Saturday, August 9, 2014

GRAMMY Award-Winning Jazz Vocalist, Gregory Porter, Charmed Audiences at Summerstage

Last weekend, jazz vocalist, Gregory Porter charmed a fresh Summerstage audience at Central Park as he performed his message-laden music to a packed lawn. Some conspicuous celebrities in the audience included basketball legend, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and "Orange is the New Black" actress, Michelle Hurst. In just four years since releasing his first full-length album, "Water," Gregory Porter has become a household name when it comes to jazz. Having been nominated three times for a GRAMMY (one for every studio album), Porter finally emerged victorious from the 2014 GRAMMY awards with the iconic gold-plated gramophone trophy memorializing his Best Jazz Vocal Album, "Liquid Spirit". He has certainly come a long way since I saw him in 2011 at Zeb's, on the very night he had received notice of his very first GRAMMY nomination, for "Water".

Versatile Jazz Musician Otis Brown III 
Returning to Sunday night's performance at Central Park, audience spirits were high as we waited patiently for Porter to take the stage. As Porter recently signed onto Blue Note Records, the concert celebrated Blue Note's 75th Anniversary, and, also supported by "progressive urban music [web]site,", was actually a collaborative effort by several well-known jazz musicians including Otis Brown IIITerence Blanchard, Jean Baylor, Chris Turner, and surprise guest, Robert Glasper. Each musician was joined by "Revive Big Band," an amalgamation of internationally-known brass, percussion, and guitar players, led by spirited trumpeter, composer and arranger, Igmar Thomas. Following what seemed like a never-ending parade of smooth trumpet, trombone, saxophone, piano, drum, and vocal solos, the audience was more than warmed up for Gregory Porter.

Gregory Porter Takes the Stage
Porter began his set with a mellow song about treating others with kindness, a self-described "message of love and respect," entitled "Painted on Canvas". With just a handful of instruments backing him up, Porter soulfully sang that "we are like children painted on canvasses," as he created a colorful canvas of his own through his music. He was soon joined by Revive Big Band as he moved into a more energetic, swinging set that included "On My Way to Harlem," and "Musical Genocide". Porter explained that he wrote "On My Way to Harlem," which somewhat poignantly refers to arts and literature greats such as Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and Marvin Gaye, who were all once known for hanging around the now-booming neighborhood, as he himself was on the way to a gig in Harlem. The audience danced, clapped, and stomped their feet so loudly that the bleachers I sat on literally shook during "Musical Genocide," from that GRAMMY award-winning album, "Liquid Spirit." In each song, Porter gave ample time to highlight instrumental solos, as he does on his albums, but it's the lyrics he sings that won't leave your head. Porter closed out his main set with the moving song, "1960 What?", a powerful commentary on and tribute to the civil rights movement.

Igmar Thomas and Revive Big Band

Gregory Porter has recently embarked on a world tour, but when he's home in New York, you can often find him performing at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club on the Upper West Side. If you love jazz, you should also check out the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, August 22-27. Porter won't be there, but a wealth of other renowned jazz musicians will be performing. Hungry for more Revive Big Band? You may find them on the bill at local jazz haunts such as Blue Note and Zinc Bar.

All photos in this post are by Heather K. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

FOX & Friends "All-American Summer Concert Series" Brings You Gin Blossoms, The Beach Boys, and More!

Every Friday this summer, FOX & Friends has presented a different live performance, totally free! Highlights so far have included performances by The Charlie Daniels Band, Boys II Men, Bret Michaels, and Twister Sister, among other stars. The catch? These shows are only for early birds, as the "All-American Summer Concert Series" takes place from 6am-9am.

The Concert Series, which kicked off on Memorial Day weekend and will run through Labor Day weekend, is really "All-American" to the core, featuring a melting pot of music from rock to country and pop to R&B. While most of the concerts have spotlighted well-known acts, some Friday mornings have given rising stars such as 15-year-old singer, Sabrina Carpenter, a time to shine.

Tomorrow's concert, on Friday, August 8, brings Gin Blossoms to town. You may be surprised to find that this American rock band, which formed in the 1980s, is still touring, but when you recall some of their greatest hits, such as "Hey Jealousy," "Follow You Down," and "Found Out About You," it's clear to see why these blockbusters continue to propel them.

On the bill for next week, on Friday August 15, are perennial superstars, "America's Band," The Beach Boys.

Bands usually take the stage at 8am, but get there early to ensure a good spot. For some extra incentive, if you time it right, you may find you can snag some free bbq from Famous Dave's. All shows air live on FOX News Channel and take place at 1211 Avenue of the Americas, on the corner of 48th Street.

Monday, August 4, 2014

John Leguizamo’s “Ghetto Klown” Gets a New Audience in Central Park

By Tami Shaloum

John Leguizamo Impersonates His Father in "Ghetto Klown"
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner
The City Parks Foundation continued its incredible SummerStage programming last Monday night with a real scene-stealer: John Leguizamo, performing his acclaimed autobiographical one-man show “Ghetto Klown.” For 90 minutes, Leguizamo played about a dozen characters, danced his ass off, and bared his most intimate tales on stage, all to copious laughs and delighted shrieks. Apparently the HBO version of the show aired this March and, in a cruel conclusion, Leguizamo truncated the performance by urging the audience to go see the rest of it on HBO.

John Leguizamo Takes the Audience Through the Decades
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner

Despite this slightly condensed version, Leguizamo managed to pack in enough hilarious anecdotes to entertain his audience. He took us through the decades, from the 1960s to the 90s; from his poor Queens upbringing by two ineffectual parents to his acting lessons with a hilariously brittle and raspy old woman; and from the development of his four previous one-man shows to his adventures in Hollywood. Leguizamo managed to infuse his act with both pathos and devilish fun. The vignettes of his father were particularly sad, as he told of the man who never believed his son could make something of himself, even after he finally did. Particularly revealing was the confession that his most successful creations came to be during bouts of severe depression.

Leguizamo Presents an Anecdote About Being
Arrested For Performing on a Train
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner
Even though some of the stories were a bit heavy at times, Leguizamo managed to balance the light with the dark, keeping the audience in stitches. His charming persona shone through on stage as he interacted with audience members every now and again. People seemed to love shouting things at him and he handled them gracefully and humorously. His honesty lent itself to great storytelling, even as he told embarrassing stories about himself. One favorite character of mine was his “pinko commie” grandfather, who while being the most encouraging family member managed to be the most hilarious, making sure his grandson did not get too tan because “only White Latinos make it to Telemundo.”

I would recommend checking out the HBO special of “Ghetto Klown,” or even trying to catch Leguizamo live. Even though the show is four years old (it premiered on Broadway in 2011) this reintroduction feels right, as though Leguizamo had been lurking under the surface ready to pop out at any time and bust a move.