The Shape of Jazz To Come: NYC’s Winter Jazzfest Returns!

After a two-year hiatus, the jazz confab expands to Brooklyn with 500 musicians, 100 shows at 17 venues.

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98-year-old Marshall Jefferson will perform with his legendary group The Sun Ra Arkestra Jan. 14 at Brooklyn’s Opera House. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

After what seemed an interminable two-years, New York City’s renowned Winter Jazzfest finally returns Jan 12-18—which even its founder can’t quite contemplate.

“I had this moment yesterday in our team meeting, where I just realized we’re moving forward,” says Brice Rosenbloom, founder and producer of the Winter Jazzfest. “As we were just getting through the holidays last year, the day before Christmas, we had to cancel and pivot everything. Honestly, it was a bit traumatic. I’ve been quite internally anxious coming into this again and just thrilled the horizon is finally clear for us to push forward and we’re going to have an in-person Winter Jazzfest first time in three years.”

2023’s Winter Jazzfest is making up for lost time tout suite with some 500 musicians, 100 shows at seventeen venues over the course of this coming week.  It’s also expanding its signature marathon nights beyond Manhattan into Brooklyn for the first time as The BK will host a full marathon evening Jan. 14, which follows Manhattan’s Jan. 13 marathon night.

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Brice Rosenbloom, founder and producer, NYC Winter Jazzfest.

The expansion into Brooklyn, Rosenbloom says, was intentional. “The Brooklyn scene is vital. It’s flourishing and it’s important for us to not only use the venues and showcase the neighborhoods, but also to say to the people coming to the festival from out of town that it’s important to not spend your entire weekend in Manhattan. There’s such richness of cultural offerings in Brooklyn.”

This isn’t WJF’s first foray into Brooklyn. Five years ago, Littlefield hosted a round robin of Thelonious Monk’s music and in 2019, Madeski, Martin & Wood and Alarm Will Sound played Brooklyn Steel. And just before the pandemic hit in 2020, the fest held a Brooklyn mini marathon that was something of a proof of concept. This year, both boroughs will host full marathon evenings at seven different venues.

Brooklyn Bowl, the Brooklyn Opera House, National Sawdust, Baby’s All Right, Superior Ingredients, Loove Labs and Club Curious anchor the Brooklyn marathon; while Le Poisson Rouge, City Winery, City Winery Loft, Zinc Bar, The Bitter End, Nublu, and The Jazz Gallery will host the Manhattan Marathon. Both nights run 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. and by design feature a huge swath of sounds by up-and-comers, veteran acts and an array of others.

A core function that’s baked into Winter JazzFest is its role as a music showcase. The confab, which began 18 years ago in 2005, runs concurrently with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference (APAP). That event brings to NYC legions of talent buyers, promoters, managers and agents from across the globe looking to fill out their calendars, network and conduct business.

During APAP, The Winter Jazzfest—along with other fests like the excellent world-music focused GlobalFest and Under the Radar Festival for cutting edge theater—offers a one-stop smorgasbord of jazz performances. When asked if it’s possible for a presenter from say Boise or Madrid to catch an act at WJF who might turn up a few seasons later at their city’s PAC, Rosenbloom says absolutely.

“It’s very much public knowledge that presenters attend Winter Jazzfest and APAP in general, with the intention to find artists and talent to book at their festivals, performing arts centers, theaters and clubs,” he says. “So we’re thrilled we can be a beacon of influence for their programming.”

Past WJF acts who moved on to bigger stages include Gregory Porter, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Jon Batiste, Jason Moran, Esperanza Spalding, Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings, Makaya McCraven, Thundercat and Joel Ross among others.  

As for this year’s line-up, Rosenbloom shouts out a surfeit of highly recommended up and comers.

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Samara Joy (Photo by Meredith Truax)

“One of the big artists that’s definitely rising this year is Samara Joy,” he says of the 23-year-old jazz vocalist who plays a Verve label showcase at Le Poisson Rouge on Jan. 16. “She has this beautiful velvety voice. I presented her last year opening for Gregory Porter at King’s Theatre on Valentine’s Day. She’s up for a couple of Grammys and definitely a rising star.”

On the same bill is Julius Rodriguez, a Cuban pianist also signed to Verve. “He’s a head turner,” Rosenbloom says. “Incredible energy on the piano, definitely someone to pay attention to.”

The festival promoter also name-checks Dawn Richard (Jan. 14, Opera House), an R&B singer collaborating with multi-instrumentalist Spencer Zahn who together put out Pigments. “It’s a departure from her past work, much more atmospheric and experimental.”

Endea Owens, a bassist who plays in “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” band plays Zinc Bar on Jan., 13,  the same night appears with the highly recommended all-women group Hera led by Chelsea Baratz at City Winery.  “It’s an incredible band made up of six women, it’s upbeat and really funky and groove-filled,” Rosenbloom says.

