Music

Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival shines once again

The art of jazz is celebrated in event featuring George Cables and Grace Kelly

By Laura Bulkin
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 11/14/18

The Taos Jazz Bebop Society's annual Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival has become a fixture of Taos' cultural calendar.

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Music

Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival shines once again

The art of jazz is celebrated in event featuring George Cables and Grace Kelly

Posted

The Taos Jazz Bebop Society's annual Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival has become a fixture of Taos' cultural calendar. The festival is inspired by the memory of Frank Morgan, the legendary alto saxophonist who called Taos home toward the end of his life. Morgan passed in 2007, and his ashes are buried in the quiet garden of The Taos Inn.

The 2018 festival spans four days and features new and returning guests in live performance and film.

"This year's festival is a very special event -- almost like a family reunion," said TJBS co-founder Eric Gladstone. "Back in 2014, the first concert honoring Frank Morgan's years in Taos was presented by the group that would become Taos Jazz Bebop Society. Grace Kelly, who had been Frank's protégé, performed at Taos Mesa Brewing, and filmmaker N.C. Heikin screened 'Sound of Redemption, The Frank Morgan Story.' " Both Kelly and Heikin are returning this year.

The festival opened last night (Nov. 14) with a kick-off party at The Taos Inn's Adobe Bar where Morgan loved to play. Doug Lawrence, lead tenor sax for the Count Basie Orchestra, was joined by John Rangel on piano, Mark Webber on bass and Pete Amahl on drums.

The main event today (Nov. 15) at 7 p.m. is Heikin's work-in-progress documentary film, "Life Crime," screening free of charge at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

Gladstone spoke about Heikin's earlier film, and how it led to this new work. "A major part of 'Sound of Redemption' was a concert honoring Frank Morgan which took place at San Quentin prison. Frank had served time there in the 1960s. Grace Kelly and George Cables, both of whom had worked extensively with Frank, were part of the band. In the course of the arrangements for the San Quentin concert, it was discovered that the piano player leading the prison's music program was inmate Reggie Austin, who had known Frank in the '70s and '80s.

During the concert, Gladstone said, "George was gracious enough to invite Reggie to play a tune with the band. This experience, and the film's popularity, led to some amazing breakthroughs for Reggie. A nonprofit legal organization, Uncommon Law, took up Reggie's case and helped him get paroled after 35 years of incarceration. This film screening at the TCA is Heikin's current work-in-progress, 'Life Crime,' about Reggie's life since he was freed. Reggie performed in the 2016 Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival, and some scenes shot during that weekend will be in the film."

A Q&A with Heikin and Austin will follow the screening.

"This year will reunite people who were at the San Quentin concert -- a reunion of so many fellow musicians and family who loved Frank," Gladstone said. "N.C. Heikin and Reggie Austin, and Grace's parents, and Frank's former wife Rosalinda will all be at the screening. This will be the first time Reggie and George Cables will be together since the prison concert."

Friday (Nov. 16), the George Cables Trio performs at 7 p.m. at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. Pianist Cables has helped to define modern mainstream jazz piano. When he was just 18, he formed the Jazz Samaritans with drummer Billy Cobham. In the 1960s and '70s, Cables gained recognition during his stints with drummer Art Blakey, tenor sax genius Sonny Rollins, and trumpet star Freddie Hubbard. He was a longtime friend of Frank Morgan and regularly performed with him in New York.

"At George's last appearance in Taos in 2015," recalled TJBS president Judy Katzman, "the music was swinging and gorgeous, and brought the crowd to their feet with roars of gratitude -- proving to us that jazz has found its audience in Taos." Cables will be joined by bassist John Webber and drummer Victor Lewis.

Alto sax phenom Grace Kelly first met Frank Morgan when she was just 14 years old. (She had already recorded her first album at age 12.) Now 26, she has risen from child saxophone prodigy to her current status as a world-traveling star instrumentalist, singer and composer. As a bandleader, she has performed in more than 30 countries. She has performed and/or recorded with Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Esperanza Spalding, Phil Woods, Ron Carter, Lee Konitz, Questlove, Lin Manuel, Huey Lewis and Gloria Estefan, to name a few. In 2016 she was a regular with Jon Batiste and Stay Human. Her recently released song, "Feels Like Home," has been selected Grand Prize Winner in the 2018 John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

Saturday (Nov. 18) she will be presenting two different concerts showcasing a range of styles.

At 2 p.m., the Grace Kelly Quartet presents a "Tribute to Frank Morgan" at the Harwood Museum.

"Those who have heard Grace Kelly in concert at previous Taos festivals know her as a virtuoso jazz player with soulful, brilliant improvisational skills, passion and thrilling musicianship," Katzman said. "All this comes effortlessly to Grace, who has performed and recorded with many of the jazz world's greats. Her Saturday afternoon show at the Harwood will bring all that to the stage, pouring out her heart and astonishing improvisational soul to honor her first jazz mentor, Frank Morgan."

The festival wraps up on Saturday night with "Grace's Electro-Jazz-Pop Joy Party," at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west. Music starts at 7:30 p.m.

"Saturday night at the Mothership, Grace will display the genre-bending side of her musical virtuosity," Katzman said. "In an uplifting and high-energy show propelled by her phenomenal live-audience chemistry, Grace and the band will perform electrifying arrangements of familiar pop tunes, as well as many of her original compositions. In Grace's own words, 'We're pushing the envelope musically to explore the sonic world where jazz meets electronic, contemporary and pop influences.'"

Kelly will be joined for both concerts by Julian Pollack on piano, keyboards and synthesizer, Elin Sandberg on bass and Aaron McLendon on drums and percussion.

The 2018 Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival

Presented by the Taos Jazz Bebop Society

Thursday (Nov. 15)

7 p.m. "Life Crime," a documentary film work-in-progress by director NC Heikin, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Free admission.

Friday (Nov. 16)

7 p.m. The George Cables Trio, Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. Tickets $25, or $20 for Harwood members

Saturday (Nov. 17)

2 p.m. Grace Kelly Quartet Tribute to Frank Morgan, Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. Tickets $25, $20 for Harwood members.

7:30 p.m. Grace's Electro-Jazz-Pop Joy Party, Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west. Tickets $25 advance, $30 at the door.

For more information and advance reservations, visit taosjazz.org or call (575) 758-9826.

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