Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy’s Club Sets the Stage for the Summer

Classic Arts Features   Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy’s Club Sets the Stage for the Summer
An array of world-class musicians will perform beginning June 11 through the end of August.
Catherine Russell
Catherine Russell Lawrence Sumulong

Dizzy’s Club has a summer season full of world-class jazz musicians to bring the heat with the beat. Weekend headliners include Christian McBride Big Band on June 11–16, Christian McBride Tip City on June 20–23, Sean Jones Dizzy Spellz on June 27–29, Jon Faddis Quartet on July 18–21, Catherine Russell on July 25–28, Ben Wolfe Quintet featuring Randy Brecker (August 1–3) and Immanuel Wilkins (August 4), Victor Goines on August 8–11 (String Quartet meets Jazz Quartet), and then Trio da Paz at the end of August!

Additionally, the club is presenting Que Vola? at Late Night Sessions from June 27–29 as part of Nø Førmat’s 15th anniversary celebration. It will also be part of the France Rocks 2019 Summerfest taking place throughout the city.

With a spectacular lineup like this, where do we start? How about with six-time Grammy Award–winning bassist, composer, and educator Christian McBride? He currently hosts and produces The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian on SiriusXM satellite radio and National Public Radio’s Jazz Night in America, a weekly radio show and multimedia collaboration between WBGO, NPR, and Jazz at Lincoln Center, showcasing outstanding live jazz from across the country. McBride is also Artistic Advisor for Jazz Programming at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and an integral part of Jazz House Kids, the nationally recognized community arts organization founded by his wife, vocalist Melissa Walker.

McBride is an old friend at Jazz at Lincoln Center. “I’ve played at Jazz at Lincoln Center a number of times over the years, and I always enjoy performing there. I’m excited to bring my big band back to Dizzy’s, because it’s always one big party. I’m also looking forward to bringing a new group to the club for the very first time—my trio featuring pianist Emmet Cohen and guitarist Dan Wilson play the following week,” he explains.

Christian McBride
Christian McBride Frank Stewart

McBride grew up in a musical house, where bass is the place. “The bass picked me because it’s a family tradition! My father played electric bass with popular soul groups like The Delfonics, Blue Magic, Major Harris, and Billy Paul, while my great uncle played bass with avant-garde artists like Sun Ra and Khan Jamal. I fell in love with the bass guitar when I was nine and with the acoustic bass when I was 11, and the rest is history. I’m deeply inspired by every great musician who’s come before me. Ray Brown, Miles Davis, James Brown, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock, and Jaco Pastorius are just a few that come to mind.”

McBride has become part of today’s jazz leadership and is a role model to many. His sound advice to young, aspiring musicians? “Be professional, show up on time, play the music that you’re asked to play, and be a team player. Don’t aim to be popular—aim to be great at what you do.”

Another great performer to grace the Dizzy’s Club stage this summer is Grammy Award–winning vocalist Catherine Russell. At the time of this writing, her new release Alone Together (Dot Time Records) is sitting at the top of the JazzWeek charts for four weeks running. Russell has a voice that has earned her praise from critics and music lovers worldwide. So versatile is Russell that she has worked with musicians from David Bowie on his last two tours (2002–2004) to the legendary bluesmen The Holmes Brothers.

“I like whatever I like,” she says confidently. “I love blues, I love rock & roll, soul music, rhythm & blues, early blues from the 1920s, classic swing, and traditional gospel music. All those vocabularies seem to make their way into what I do. I like using my voice in different ways. All of that is the school of how to sing different things. That’s the music that I listened to and the music that I grew up on. I really like the sound of swing and good songwriting. I saw Frank [Sinatra] perform in 1978. I’ve seen Abbey Lincoln, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, Dakota Staton, Alberta Hunter, Ruth Brown… I love all this music that is really timeless. That’s where I get my inspiration.”

Like McBride, Russell also grew up in a musical family. Her father moved from Panama to New Orleans in 1921. He became a legendary pianist/bandleader/arranger/composer and was Louis Armstrong’s longtime collaborator and musical director. “My mother went to Juilliard and worked with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm in the 1940s as a guitarist and vocalist. From there she went on to work with so many others, including the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Mercer Ellington, Skitch Henderson, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. She was also a choral singer, so the classical and the jazz happened simultaneously.

“I grew up with parents who were on the road continually, so I kind of like the variety of being in different places. I haven’t really been in New York for a whole year straight in a long time. It keeps things interesting for me. I have a strict regiment that I do everyday. I have two voice teachers, so they keep me in shape. I know what parts of my voice need work and what exercises to do for those and when to do them during the day. I also do yoga and travel with my yoga mat and keep myself in shape. I know what I need to eat.”

Catherine is comfortable working with just a duo, a quartet, or a big band. It’s all part of the game. “When you’re working with a big band, you are very locked in to the arrangements; you can’t change anything. So that, in a way, is more challenging, because you really have to stick to the charts. If you veer off, you’re messing up like eight people. For that you really have to know what’s happening with the arrangements. So the more people involved, the more structure there is, but with fewer people you can say, ‘okay, take an extra chorus here,’ and I can take a drink of water or something. It’s just different.

“At Dizzy’s Club I’ll be working with a quartet: piano, bass, drums, and guitar. Ninety-nine percent of the time I have guitars. Bands always had guitars. They always had a guitar. It’s more interesting to me with the guitar player, and it adds to the swing elements. Swing bands always had a guitar player.”

Russell has worked all three rooms at Jazz at Lincoln Center, from Dizzy’s Club to The Appel Room to the larger Rose Theater. She feels a good vibe at Jazz at Lincoln Center. “I love working with those people. I just love it! It makes me a better musician, working with them. I so value the relationship that I have with them. Over the years Wynton has been very supportive of everything I’ve brought in there. He’s just been great. I toured with the JLCO for a couple of years in the Big Band Holidays show, and I participated in the Bolden movie [about coronet player ‘Buddy’ Bolden] that Wynton did the music for.”

Join the jam this summer at New York’s premier jazz night club, Dizzy’s Club. And bring your friends. As Russell remarks, “There’s nothing like it.”

Scott H. Thompson is an internationally publisher writer and jazz publicist.

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