Winter Jazzfest’s Brice Rosenbloom On Curating For Today

NYC Winter Jazzfest, which runs Jan. 10-17 and features some 130 acts, has a considerable female bent this year. This is the result of fest organizer/booker Brice Rosenbloom paying particular attention to an emerging class of female bandleaders.

Courtesy NicoleMitchell .com

Nicole Mitchell

 “We made a valiant effort this year to make sure that women were appropriately represented in the festival, more so than in other years,” says Rosenbloom, founder and CEO of Boom Collective Productions. He is also head of music for LPR Presents and booker of Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village. 

“I didn’t want it to be the year of women; I think that would be counterproductive,” Rosenbloom continues, “I really wanted to show that this is what a festival should look like in this day and age.”

To wit, Nicole Mitchell, the flutist from Chicago, is this year’s artist-in-residence and will present four different projects; a tribute to the late pianist Gerri Allen prominently features female musicians;

 “In general, we’re always striving to include more women as bandleaders and it hasn’t been a challenge,” he notes, adding that he had a secondary motivation. “I do think it’s the responsibility of presenters around the country to make an effort toward this gender equality.”

Now in its 14th year, Winter Jazzfest is held concurrently with the Association of Arts Presenters (APAP) conference and takes place in a dozen NYC venues ranging from the 1,500 capacity Town Hall — Buika performs there Jan. 12 — to intimate clubs such as Subculture, Zinc Bar and the Django that hold 200 patrons.

 Ticket prices for the two-day marathon portion of the WJF which runs Jan. 12-13 are $50 for a single night and $85 for a two-day pass. Industry in town for APAP or other simultaneous events such as the Jazz Congress, Chamber Music America or GlobalFest are offered. Individual shows throughout the rest of the festival can be purchased a la carte.

The week starts with a PRS/BBC showcase of London musicians hosted by DJ Gilles Peterson and includes Jose James starting the tour of his Bill Withers tribute project on Thursday, the WJF Marathon of more than 80 acts on Friday and Saturday, and the Allen tribute on Monday. 

The festival also has three panel discussions with speakers such as Vijay Iyer, Angela Davis and Archie Shepp.

As usual, a majority of the groups performing are from New York. Alongside veterans of the scene such as Dan Weiss, Darius Jones, Mark Ribot, Donny McCaslin and the Sylvie Courvoisier-Mark Feldman Duo, are burgeoning Gotham acts such as Onyx Collective, James Brandon Lewis and Unruly Notes, Hank Roberts Sextet and Josh Lawrence & Color Theory.

“Its vital that we provide a New York experience for the international professionals and the tourists,” he says.

Rosenbloom spoke with Pollstar about the festival, the state of jazz and its involvement in the #MeToo movement. 

In some years, the lineup feels like the cutting edge of the avant garde, but this year, it feels reflective of what is happening in modern jazz. What’s the motivation behind the booking?  

We’ve always tried to take note of what is really happening with younger voices and make sure they’re represented at the fest.

Our perspective is that what we present should be broad and not one specific thing, which is why we have artists with a more international flavor, some who are more experimental. We have groups that swing, a stage where jazz meets hip-hop. I’m not trying to define jazz. I’m trying to find artists who look to the tradition and see a personal connection to the music’s history. 

Every year, I have two thoughts in mind — what artists do I want my colleagues to pay attention to and what artists are important to give exposure to the jazz audience. What we do with the programming is important to create opportunities for discourse among musicians. We hope that what we’re doing will resonate beyond the festival and influence presenters across the country. 

You’re opening with a collection of British artists. What made you want to showcase the London scene?

I took note of the London scene when Shabaka Hutchings emerged, and I’ve always had an eye on what Gilles was supporting. The PRS and BBC put a call out on the BBC to British artists to propose projects. They received many, many dozens and they went through that and sent me a dozen and we sifted through that and came up with the four we’re presenting. It’s a fresh, energized scene happening in London that deserves tremendous exposure. 

One of the artists is a young woman, the trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, who has gained considerable recognition in the last year. Who else is playing the fest that has had that sort of critical response?

Yazz Ahmed really produced a great record. Gilles introduced me to her music and she’s receiving a great reception. This year, Jaimie Branch’s record really amazed people. There’s something to be said for these projects, these women getting their due. Of course, the music should be judged for the music, but it’s refreshing that there does seem to be movement toward greater balance.

Your artist-in-residence, Nicole Mitchell, had a breakthrough year with “Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds.” Talk about the four shows she’ll be doing.

We try to recognize an artist who is doing a lot in the music with different projects. Last year we had [drummer] Andrew Cyrille. We had been talking to Nicole a year ago, but the timing didn’t work out and we continued to stay in touch. We took notice of everything she’s doing and felt it was really important. She plays with her trio; her project with Jason Moran, Art and Anthem For Gwendolyn Brooks; her Maroon Cloud is opening for Deerhoof (Jan. 17 at Le Poisson Rouge); and her real breakthrough project, Mandorla Awakening, we gave a headlining slot (Jan. 16 at Le Poisson Rouge). And she’s on our panel on jazz and justice with Archie Shepp

Beyond those panels, what’s the place for the messages about politics in jazz?

There’s this up swell of artists who are including social justice and social messages in their music. We felt we needed to really shine a spotlight on that and give appropriate presence at the festival. 

We also asked artists to give us short testimonials and many of their comments were about social justice and immigrant rights —we’re really using those messages in our marketing. They’re showing that the music is not only relevant on the stage, but beyond it. That’s one thing that we really are striving to show— as presenters, we need to do what we can to amplify their message.