Thursday, May 26, 2011

Q&A with Steven Bensusan on the Blue Note Jazz Festival

By Justin Tedaldi

As the president of Blue Note Entertainment and its legendary namesake jazz club in the heart of Greenwich Village, Steven Bensusan has spent a lifetime soaking up that most signature of American arts. Kicking off the club’s 30th anniversary on June 1 is the inaugural Blue Note Jazz Festival, which will showcase a score of jazz giants and other top performers across New York City.

Scheduled performers for the month-long celebration include Dave Brubeck, Chris Botti, Nancy Wilson, Bobby McFerrin, Roberta Flack, Brian Wilson, Medeski Martin & Wood, El Gran Combo, McCoy Tyner, Youssou N'Dour, Bill Frisell, Meshell Ndegeocello, Madeleine Peyroux, Chaka Khan, and many more. I caught up with Bensusan in this exclusive interview.

Examiner: How did this festival come together?

Steven Bensusan: The Blue Note Jazz Club was founded by my father Danny Bensusan in 1981. This year being our 30th anniversary, we wanted to celebrate the milestone in a big way. We’ve had opportunities to start a Blue Note Jazz Festival before, but this was the first year that there was a real opening for a new mainstream jazz festival. So we decided to fill the void and try our hand at putting together a number of shows throughout New York City in honor of our 30th anniversary. We’ve put together over 80 shows at 12 different venues, including a special series of shows at the Blue Note.

Examiner: Which shows at the festival would you recommend for someone who’s a jazz novice? How about hardcore fans who think they’ve seen it all?

Steven Bensusan: We’re confident that there’s something for everyone at the Blue Note Jazz Festival. People often get introduced to jazz by hearing jazz vocalists first, and we have a number of incredible jazz vocalists performing during the festival. At the Blue Note alone, we have the Manhattan Transfer from June 16- 19, legendary vocalist Jimmy Scott on June 23, followed by Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross on June 27-29 with 17-year-old singing sensation Nikki Yanofsky joining them as a special guest on the 29th. At B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square, we are hosting Diane Schuur, Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan and Nancy Wilson, all within a two-week span. We also have some really popular jazz artists like Chris Botti on the festival lineup, who will be performing at the Beacon Theatre on June 23.

For the hardcore fans, we have a fantastic new series at the Blue Note called Spontaneous Construction, presented by Search & Restore. The series takes place every Friday night at 12:30 a.m., it costs only $10, and it brings legendary and up-and-coming jazz musicians together on stage for the first time to create spontaneous improvisatory music on the spot. We also have partnered with JazzReach, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating young people, to present performances to hundreds of New York City Public School students from June 1-3 at the Highline Ballroom. So there’s really something for everyone at the Blue Note Jazz Festival!

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

5 Blue Note Jazz Festival Shows You Shouldn’t Miss, NBC New York

We’re a little more than two weeks away from the kick-off of the inaugural Blue Note Jazz Festival, the month long event marking the 30th anniversary of the storied venue. More than 80 artists — including some, like Lee Konitz, who have been Blue Note regulars since the club opened — will be performing at venues all over the city, but naturally, we have some favorites.
Here’s our take on five shows you shouldn’t miss:

McCoy Tyner Trio+ Special Guest Savion Glover, June 1, Highline Ballroom (2 shows)
Grammy-stockpiling ivory-tinkler McCoy Tyner is joined by Tony-reaping choreographer/modern day tap-hoofer Savion Glover. Their work together tends to whip audiences into a froth, so it’s no surprise they open the festival, joined by the rest of the McCoy Tyner Trio. Tickets are $75, available here.

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, June 11-13, Highline Ballroom
The batty Beach Boy will perform his 2010 standards album, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, in its entirety along with Beach Boys and solo selections, before heading off on lengthy tours through Canada and Europe. Tickets are $125, available here.

Dave Brubeck, June 13, Blue Note
Do you have any idea how long piano kingpin Dave Brubeck has been playing jazz? Here’s one hint: Almost everyone he’s played with is dead. And another: He celebrated the 50th --50th!-- anniversary of his iconic album Time Out in 2009. And yet the master of the odd time signature can’t stop gigging. His is a roadmap for longevity. Tickets are $75, available here.

Madeleine Peyroux, June 18, Highline Ballroom
Peyroux first commanded attention with her Billie Holiday-style voice, but has proven herself to be much more than a soundalike. Her cozy throwback style expands well outside the confines of jazz — she’s collaborated with kd lang and writes with the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman -- and the French tunes don’t hurt, either. Tickets are $35, available here.

Nancy Wilson, June 25, B.B. King’s
No relation to Brian. Wilson’s name fits effortlessly into a list with greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, and yet she’s one of the only lady singers from that era who you can still catch live, plying her velvety pipes like it’s half a century ago. Go see her. Tickets are $75, available here.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011


James Carter was at the Blue Note last week with trumpeter Nicholas Payton, James "Blood" Ulmer, Gerard Gibbs and Leonard King on drums. Thanks to photographer Fran Kaufman for sending this fantastic photo of James Carter. For more of her work, go to and check out her WBGO Photoblog HERE