Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the go-to spot for a cozy atmosphere and a warm embrace of jazz, was the scene of a birthday celebration of civil rights activist and jazz lover Martin Luther King, Jr. King would have been 79 this year.
Jazz group Marc Cary and Friends took part in what was at once a joyful and haunting remembrance of one of the world’s most beloved leaders of the civil rights movement. A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip was also at Dizzy’s that evening, accompanying Marc Cary’s group in the last half of the set.
While King’s notoriety in the civil rights movement is a staple of U.S. History classes, unbeknownst to many is King’s passion for jazz. In his opening address to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, King said, “God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create – and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations. Jazz speaks for life.
The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.”
The night’s three (and free) performances (5:30, 7:30, 9:30), dubbed “The Marc Cary Experience,” were indeed triumphant, each song featuring a sound clip of King’s speeches, with each and every artist bringing forth a sound and tone that, despite their own intricacies and stories, completed the theme of unity within diversity.
“I hope ya’ll have never heard something like this before,” said Cary during a break in the performance. “It’s nice to have a palette like this.”
The jazz palette consisted of Cary on piano and keyboards, Earl Travis on bass, Terreon Gulley on drums, Charlie Ward on congas, Sunny Jain on tables and dhol, Ron Blake on tenor saxophone, Y.C. Laws on flute and bass clarinet, Antonio Dangerfield on trumpet, and Samita Sinha on vocals.
In every piece the artists were able to showcase their exuberant passion and unique style of expression, from their distinctive sway, head bop, or a shudder in the knees. The percussion of Gulley, Ward, and Jain were incredibly tuned into each other’s movements, whether it be within their section or the other instrumentalists. Travis’ bass tones were a mainstay; his attentiveness to the groove of the music tangible. Blake, Yaws and Dangerfield treated the audience to an impressive show of their talents during their solo improvisations (to which the audience responded quite positively). Sinha’s vocals were smooth and evocative, twisting, turning, and dipping through the instrumentals. Cary led the entire group effortlessly in spirited movement.
The first two songs of the set, “Walk with Me” and “King Tut Strut,” set the exultant mood. Sinha’s vocals, however, as the night progressed and the moon crept around Trump Tower, became more longing and sorrowful.Q-Tip joined the musicians for the “MLK Suite.” Although his poetic additions were sometimes inaudible amidst the instrumentals (an excusable mishap for a live performance of such caliber), the theme and sentiment was clear as a bell.
“Happy birthday, dear Doctor,” Q-Tip proclaimed, “your spirit is alive and well… I see him in the faces of hope. […] Dr. King, you’re missed.”
Q-Tip also lent his vocals to a musical translation of poet Langston Hughes’ “Dreams Deferred.” Cary, along with his friend, Shon Miller, acquired the historic Langston Hughes House for use as a space for art and music appreciation and culture in Harlem.
The performance of “Dreams Deferred” featured a spectacular spoken-word duet between Q-Tip and Sinha, in which both recited the poem independently during the first moments, and reached a smooth denouement during the last repetition, each other’s voice flowing in, out, and through the other’s. At the final “Or does it explode?” verse, a flat-screen television adjacent to the stage concurrently featured photographs of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, as well as footage from his eerily prophetic “Mountaintop” address, his last speech.
The Marc Cary Experience ended with a fantastic medley of the night’s music. Though the performance was less than an hour and a half long, the audience was left more than satisfied, their hunger for jazz satiated. Complementing the performance was a family-friendly menu of soul-food staples, such as fried chicken, grits and shrimp, macaroni and cheese, and pot pie, each at a hit-the-spot $5.
The crowd itself was a diverse group, which was inspiring to Dangerfield.
“It’s great because there are various ages and walks of life in the audience,” he said. “This, in essence, is what Martin Luther King, Jr. was all about.”
For Cary, who has been immersed in the jazz world since the age of 12, performing in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Dizzy’s Club was “another phenomenon after another.” At the age of 18, Cary played with the Dizzy Gillespie Youth Ensemble at Wolf Trap.
“It’s always a blessing to perform in this club named after Dizzy Gillespie,” said Cary.
Whether it was the atmosphere, the music, the food, or the company, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola made it a night that was definitely worth venturing out into the cold night. Be sure to check out this jazz club with the best student rates at half price. ($15 cover for Headliners, $10 for Monday UPSTARTS! and $5 for After Hours.) Look them up at jalc.org for a complete calendar of events.