It all started with a yard sale.
Chris Napierala was holding a yard sale at his Montclair home when Pheeroan akLaff, one of the most distinctive drummers in avant-garde jazz and creative music, stopped by to check out the goods. After akLaff purchased a filing cabinet, the two started a conversation about jazz and how our area is probably home to some of the greatest modern-jazz masters in the world. Long story short, they decided to work together and Napierela joined akLaff’s nonprofit organization Seed Artists, which uses creative music to bridge gaps between generations and cultures, promote community involvement and expand musical education among schoolchildren.
The 50th anniversary of the passing of Eric Dolphy, an American Jazz multi-instrumentalists whose legacy has hugely influential other jazz musicians, as well as musicians in other genres, such as Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, became a rallying point among the community members, who formed Seed Artist’s Board. They put together a major Dolphy celebration and the launch of the Freedom of Sound series as its coming-out party and the organization’s first step towards a major contribution to the arts, arts education, and a more engaged community.
On May 30 and 31, Seed Artists will mark this anniversary with a two day Jazz Festival and Symposium in Montclair, celebrating Dolphy, the art form, and the community.
“While Montclair is widely considered to be a cultural center for Northern NJ, most people are unaware that it’s probably home to the greatest concentration of modern-jazz masters in the world — Heavyweights,” says Napierela.
Acknowledging Jazz House Kids, Trumpets, and Peak Performances for their work to raise the jazz profile of Montclair, Napierela says, “We want to help raise the profile on the avant-garde scene, where Montclair’s jazz roots are strong, and make this the jazz center of NJ. This festival is a step in that direction.”
The music slate performing at Eric Dolphy: Freedom of Sound alone will make this one of the buzz events of 2014. Several Montclair notables, including Andrew Cyrille, Oliver Lake, Pheeroan akLaff, Diane Moser and Andy McKee, and other NJ residents, including Grachan Moncur III, one of the most important innovators of the Sixties, will perform.
But there is much that elevates this above just a great concert:
- A top-flight ensemble conducted by the great James Newton will perform newly discovered Eric Dolphy compositions that have never been performed in public or recorded, by Dolphy or by anyone else.
- Gunther Schuller Newton will lead a symposium featuring living legends Gunther Schuller and Richard Davis, and scholars John Szwed (Columbia University) and Michael E. Veal (Yale). Among the topics: new revelations from Dolphy archives that show a theoretical and conceptual sophistication unlike anyone had imagined.
- Dance from an Alvin Ailey instructor, a National Book Award-nominated poet, original photographs of Dolphy, video and educational exhibits, the symposium…The expansive scope of the festivities will reward the devotee and the novice alike.
- Seed will donate proceeds to our nonprofit festival partners: the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA), to aid elderly and ailing musicians and bring music to underserved schools, and the Montclair Academy of Dance and Laboratory of Music (MADLOM), to help at-risk kids to attend innovative performing-arts classes.
Festival tickets, which will cost $20 per night, will go on sale in April.
Napierala is really excited and proud of the upcoming event. “What we’ve pulled together with next to nothing is a jazz fan’s dream. Can’t see it in Manhattan or Brooklyn, or anywhere else. Nothing like it,” and he adds, “I’m just thankful that Pheeroan needed a filing cabinet.”
To fund the festival and meaningfully contribute to organizations that promote the arts in the community, which is the main mission of Seed Artists, the organization will launch an Indiegogo campaign tomorrow, Thursday, March 27. Given enough funding, they will donate to the Jazz Foundation of America and MADLOM and will produce a documentary on Dolphy.