Welcome Home, Jimmy Greene!
For nearly three decades, it's been my pleasure to tout the Greater Hartford area as one of the most fertile in the nation in developing home-grown jazz players who’ve gone on to wider renown. Jimmy Greene, the Curtis Brothers (Luques, Zacchai, and Damian), Rich Goldstein, Josh Evans, Dezron Douglas, Lummie Spann, Mary DiPaola-Davis, Joel Frahm, and Brad Mehldau are among the many musicians who’ve brought distinction to Connecticut’s capitol city.
Tomorrow night at the Clarion Hotel in Northampton, saxophonist Jimmy Greene will be the guest soloist in this week’s Jazz Workshop presentation. Greene grew up in Bloomfield, CT, and came under Jackie McLean’s tutelage at the Artists Collective during his high school years, then as an undergraduate at the Hartt School of Music, from which he graduated in 1997. He also studied under bassist Dave Santoro at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. Jimmy's home-grown, alright. During his senior year at Hartt, Greene placed second in the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition, and then went on to work with Freddie Hubbard, Horace Silver, Tom Harrell, Harry Connick, Jr. and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra.
Greene spoke with Owen McNally of the Hartford Courant in May and recalled the positive impact McLean had on him as a teenager. “Once I met Jackie, it was full steam ahead! Every time I talk about the saxophone or talk about jazz music or play jazz, I always think of Jackie." he said. “Over the last five or 10 years, I've been so into his sense of lyricism and melodicism, and really try to impart that to my students too. If you listen to Jackie's recordings, it's obvious that he was technically virtuosic, and could play all around the instrument. But it's the beautiful melodies that he created in the course of an improvised solo that are the things that stick with me the most.”
Last weekend, Jimmy was at the Newport Jazz Festival with the Lewis Nash Quintet, a group of present-day all-stars featuring trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Peter Washington, and pianist Donald Vega. Their set included tunes by James Williams, Thelonious Monk, Johnny Mandel, and Thad Jones, and it’s right here for your listening enjoyment thanks to NPR Music. Nash's quintet will be at the Village Vanguard the week of November 6-11.
Greene spent the last three years teaching in Winnepeg, Manitoba, a locale that required an engine block heater and a new winter wardrobe for Jimmy, his wife Nelba, and their two children. But he’s returned to the temperate climes of Hartford, and will join the faculty of Western Connecticut State University in Danbury next month as assistant director of its Jazz Studies program. Since his return home in May, Greene has been the featured soloist in two of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra's Jazz and Strings presentations; kudos to the HSO for making the effort to recognize one of the great musicians in its midst.
I've had the opportunity to see Jimmy on numerous occasions, including a fierce blowing session with Joel Frahm in 2009 that I wrote about recently. He's as full-bodied and hard-swinging as any tenor player on the scene today, but there's a serene beauty to much of his original music, some of which includes reharmonized hymns and compositions that reflect his deeply held religious beliefs. A few years back I heard Greene present a concert of original music at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Bloomfield; tomorrow night with the Green Street Trio he'll most likely be blowing on standards, but don't be surprised if you hear the glorious strains of a spiritual among his offerings.
Here's Jimmy at the Litchfield Jazz Festival in 2009 playing his original, “Mission Statement.” That’s Luques Curtis on bass, Xavier Davis at the piano, and Jamire Williams on drums. You know jazz is in good hands with devoted players like these at the ready.
On another Hartford note, this weekend, the Music Revolution Festival takes place at the Polish National Home and brings to Hartford the Latin Jazz artists Chembo Corniel, Andy Gonzales, Andrei Matorin, and Little Johnny Rivero. All three of the Curtis’s, trumpeter Josh Evans, and saxophonists Joel Frahm and Kris Allen will be among those featured in ensembles which will highlight the connections between the Hartford and New York jazz scenes. There'll be music on Saturday and Sunday afternoons between 3 and 6 at the Charter Oak Avenue venue, and it’s all free-of-charge.