Back in the days of the Cold War, one of the more successful global propaganda programs for our way of life was the State Department’s Jazz Ambassador Tours, which lasted from Eisenhower through Nixon. From its first outing with Dizzy Gillespie and his 18-piece band through tours with Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and a particularly effective trip through Africa by Louis Armstrong, the program drew large crowds, shifted music wherever it went and helped keep jazz considered the definitive American artform.
Now we’re seeing the reverse happening. Similar to the ways in which Europe kept our jazz greats alive through the 1960s and 1970s so that they could return, in top gear, in the 1980s and 1990s, our own jazz – and jazz audiences – are being reinvigorated by new programs bringing world versions of our great artform.
Take the coming of the South African jazz supergroup Uhadi to the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock this Saturday, March 29. It’s part of the Catskill Jazz Factory’s ambitious plan to make our region a hotbed for jazz’s rebirth, and will match the visitors with some top-shelf local talent for what promises to be a great concert.
Uhadi was created at the invitation of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Its band members – saxophonist McCoy Mrubata, pianist Paul Hanmer, trumpeter Feya Faku, bassist Herbie Tsoaeli and drummer Justin Badenhorst – are happy to be playing in the same town that has been home to such jazz greats as Dave Holland, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Rollins and Jack DeJohnette, as well as in a place that saw the music that they adore move forward several steps through the auspices of the town’s Creative Music Studio.
“This event is bringing a unique global jazz summit to Woodstock, and I’m honored to share the stage with the great Uhadi and Etienne Charles,” said trombonist and bandleader Chris Washburne, who keeps a place in Lexington and recently played a standing-room-only concert at Bard College. “The concert promises to be cross-cultural jazz diplomacy at its swingin’ best: a great continuation of Catskill Jazz Factory’s creative programming.”
Trumpeter Etienne Charles, originally from Trinidad, is also known for his use of African rhythms, which makes for a promise of danceability and uplift come the big Uhadi night in Woodstock. The commemorative performance, being held in conjunction with Jazz at Lincoln Center, celebrates both the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa as well as the kickoff of the group’s first US tour as an ensemble. Tickets for the concert cost $20 for regular, reserved seating, $30 for the Golden Circle, which entitles you to meet the bands. Reservations are recommended.
Uhadi with Chris Washburne & Etienne Charles, Saturday, March 29, 7:30 p.m., $30/$20, Bearsville Theatre, 291 Tinker Street (Route 212), Woodstock; www.catskilljazzfactory.org.