Volume 16, Number 28 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 9-16, 2003

Jazz series at St. Mark’s in the Bowery

By Lionelle Hamanaka

The nave at St. Mark’s Church echoed with the music of Stanton Davis and his group Delta 6, reverberating against the colorful stained glass windows on Sunday, November 23 to the delight of an enthusiastic crowd.

Trumpeter Stanton Davis’s group featured veteran musicians Willie Williams (saxophone), Jerome Harris (guitar), Greg Buford (percussion), Vinny Johnson (drums), John Tennyson (keyboards) and Hassan Shakur (bass).

The Delta 6 performance was free, launching a series of monthly concerts running through April, National Jazz Appreciation Month.

Delta 6 opened with “Prayer,” composed by guitarist Jerome Harris, an ethereal song with a bouquet of percussive effects imaginatively played by Buford, that ended in a vamp. Harris sometimes used some electronic effects like the wah-wah, but used them tastefully. Davis’s uplifting “Brighter Days” followed, in the unusual meter of 6/4, beginning with a duo of trumpet and saxophone.

Davis possesses a sound on flugelhorn reminiscent of the radiance of an African griot (singer-storyteller) combined with the sweet, deep European classical sonority. He used this technique effectively in ‘Play Sleep,’ which was commissioned by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company a few years ago.

Davis is a consummate professional who graduated Berkeley and the New England Conservatory, did post-graduate work at Wesleyan and is well known in the music community. His career included Broadway show bands, as well as working with artists as varied as David Sanborn, Gil Evans, Lionel Hampton, and in venues ranging from jazz clubs to museums. He was born in New Orleans, where musicians are known for their warmth and community feeling; and it is this heritage that he draws on in his present group.

“I’m hoping for a reconnection with the healing aspects of music,” he said. “Most music today is about commercialism — selling records. That’s fine, but I mean the emotional aspects of music, for example, where I grew up, in New Orleans.”

The group played “Psalms 107”, a bossa nova by Willie Williams, who has a solid improvisational concept and appealing tone; Tennyson did a lyric solo on this song. A modern classical piece followed, “Play Sleep,” a tone row played first by the flugelhorn and then restated by the bassist Shakur, (who bowed, or played arco very musically).

The ensemble wended its way through several sections on a musical journey that left the audience stunned with the beauty and elegance of the composition. From jazz, the group drew on the element of improvisation; and then used various rhythms, like bossa nova from Brazil, the 6 meter from Africa, the rubato concept of western classical, and the carribean funk arrangement of “Down by the Riverside,” which got rockers in the audience clapping to the beat.

The rhythm section was strong but did not overplay.

“Music has something to offer in dealing with the changes that are happening in the world right now — we’re in a constant flux of change. I decided on the church, where great minds come to meet and share and which has a collective unity.”

The new, free concert series is a collaboration between Jeanine Otis, St. Mark’s Music Director, the Musician’s Union Trust Fund, and “Come Sunday” a private group organized by members of the corporate community who wanted to “give back” — Art Thompson and Kip Lenoir.

Otis is a singer pianist who starred in “This Joint Is Jumpin” off Broadway, and worked with Joe Chambers and Grover Washington, among others. As a performer she witnessed firsthand the ‘healing’ effect of music on an audience.

Otis organized a group of theatre professionals to volunteer, including Broadway actor-singer Larry Marshall; Rob Schoenbaum, who did the memorial lights for the World Trade Center, and Laura Stilman, the house choreographer of Manhattan’s Supper Club and a world class dancer, choreographer and producer.

“Everybody has a divine sense in themselves and music or art is a way you can be in touch with your divine self – so anybody who facilitates that helps the community,” said Otis.

Future concerts will feature organist Seleno Clarke, Trumpter Tex Allen, and Bassist Vishnu Wood. Wood, who has spent several decades in jazz and world music, said, “I want to do a program called ‘Blues Around the World’. using the blues as a travel vehicle in an exciting ensemble show. The blues has universal appeal and meaning.”

St. Mark’s in the Bowery, which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1999, has held concerts for 12 years. But the church’s tradition of promoting the arts goes much further back than that. Literary, theatrical and cultural events featuring artists like Allen Ginsberg, Isadora Duncan and W.H. Auden have been produced there.

“This is a real step up for us,” said Ms. Otis. “We are funded by the Musician’s Trust Fund and “Come Sunday,” Art Thompson and Kip Lenoir’s group. Before musicians were working for the door; now we are paying musicians union scale.”




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