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Jazz For America, A Benefit For the Biden Campaign, Features a Musical All-Star Team

Cat Henry
Brandee Younger with Aaron Goldberg, Ravi Coltrane and Rashaan Carter at City Winery Hudson Valley.

More than a dozen leading jazz artists have joined forces for a concert benefiting the presidential campaign of Joe Biden.

Jazz For America, streaming on Oct. 15, will feature guitarist John Scofield; singer Jazzmeia Horn; saxophonists Joe Lovano, Ravi Coltrane, Melissa Aldana and Miguel Zenón; and bassists John Patitucci and Christian McBride, among others. Its virtual cohosts will be Dee Dee Bridgewater, the vocalist and NEA Jazz Master, and Douglas Emhoff, a lawyer also known as the husband of Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris.  

The all-star fundraiser is a brainchild of pianist Aaron Goldberg, who has organized four similar events for Democratic campaigns, starting in 2004. Speaking by phone this morning, he said that it had been a challenge to recruit musicians in some previous years, but not this time: “I feel my colleagues are much more politically aware and engaged precisely because the Trump Administration has been so disastrous for every aspect of our democracy.” 

Goldberg and his artist cohort — also including his fellow pianist Fred Hersch, harpist Brandee Younger, and trumpeter Sean Jones — performed the concert last Sunday at City Winery Hudson Valley, which recently opened in Montgomery, N.Y. (For what it’s worth, Montgomery County heavily favored Biden in the Democratic primary). Like countless other venues, City Winery has shifted to livestreams during the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike some, it has abundant outdoor space.

Credit Danny Melnick
Jazzmeia Horn performing at City Winery Hudson Valley with Aaron Goldberg, Christian McBride, Sean Jones, Miguel Zenon and Jeff "Tain" Watts.

So the event took place without an audience, and with hardly any observers — though the mere fact of gathering to play music in person, even in masks, was a heartening experience for the musicians. “It was an amazing opportunity for everybody to come together,” Goldberg says. “Nobody has really seen each other in so long. So it was a magical little afternoon.”

Credit Danny Melnick
Melissa Aldana and Christian McBride at City Winery Hudson Valley.

Rather than regular working bands, the concert featured a series of special groupings: Aldana and McBride, for instance, playing a duet version of the songbook standard “You’re My Everything,” and Lovano enlisting Zenón, Patitucci and drummer Eric Harland for a saunter through his own “Blackwell’s Message.”

Credit courtesy of the artist
courtesy of the artist
Danny Melnick and Seth Abramson at City Winery Hudson Valley.

The concert’s production team included Seth Abramson from The Jazz Standard; Cat Henry, former Vice President of Concerts & Touring with Jazz at Lincoln Center; and Danny Melnick, CEO of Absolutely Live Entertainment, who characterizes the concert in terms of communion. “The energy and the positivity that was there among the musicians reinforces the community that we have – this diverse community of people who all came together to play,” he says.

Credit Aaron Goldberg
Christian McBride and Fred Hersch at City Winery Hudson Valley, Oct. 4, 2020.

That spirit of convocation was central to the event, Goldberg explains, and in some ways transcended a partisan objective. “Even though there’s a political need for this,” he says, “I just wanted it to be musically compelling, and a beautiful experience with these musicians — because jazz is a hyper-social music, and its best examples are when you get people together onstage that love each other.”

At the same time, each prior concert fundraiser has relied on the contributions of audience members in a room — a constituency that could expand greatly in a virtual arena, without the usual limitations of geography or a venue capacity.

“I was so focused on bringing everybody together that I wasn’t really thinking about how much money this could raise,” Goldberg says. “But it quickly dawned on all of us, especially when I started talking to the campaign, that there was the potential to raise a lot more money, and have many more people experience this, by having it online.”

For more information about Jazz For America, visit jazzforamerica.com.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.