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Endea Owens. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Jazz At Lincoln Center)

Others recommendations include Lakecia Benjamin, who is playing at City Winery (Jan. 13) and has a “great new project” called Phoenix; Nate Smith who “has a heavy sounding trio with Tim Lefebvre and Jason Lindner” playing late night at Superior Ingredients (Jan. 14); and Photay with Carlos Niños at National Sawdust (Jan. 14).

Winter Jazzfest also offers a variety of one-off shows on non-marathon days. This includes a night with UK crate-digger, DJ and Brownswood Recordings founder, Gilles Peterson at NuBlu (Jan. 12); and LA based guitarist Nate Mercereau and his band performing Elevation, by the late and legendary Pharoah Sanders at Public Records (Jan. 17).

Sanders, in 2019, played the Winter Jazzfest with Gary Bartz recreating the latter’s 1969 album Another Earth. Other hallowed luminaries to play WJF include, Roy Hargrove, Branford Marsalis, Henry Threadgill, Vijay Iyer, Bill Frisell, Meshell Ndegeocello, Burnt Sugar (with the late great Greg Tate), Bill Laswell, James (Blood) Ulmer, Marc Ribot and Ravi Coltrane.

Among this year’s legendary acts are The Sun Ra Arkestra, led by Marshall Allen, its 98-year-old saxophonist and human wonder who for some 65-years—since 1958—has successfully delivered audiences safely to and from the astral plane.

WJF also includes a number of talks, which will be held at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and are free with an RSVP. “The talks cover issues that concern the industry, gender, equity and jazz social justice,” Rosenbloom says. This includes specific discussions on gender equality, the lack of Black music writers and the state of jazz radio in the digital age.

In addition to running WJF, working as the artistic director of the World Music Institute and running Boom Collective, an NYC-based music promotions company, Rosenbloom is also a community activist. He is a member of The Blacksmiths, an organization committed to fostering racial equity in the arts sector; and helped launch the Jazz Coalition, an organization that commissioned work by artists during the pandemic to help those whose livelihoods were nearly non-existent.

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The late great Jaimie Branch with Angatel Bat Dawid at IRL Gallery in Brooklyn in the Summer of 2021 (Photo: Katie Glicksberg)

This year’s festival will also celebrate the lives of two fallen jazz heroines tragically lost this year: the late, great trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch who passed in August; and Meghan Stabile, a jazz promoter and producer lost in June and who worked closely with Rosenbloom.

“In 2008 I invited Meghan to curate a stage called the Revive Stage,” Rosenbloom says. “She became an important element of the festival and helped bring in a younger audience hungry for discovery and interested in music that wasn’t just specifically jazz, but where jazz meets hip-hop and/or R&B.

“We’re presenting a stage that pays tribute to Meghan and Revive during the marathon. It’s really sentimental and heart-warming to know we’re going to replicate the energy she always brought to the festival. There’s a showcase at Brooklyn Bowl (Jan. 14) that her colleague Angela Gil from Future X Sounds is hosting featuring Pete Rock, Igmar Thomas and the Revive Big Band along with Louis Cato from the Late Show Band, Ray Angry, DJ Alicia and special guests.”

On Tuesday Jan. 17 at 4 pm, The National Jazz Museum in Harlem will also host a celebration of Stabile’s life at part of the conference’s talk series. The event will feature Guy Routté (WAR Media), Michela Marino Lerman (tap dancer and bandleader), Surya Botofasina (artist), and Tariq Khan (HighBreed Music). Moderated by Kyla Marshell.

On Sunday Jan. 15 at NuBlu, the much beloved Jaimie Branch will be celebrated for her music and the profound impact she had on the music community in an event entitled “Flock Up & Fly: A Night Honoring Jaimie Branch.” The evening will bring together friends and musicians for “a night of healing” and includes Jeff Parker, Chad Taylor, Joe Morris, Caroline Davis, Luke Stewart, Jason Nazary, Fay Victor, Tcheser Holmes, Janel Leppin, Amirtha Kidambi, Anthony Pirog, Angela Morris, Nathaniel Morgan, Aquiles Navarro, Kim Alpert, Piotr Orlov and music director Lester St. Louis. Proceeds will go to nonprofit Jaime Branch Foundation.

Tickets for the WJF are a reasonable $65 for a single day marathon or a $105 for a two-day pass. Tickets can also be purchased for the individual non-marathon shows. “I strongly recommend, especially if it’s someone’s first time coming to the festival, they should go to the marathons either with a single night pass or splurge for a two night pass. You’ll get the best bang for your buck and get to choose from as many as 70 plus groups playing over two nights.”