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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