The Jazz Foundation of America’s Annual Jazz Loft Party, now in its 27th year, was a one-night-only mini music festival with three stages, a host of celebrated performers and glittering views of New York City. It is one of my favorite events of the social year and a must attend for all music lovers!
The proceeds benefit JFA, which provides financial assistance to jazz musicians facing all manner of hardships—health crises, financial troubles, homelessness and natural disasters. This year’s Oct. 13 party at the Hudson Studios, drew attention to Puerto Rican musicians whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by Hurricane Maria—a situation that still demands remedy a year later.
“A goal that we’ve been working toward over the months is to raise about half a million dollars for victims of Hurricane Maria,” said Joseph Petrucelli, JFA co-executive director.
The funds would help bolster work JFA began in September 2017. After the hurricane struck, the organization provided displaced Puerto Rican musicians with basic necessities like food, water and fuel through emergency micro-grants of about $500. Now, the organization is looking to help those affected regain their livelihoods by repairing or replacing instruments and finding them employment. About $400,000 was raised at the party, which will help fund the organization’s various projects, including relief for musicians impacted by the hurricane.
The evening’s theme, “A Night For The Soul,” reflected both the foundation’s mission and the musical underpinnings of the programming.
“We were talking about the idea of ‘a dark night of the soul’ and the climate in the U.S., and we turned it around into the idea of a ‘night for the soul’ … to generate a feeling of hope and warmth,” Petrucelli said.
In keeping with the theme, the program featured a slate of Puerto Rican jazz and Latin groups in the Café San Juan, among them Bobby Sanabria’s Multiverse Big Band and Eddie Palmieri’s Afro-Caribbean Jazz Sextet, introduced by actor/choreographer Rosie Perez, who cited Palmieri’s genre-defining music as a pivotal influence on her younger self’s emerging Puerto Rican identity. As part of the final set in the café area, JFA honored percussionists Pablito Rosario and Cachete Maldonado, leaders of the Puerto Rico All-Stars, with the JFA Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to Latin music.
While Café San Juan provided the Latin dance grooves, the Vanguard Lounge featured modern jazz and ageless blues—trumpeter Randy Brecker and his sextet with guest saxophonist Ada Rovatti in a crisp, riveting set; saxophonist Joe Lovano and his quartet, before a standing-room-only crowd; and vibrant blues star Sweet Georgia Brown, backed by The Blues Crusaders.
The headlining event—a tribute to r&b icon Roberta Flack—drew hundreds of fans into Roberta’s Room, the third performance space, where a retinue of Flack’s fellow soul superstars, band members and backup singers waited to pay tribute to their friend and colleague. Actor and JFA board member Michael Imperioli introduced the set of classic pop, r&b and soul tunes. Singers Dennis Collins, Brenda White King and Sharon Jerry-Collins provided backup on Flack’s hit “The Closer I Get To You”; singer/composer Valerie Simpson took on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing,” two of Simpson’s most successful songs as co-writer with her late husband Nickolas Ashford; and vocal phenom Lisa Fischer, in a gripping rendition of Flack’s most popular single, performed “The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face).” Before her own set, tour de force singer/songwriter Macy Gray joined Fischer for a reggae version of Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” followed by Gray solo on “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”
Flack, 81, who’d remained off-stage during the tribute, afterward moved down center to receive The Clark & Gwen Terry Award for Courage from JFA Executive Director Wendy Oxenhorn. In presenting the award, Oxenhorn, who with Artistic Director Steve Jordan had overseen the event’s programming, remarked, “I always say that love is a song. I can’t think of anything more important than keeping music alive.”
In closing, Flack joined the entire ensemble in singing “You’ve Got A Friend”—her first live performance this year.
For additional information about the Jazz Foundation and its great work, visit the JFA website.