Tuesday May 17, 2011
From The New York Times
Feet’s Too Big? No Problem; Everyone Dances Here
By: Ben Ratliff
Once, a special event in jazz meant something warm and secretive and spontaneous: two guys who hadn’t seen each other in a while, improvising several choruses together. But lately — since the early 1990s, when jazz became fixed in the world of arts grants and cultural institutions — it has often meant something more structured, official and imposing: heady written music, presented before a theater audience, sometimes elaborated with text or image or drama, program-noted and documented and ready to be reproduced elsewhere.
Now it can, and should, mean something like what happened over the weekend at Harlem Stage Gatehouse. On Friday and Saturday Jason Moran and Meshell Ndegeocello led a band of jazz musicians through tunes that started in fragments of Fats Waller songs, or songs Waller played, or sometimes just the words from songs he played: “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Jitterbug Waltz,” “Your Feet’s Too Big,” “Two Sleepy People.” They started there but ended up in fragmented and repeated funk vamps cued by Mr. Moran’s Fender Rhodes electric piano and Ms. Ndegeocello’s chanting voice.
The Moran-Ndegeocello show was commissioned by Harlem Stage as part of its first annual Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival, a weeklong chain of concerts, exhibitions and talks that ended on Sunday. This event — “Fats Waller Dance Party: Small’s Paradise,” paying tribute both to the spirit of Waller and to a club he played in Harlem — will most likely happen again, in other cities. But it didn’t really matter; the show felt both site-specific and spur of the moment. The band geared itself toward dancing and sounded easygoing its first time out.
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