No cultural institution, anywhere, does a better job recalling the Jazz Age and its inseparable link with New York than Jazz at Lincoln Center. After all, New York largely came of age during the Age of Jazz. Without the seasoning it received from the many cultural influences of jazz, post-World War I New York might have just been a larger, slightly less dangerous, Five Points.
The Jazz Age coincided with the city's emergence as the epicenter of whatever was cool, Avant Garde and hip, as reflected in the suave urbanity of the day's fashion; the experimental improvisation of its art, and the hedonistic, flapper freedom lavished on the self.
Jazz at Lincoln Center so smoothly catalogues and celebrates the Roaring Twenties, they might as well borrow the lions guarding the New York Public Library and make them their own.
This past weekend's program featured the appropriately titled: "The Jazz Age: Untamed Elegance," a sampling of some of the standards that defined the era. It featured the instrumental wonders of jazz impresarios such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Jerry Roll Morton. The entire evening was under the direction of the always entertaining tenor saxophonist Victor Goines, which included a commissioned tone poem of his own original compositions, resurrecting and infusing the Jazz Age with his own unique and daring orchestrations.
And what an elegant and most satisfying evening it was. The ensemble, featuring its Managing and Artistic Director, Wynton Marsalis, was in terrific form. Saturday night's program opened with Horace Henderson's "Big John Special," in which the orchestra was swinging with all Gatsby-esque swagger, the musical equivalent of flowing champagne and fast moving feet on gleaming dance floors. The trumpet section blasted honey out of their horns with the flaming tempo of hot jazz, and the solos showcasing each member of the orchestra were rapturously received.
On one of the pieces, Sherman Irby's alto sax treated the audience to a lovely lullaby. Adam Birnbaum's piano was a real crowd pleaser. Another piece featured a New Orleans funeral procession led by trombonist Chris Crenshaw with the orchestra playing dance music for swinging ghosts complete with a wonderful closing trill. Carlos Henriquez had a wonderful and bluesy solo in Charles Fulcher's "My Pretty Girl" that had him looking like he was making love upright. Jerry Roll Morton's "Milenberg Joys" featured a raucous, balls-out bonanza of toe-tapping swing.
This celebration of New York's society music taking on the colorful sounds and musical virtuosity of New Orleans was not without other less musical pleasures. Goines, with great modesty and wit, narrated each selection with a mini-tutorial on American history. Jazz was not only about the music; it was also at the forefront of progressive ideals and social change. The Harlem Renaissance was in full swing, and racial justice and civic equality were the movements that added a moral layer to the rhythm and tempo of jazz's other more obvious movements.
Jazz at Lincoln Center continues to delight with high energy and great class. It remains a hot ticket of masterful New York entertainment.