Getting jazzy with it

José James is one of the most exciting names in jazz and he’s looking forward to showing Cayman what he can do.

“I’m really excited to get some sun and to meet new people through my music,” he tells Weekender.

José is the headliner of Jazz on the Green, which takes place at Gaston’s Gardens, Agnes Way on Saturday, 17 March from 5.30pm onward. It’s his first Caribbean appearance and he is looking forward to it. The musician hits many buttons in terms of inspiration: hip hop, jazz, Coltraine and DJ Gilles Peterson. We wonder how these influences inform his own writing.

“Black music all comes from the same place – a deep creative community,” muses the Minneapolis-born vocalist. “Whether it’s hip-hop, R&B, or jazz, it’s soulful and it influences my work directly. Gilles is a DJ that connects the dots so it was natural that we would find each other.”

What is jazz?

José’s always been around music – testament possibly to his father, a Panamanian multi-instrumentalist and saxophonist. José went to The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and has released three albums to great acclaim. His 2010 opus, For All We Know, became the winner of both the Edison Awardand L’Académie du Jazz Grand Prix for best Vocal Jazz Album of 2010. So he’s best placed to answer what the definition of jazz in 2012 is, surely?

“I don’t think there is one! From Robert Glasper to Flying Lotus it’s all being redefined and combined with other genres,” he says. “I think it’s a time of great freedom, and if jazz means anything it’s freedom of expression.

“I think we’ve seen surprising things cross over to the mainstream, like dubstep in the UK,” José says. “I feel that’s more of a music industry distinction now, artists seems to be making the music they want and finding all kinds of success.”

José’s new LP is out in September, 2012, featuring such luminaries as Pino Palladino, Robert Glasper, Chris Dave, Emily King and Hindi Zahra. He says he’s happy to be currently working with McCoy Tyner on his John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman live project and would love to work with Madlib.

Desi’s coming too

The Jazz on the Green event also features the not-inconsiderable talents of The Desi Jones Quartet – the Jamaicans are a seasoned and well-travelled outfit led by Desi, who is bringing two emerging vocal talents on the Jamaican jazz scene – Judy Emmanuel and Tammi T.

“The best thing about touring,” Desi says. “Is getting to know new places that you have only read about or seen on TV. The worst thing is the hassle at the airports with security , overweight bags, flight delays, and so on.

“We are looking forward to a nice evening at our home away from home,” Desi says. “We hope to get some of the great tasting ox tail and beans and carrot juice at the great restaurants in Grand Cayman. One love.”

Then there’s Eddie Bullen, the Grenadian keyboardist based in Canada. Eddie’s a skilled and kinetic performer who is a renowned, Grammy-nominated soundsmith, so it’s really going to shake things up.

Bringing the magic on behalf of Cayman is Triggerfish, a funk ensemble comprising four stalwarts of the local Jazz scene: Glen Scott, Will Steward, Keith Millar and Gary Ebanks.

Meeting new people

José James says he’s a big fan of touring and sees it as central to developing as an artist and person.

“It’s a great opportunity to see new places and meet new people. I love trying different food and wines. Being away from family can be hard sometimes, but I always have new stories to tell when I get back,” he says.

“The main difference [in audience response] is in Japan – audiences are very quiet and respectful during the concert. It’s the highest form of respect to be absolutely silent – which can catch you off guard for the first time! In the US, especially with a black audience, there’s more of a call and response interaction, which I love. But we play hard no matter where we are,” he says. “I believe in what I do and in my musicians. I love to share my work with the world and to give it my all. And in the jazz tradition, no song is ever played the same way twice.”

Cayman – you have been warned.

The event is a benefit in aid of George Town Sports Club and assists with the funding of many programmes which benefit the youth of George Town.

Organisers of the Jazz on the Green gig say that the club’s after school, basketball, football and summer programmes are all aimed toward preventing or reducing opportunities for deviant behaviour and to provide social interaction opportunities as well as instilling sound values in our youngsters. That’s a great cause on its own but when put alongside a concert of this magnitude which people would no doubt attend anyway it becomes even more powerful.

The Platinum sponsors are the Department of Tourism. Visitors to the Island and locals are all expected to invited to attend. Tickets are on sale at Funky Tangs, Department of Tourism, Lee Ramoon at the Government Administration Building, FIS Moneygram or any member of the Friends of Jazz Committee.

Price is CI$80 pre-sold and CI$90 at the gate. All food and drinks are included. There will be a Cayman cultural booth where you can meet some of the Cayman’s best artists and find some unique pieces.