A homey, modest festival among the Greenwich Village jazz clubs
This year for the first time - in the wake of New York's gargantuan Jazz Festival - came the homey and modest Greenwich Village Jazz Festival. The recent eight-day event, the brainchild of several people who had been working independently to promote jazz here, was a salute to that part of Manhattan that has been a center for jazz activity from the 1930s to the present, and has taken over where 52nd Street left off to become the home of jazz.
Most of the major jazz clubs in the city are in or near the Village, and since the club scene is where jazz thrives and grows, the creators of the event decided to present jazz talent in the clubs themselves for the most part, rather than in concert halls.
But as word got out about the event, people began to ask - what makes this festival a festival? If the same musicians that usually play in the clubs are going to play in these same clubs during the festival, then what makes this any different from ''business as usual''? The answer to that question, at least in part, lay in the special $10 pass that allowed its buyer to ''club-hop'' to his or her heart's content - offering half-price admission to early sets and free admission to later sets and all-night jam sessions during the week of the festival.
And the festival seemed to achieve another of its goals - to unite New York club owners in an effort to spread the jazz word and reach new audiences. In fact, jazz fans and newcomers to the music seemed to be having a grand time with their $10 passes.
The week offered performances from New York favorites Mel Lewis and his big band; pianists Hank Jones, Barry Harris, and Joanne Brackeen; vocalists Alberta Hunter and Jon Hendricks; and numerous others.
Several festivalgoers also expressed appreciation for what they felt was the educational aspect of the occasion. In addition to the club performances, several talks on the history of jazz in the Village, as well as lectures and demonstrations, were held, ranging from workshops with titles like ''Creative Orchestration'' and ''How to Improve Melodically on a Harmonic and Rhythmic Structure'' (aimed exclusively at musicians) to ''Jazz Around the World'' - a program for children. The Bleecker Street Cinema ran jazz films for the duration of the festival - ''Memories of Duke Ellington,'' ''Different Drummer Elvin Jones,'' and ''Born to Swing'' with members of the Count Basie alumni, among others.
The opening night's concert really set the tone - a grand, free outdoor event in Washington Square Park, with Tito Puente's Orchestra, and Dizzy Gillespie with the 17-piece Jazzmobile Dream Band. The park was mobbed, and it was nice to see that these were not exclusively jazz fans who crowded around the bandstand and hung from trees to get a look at who was playing. Later on, the musicians moved over to the Village Gate and played some more - again to a huge, vociferous crowd.
One highlight of the week was a group called ''Gravity,'' consisting of (would you believe?) six tubas and a rhythm section and led by tuba man Howard Johnson, at the Loeb Student Center at New York University. It was truly a Tubby the Tuba dream come true, with the six tuba players getting plenty of solo space and a chance to show off their virtuosity.
But the real treasure of the festival was a last-minute program addition that brought veteran tap dancers Honi Coles and the Copasetics and their guest Brenda Bufalino to the Village Gate for four performances. The smallish stage and club atmosphere at the Top of the Gate were just perfect for the casual, intimate style of the genteel and talented Mr. Coles and his company.
The special surprise was Miss Bufalino, who replaced Bunny Briggs in the guest spot. Brenda, a protege of Coles, is one of the most innovative of the younger tap dancers, yet she carries the grand hoofer tradition right along in her clean, crisp, and dynamically expressive style. She shone in three solo spots - a graceful, slow dance to ''Time on My Hands,'' an inventive and tightly arranged ''Brenda's Waltz,'' and a hot ''Night in Tunisia.'' With the confidence and aplomb of an ''old-timer,'' she joined Honi and the Copasetics in the traditional closing number, ''Shim Sham Shimmy.''
Traditional jazz tap has no official home in New York, and one would hope that Art D'Lugoff, owner of the Village Gate, might consider programs like this one on a more regular basis.