of competition. I was so happy to see Janis Siegel of The Manhattan Transfer, who was a judge with me before, and duetted with me a couple of seasons ago at the “Ella!” Celebration in Washington, D.C. Janis and I were joined by founder of GRP Records Larry Rosen, a Newark DJ named Gary Walker, and jazz singer/past winner of the T. Monk Competition, Gretchen Parlato.

I also should have talked about last Springtime’s International Jazz Day, United Nations and Thelonius Monk Institute the sponsors and organizers. I’m sure I did a little report on that event just after it happened so I won’t do details here. But it is important to make mention again that the United Nations and Monk Institute brought a “Who’s Who” of the Jazz world together in Istanbul to perform, and to reiterate the importance of this amazing art form that originated in America and that we call Jazz. Simultaneously in 80 countries around the world, there was the same kind of celebration. This is significant.

Anyway, we had a wonderful time in Newark, NJ, and I’m loving the leaves of red and gold. Thanks for a great visit, and for the reminder of how much I love this change of seasons.

Love, Al

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