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Jon Hendricks and Jimmy Heath Kick Off the Jazz at Lincoln Center 2011-2012 Season

Jon Hendricks and Michele Hendricks

The word “jazz”often conjures the sounds of blue notes, sophisticated lyrics and the freedom of improvisation.  These elements were displayed at the launch of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 2011-2012 season this past Saturday, Sept. 24.  The evening’s pre-concert celebration featured live music by, Javier Nero while stylish guests mingled, tapped their toes and sipped on complimentary Hendricks’s Gin.

For a moment you could have felt transported to jazz’s heyday when the American genre was at its peak.  However in subsequent years jazz has struggled to maintain relevancy and expand its audience.  According to the evening’s co-headliner, Jon Hendricks the present challenges are due to a mix of limited cultural education and lack of government subsidies.

“Every big city in America has an opera house that costs millions. It’s a disgrace for a city to have an opera house in America when they don’t have a jazz organization set up by the state and paid for by the state to support their own music. Jazz is truly the culture of America and we have to re-educate the American citizen about his history,” he said.

At 90 years old, Hendricks is highly regarded as the greatest vocalese singer-songwriter ever and he delivered a master class through his performance that evening. His finale, which included his daughters, Michele and Aria Hendricks; Bobby McFerrin; Dianne Reeves; Kevin Fitzgerald Burke; and Sachal Vasandani performing “Jumping at the Woodside,” inspired a standing ovation as each act transformed their voices to match every single instrument in the band. The Jimmy Heath Big Band set included a delightful tribute to Sarah Vaughn titled,“Sassy Samba” and a touching dedication to Heath’s deceased son with “Gingerbread Boy.” Afterward, the energy presented onstage remained palpable as audience members were treated to an intimate meet and greet with Hendricks and Heath.

While such rich evenings motivate current jazz lovers to return, executive producer of programming and concert administration, Laura Johnson knows that it will take more to reach a new generation.

“We are always looking for ways to attract new audiences to jazz.  So we incentivize people who bring friends, we designate a certain amount of affordable seats at $10 and are experimenting with more webcasting and podcasts,” she says.

With such initiatives and more great musical lineups to come, Jazz at Lincoln Center is focused on ensuring that the legacy of jazz keeps on boppin’.