Those who see jazz as an inaccessible genre should suspend their judgments until after this year’s Jazz Week, which starts on April 24 and runs 10 days until May 3. The theme for this season is “Jazz in the Neighborhood,” and JazzBoston is bringing many intimate and free concerts to the Boston area, focusing on the communities of Mattapan and Roxbury specifically. Executive Director Pauline Bilsky says that there are two goals for the week: showing a wide range of Bostonians how much jazz there is available in the city year-round, as well as bringing artistic innovation in the form of jazz back to the neighborhoods that Mayor Walsh has pledged to revitalize.
“Jazz has the ability to do a lot of things," says Bilsky. “Bringing people together, creating tolerance; it’s not called the universal language for nothing.”
This will be the ninth year that JazzBoston has celebrated Jazz Week, reviving an event that was popular in the '70s but fizzled in the '80s. But Boston jazz hasn’t gone anywhere. The city has a rich jazz history, and it continues to be one of the best cities for learning, playing and listening to the genre. “There are very few great jazz cities in the world,” says Bilsky. “And Boston is one of them.” In the 1940s and '50s, jazz greats from Duke Ellington to Billie Holiday played at famous venues like the Savoy Café and the Hi-Hat. Famous jazz artists have come out of Boston, many having studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory. Today, there are still places to see live jazz in Boston seven days a week, but many who aren’t part of the community aren't aware of its ubiquity. This is what JazzBoston is trying to fix by devoting a week to jazz and spreading the events throughout the city.
The fest will start off with a weekend-long celebration in Roxbury. The highlight of the weekend is a big band-style dance party on the night of Saturday the 25. The free event will take place at historic Hibernian Hall on Dudley Street, and it will celebrate the history of jazz in Roxbury with the help of the Makanda Project, Roxbury’s unofficial jazz band. The Makanda Project is devoted to performing the compositions of Roxbury jazz artist Makanda Ken McIntyre, though they’ll be branching out a bit on Saturday to perform dance jazz. Other highlights include the jazz walking tour during the day, bringing participants to some famous historic venues. On Sunday, Beacon Hill’s Museum of African American History will feature a musical and historical exploration of Boston’s black community, led by Bill Banfield’s Imagine Orchestra.
During the week, there are a variety of events taking place throughout the city. On the morning of April 29, Ken Field’s Revolutionary Snake Ensemble (with guest Stan Strickland) will perform traditional New Orleans second line music outside City Hall. Later that day, they’ll perform in the Council Chamber for another free concert. On Jazz Day itself, April 30, New England Conservatory students and staff will perform in Williams Hall, exploring the multicultural interpretations of jazz.
On May 3, JazzBoston will honor Mark Sumner Harvey, founder of Harvey’s Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, as the recipient of this year’s Boston Jazz Hero Award. The event takes place in the afternoon at Wally’s Café on Mass Ave, and the John Funkhouser Trio will perform.
The Mattapan events will take place in an afternoon-long festival at William E. Carter American Legion Post on May 2. The free event will feature a variety of performances from local jazz musicians, as well as an open-mic portion.
Other happenings throughout the week include a variety of intimate house concerts, which will pair small ensembles with jazz enthusiasts and their friends. Those still interested in hosting or attending can contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Many more jazz week events can be found at JazzBoston.org.