A Keith Richards solo finale, and the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Sonny Rollins, highlighted the 14th annual ‘A Great Night in Harlem’ benefit concert for the Jazz Foundation of America on October 22, 2015 at The Apollo Theater in New York City. The Rolling Stones guitarist was joined by Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash from LaBelle, Lisa Fischer, and Bernard Fowler, in performing the Rolling Stones’ 1969 classic “Gimme Shelter” in salute to Merry Clayton who sang lead with Mick Jagger on the original recording. She was honored with the first annual Clark & Gwen Terry Award for Courage, however she was unable to attend and received the award in a video from the concert’s music director, drummer Steve Jordan. Clayton, who is featured in the Academy award winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, is recovering after losing both of her legs due to a car accident last year. Valerie Simpson also paid tribute to the Grammy award winner with a song inspired by Clayton, “I Can Still Shine.” Four-time Grammy award winner Renee Fleming enchanted the audience with her superb rendition of The Beatles classic, “In My Life.”
Danny Glover presented Rollins with his award, stating, “Sonny, we want to give back to you some of the love you have given us.” The legendary 85 year-old saxophonist was humbled by the honor. He said, “The Apollo Theater was my school. I was here every week, sometimes two and three times a week,” He added, “This is my university. I learned the beautiful craft of jazz. I had a chance to appreciate music when I heard Fats Waller,” and he continued to name other legends, including John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie. “These people set our world in motion with music,” he commented. “I want to thank the Jazz Foundation for the tremendous work to help people who play this music This is fantastic. I love the Jazz Foundation.”
T.S. Monk reminisced about how Rollins would join his father, Thelonious Monk, and other jazz icons in their home when he was growing up. “My father was a leader of the movement from bebop to modern jazz. He kicked the door open with four guys: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bud Powell, and Sonny Rollins.” He continued, “He is one of the kings of melody, one of the greatest musicians who ever walked the planet. They come like him every 2, 3. 400 years. I was privileged to be around him growing up as a kid. Thank you Sonny Rollins!”
There was a four part tribute to Rollins: Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, Randy Brecker, Jimmy Heath, Buster Williams and Al Foster performed “Paul’s Pal” (from the 1956 Tenor Madness album); Ravi Coltrane, James Carter, Billy Harper, George Cables, Williams and Jack DeJohnette played “Tenor Madness”; Bennie Golson and the Cecil Bridgewater Big Band performed “Alfie’s Theme” (from the 1966 Alfie album); and nine saxophonists, including Rene McLean, jammed on “Global Warning/St. Thomas” (title song of the 1998 Global Warming album and “St. Thomas” from the 1964 Now’s The Time album).
The late Georgie State Senator and civil right leader Julian Bond was remembered with a musical tribute by Kimberly Nichole from The Voice who sang the Nina Simone classic, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” and Keb’ Mo’s performance of “A Brand New America” featuring Ivan Neville, Ray Parker Jr., Willie Weeks, and Jordan. Glover recalled Bond as “a freedom fighter” who paved the way for the contemporary black leadership and the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Jazz Foundation of America (JFA) Executive Director Wendy Oxenhorn was also honored as she was named one of the 2016 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters, along with Pharoah Sanders, Gary Burton, and Archie Shepp. NEA Director of Music and Opera Ann Meier Baker announced that Oxenhorn will receive the Jazz Masters Award for advocacy on April 4, 2016 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. Quincy Jones, a member of the foundation’s Honorary Founders Board, applauded Oxenhorn via video. He said, “Wendy has a voracious advocacy for jazz. She is a true gift to the jazz world.” Jones added, “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”
The gala raised money for the JFA Jazz Musician’s Emergency Fund which provides financial assistance and medical care to needy musicians across the country. For 26 years, the Jazz Foundation of America has been dedicated to saving the homes and lives of thousands of performers. The foundation pays rents and mortgages and provides emergency financial assistance, plus offers free medical care and work through the Agnes Varis Jazz in the Schools program.