The 25 essential New York City jazz icons
Swing through the city with these crucial artists.
Mon Apr 8 2013
Photograph: Courtesy EMI
25. Bill Charlap
When the venerable pianist Dick Hyman retired from his longtime position as artistic director of the 92nd Street Y's beloved Jazz in July series in 2004, the institution found an ideal replacement in pianist Bill Charlap, a supremely gifted interpreter of the jazz canon and the Great American Songbook (and Hyman's distant cousin, to boot). Already deeply admired for his regular trio dates in Manhattan and his occasional work accompanying vocalist Sandy Stewart—a.k.a. Charlap's mom—this vital young player has stepped into his expanded role as both a clever conservator and a restlessly inventive interpreter whose work brings the standards to life.
24. Ari Hoenig
There's something comforting about a musician with a regular gig, a player who can be found at the same address at more or less the same time each week. But when that musician is Ari Hoenig, the proposition suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting. The drummer (who plays Monday nights at Smalls in the West Village, typically appearing with pros such as pianist Jean-Michel Pilc and guitarist Gilad Hekselman) works in what could be termed the mainstream jazz idiom, performing a conventional blend of nimble up-tempo standards and ballads; inventive originals, some with a punky or fusiony bent, season the mix. What's really special about Hoenig, though, is his improvisational flair: The drummer's daringly off-kilter punctuations, subtly elastic tempos and melodic tom-tom workouts make his gigs anything but routine. If you want to hear what famed critic Whitney Balliett meant when he called jazz the sound of surprise, head to Smalls on a Monday, and get there early to secure a good view of the drummer. (On July 9, Hoenig celebrates a new album, Lines of Oppression, at Cornelia Street Caf, just a few blocks southeast of Smalls.)
23. Arturo O'Farrill
Since the 1940s, New York City has been home base for the rise of Latin jazz, that explosive intersection of bebop's sophisticated harmonies with the vivacious rhythms of Cuba and Latin America. The tradition is alive and well today, thanks in no small part to pianist, composer and bandleader Arturo O'Farrill. Son of Havana legend Chico O'Farrill, Arturo leads the fiery big band that still bears his father's name. The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, which the younger O'Farrill launched at Lincoln Center, now blazes at Symphony Space. Somehow, O'Farrill still finds time to lead smaller groups; what's more, his sons are now gigging as the O'Farrill Brothers, keeping the family legacy secure.
22. Muhal Richard Abrams
Muhal Richard Abrams will always be identified as a Chicago musician, since it was there that he cofounded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians—one of America's most enduring experimental-arts collectives—in 1965. But it was only ten years later that the pianist and composer moved to NYC, launched a satellite chapter of the organization and entered into an enormously fertile creative period (witness records like 1987's Colors in Thirty-Third). In addition to maintaining a busy performing and recording schedule (his solo and small-group improvisations are particularly mindblowing—check out the new two-disc set, SoundDance), Abrams also hosts the annual AACM concert series, about as warm and homey an affair as any avant-garde event could ever hope to be.
21. Mary Halvorson
The first time we encountered guitarist Mary Halvorson, she was sporting a buzz cut and an oversize guitar, out of which spilled dizzying lines that sounded like a vinyl LP spun backward. Since then, Halvorson has become a vital collaborator with such disparate artists as avant-garde professor Anthony Braxton, splatter-jazz advocate Weasel Walter and chameleonic jazz-rock bassist Trevor Dunn. She also forms half of a beguiling post-folk duo with violinist Jessica Pavone, and has lately emerged as a bandleader whose compositions skills rival her brilliantly unorthodox instrumental technique.