Jazz Haven Swings For The People

Nick Di Maria has set his musical organizational skills to a socialist beat. Or so he said, with a sense of humor, in talking about Jazz Haven‘s upcoming Jazz Week, which features 15 jazz events all around New Haven from Aug. 17 to Aug. 25.

Jazz Week will kick off with the Dr. Eddie Henderson Quartet at Lyric Hall on Whalley Avenue in Westville on the evening of Aug. 17. Across town, the Phil E. Brown Trio will set up shop at Amoy’s on Orange Street in Ninth Square. Those two concerts are harbingers for what is to come in the days afterward, whether it’s the Morris Trent Duo at the Anchor Spa on College Street (Aug. 20), Jazz Haven Fusion Night at Stella Blues on Crown Street (Aug. 23), or Joe Morris and the New Haven Improvisers Collective at the State House (Aug. 23). The main event, on Aug. 24 at Temple Plaza, is a triple-header of the Alec Rice Quintet, the Andrew Beals Quartet, and Adam Rogers Dice.

These events add to and amplify what Di Maria, a board member at Jazz Haven, pointed out are ongoing events in the Elm City, from the Hawkins Jazz Collective’s ongoing Wednesday night residence at the Owl Shop, to Rohn Lawrence’s longtime Monday night stand at Lily’s Pad at Toads, to Cafe Nine’s regular jazz jams. Except Sunday Aug. 19, there’s something scheduled every night of Jazz Week. (Click here for the full schedule of events.)

In other words, it’s a schedule that seeks to be as inclusive as Jazz Haven could make it, with a mix of local and out-of-town acts, straight-ahead bands and avant-garde groups, and lots of ways for audiences and other jazz musicians to get involved. The schedule has been finalized just as Di Maria himself — who leads his own band — is about to hit the road for a mini-tour squeezed in just before Jazz Week starts.

“I’d rather be known as the fifth-best trumpet player, but the number one guy that brings people together,” Di Maria said.

Di Maria grew up in Waterbury, studied music at Western Connecticut State University, and spent a little time in New York City, but has planted his flag in the New Haven music community since arriving on the scene over 10 years ago. During the school year, he’s is the general music teacher at Truman School on Truman Street in New Haven, where he instructs kids from kindergarten to eighth grade. As a board member of Jazz Haven, he has found a vehicle for even greater community-oriented ambitions — the “musical socialism” that he thinks of as an outgrowth of the ethos he developed as a punk kid and has carried forward to this day.

Brian Slattery Photo“Everything I learned” about playing music professionally, he said, “I learned by making mistakes.” He also learned that “there’s a vast ocean of excellent musicians” all around him. “Why not go back and nurture the local scene?”

To Di Maria, that means a lot of things. With Thomas Duffy, Yale’s director of bands, he’s organizing brass band workshops with the Funky Dawgz Brass Band. He has plans to organize outdoor New Orleans-style parades with willing horn players. He’s hoping to broaden Jazz Haven’s reach across the genre, encompassing more Latin music, more jazz inflected by rock and funk. He’s working to increase the diversity of musicians across race and gender lines. And he’s hoping to be able to organize music shows in which jazz bands share the bill with non-jazz bands — even punk bands. People may say they don’t like certain genres of music, he said, but “everyone likes live music.”

Making those kinds of things happen, he continued, involves tearing down some of the barriers that musicians themselves put up. “Ninety-nine percent of the world listens to music for relief, enjoyment, and fun,” he said. “It’s musicians who are overthinking it.” As he thought more about bringing people together across all kinds of societal and musical lines, he said, he realized it had something in common with a political campaign — and a certain avowed socialist’s campaign in particular — particularly in the way it embraced lots of small donations and volunteer efforts.

But for now, he has a short stint of shows to perform, and then a week of events to help run. He sees some of what he envisions already in Jazz Week’s programming for this year. In the main event’s afterparty on Aug. 24 featuring Kelly Green and George Coleman, he said, “you get the future, you get equality, and you get a pillar of the jazz community” in Coleman himself.

“Because the city deserves it,” he added. “The city deserves to have excellent music and an excellent festival.”

Jazz Haven’s Jazz Week runs Aug. 17 to Aug. 25 at various locations throughout New Haven. Visit Jazz Haven’s website for more details.

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