If you’ve ever taken a stroll down the streets of Harlem the soul of a city that was once known as a mecca for African-American culture vibrates. It is as if the souls of those who have gone before us are still creating the magic it was once famous for. At the center of all the hustle and bustle of the city, is the internationally known, Apollo theatre. Growing up I was fascinated with the theatre and its rich history. I had always wanted to travel back in time and bear witness to the great musicians who took the stage, enchanting audiences with the rhythmic poetry of jazz. On Saturday May 12, I was able to live out my childhood dream, at Wycliffe Gordon’s “Jazz A La Carte”, part of Apollo’s Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival.
From the moment the house lights went dim and the curtains were raised, the magic began.
First up, a performance by a dance group called the Apollo Hot Steppers to the lively music of Julliard’s Jazz Orchestra, orchestrated by the programs creator and musical director Wycliffe Gordon. Lighting the stage with fast feet and high kicks, the Hot Steppers were the perfect introduction for the host of the afternoon, the charming and extremely funny, Maurice Hines. Choreographer, actor and director, it is clear that Hines hasn’t lost his touch for captivating audiences with his vibrant personality and quick while his wardrobe changes throughout the program were all the more refreshing.
Following Hines’s introduction to the rich history of the theatre and the personal relationship that he and his family had built with it was a performance by Theresa Thomason. The songstress and former Broadway actress serenaded the audience with a soulful song that rang throughout the room as she glittered on stage evoking the presence the jazz birds that shared the stage before her, such as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
The next performance was one of high anticipation, for his just the mention of his name created an eruption of applause from the audience. Savion Glover has always been for me a myth and a legend. While his quick movements are impressive, it is the contemporary music that he makes with his feet in what one could easily call a conversation with the rhythm section of the orchestra that is bewitching.
After Glover’s engaging performance was a pleasant presentation from 3 young artists whom Gordon referred to as “ Young Bloods”. Natalie Cressman (Trombone and Vocalist), Aaron Diehl (Piano) and Philip Dizack (Trumpet) gave the audience a taste of modern jazz with original compositions with a youthful edge.
To wrap up a delightful afternoon filled with stimulating sights and sounds was a segment titled "The Apollo of Yesterday Today and Tomorrow", where each artist was invited back to the stage to represent the sounds of yesterday today and tomorrow. Yet the show was not complete without a performance by Sir Hines, who sang to Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady” and showed us all that AGE don’t mean a thing if you haven’t got that swing with a tap performance. “ Applaud for me, don’t look at me like I’m auditioning” Hines teased at an audience member through the roaring applause and applaud he did.