Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock, Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and Bruce Willis were among the stars who made the Jazz Foundation of America’s 13th annual “A Great Night in Harlem” benefit on October 24, 2014 at New York City’s Apollo Theater a very special night.
Willis presented Hancock with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and a tribute to the 14-time Grammy Award winner was performed by his 11-year old protege from Indonesia, pianist Joey Alexander. With his mentor sitting next to him and watching in admiration, Alexander amazed the audience as he played an unforgettable rendition of Hancock’s Oscar winning “Round Midnight (originally recorded by Theolonious Monk).”
“When I was eight years old you heard me playing. You told me that you believed in me, and that was the day I decided to dedicate my childhood to jazz,” Alexander told Hancock. After Alexander received a standing ovation, the legendary pianist commented, “Wasn’t it amazing. … He’s taken my job away from me (laughing). I don’t have a job.”
Hancock reunited with his Mwandishi band for the first time in 40 years (Benny Maupin – saxophone/flute, Julian Priester – trombome, Eddie Henderson – trumpet, Billy Hart – drums, and Buster Williams – bass) to play “Toys” from his 1968 album Speak Like a Child. They also rocked the Apollo with his groundbreaking “Chameleon” from his classic 1973 Head Hunters album.
In addition to presenting his own music, the keyboard wizard paid tribute to trumpeter Clark Terry as he was joined by The Heath Brothers, Wallace Roney, and Williams to perform “Gingerbread Boy” from the 1966 Clark Terry/Bob Brookmeyer Quintet Gingerbread Men album. Quincy Jones, who is a honorary founding board member of the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA), co-produced the new Keep on Keepin’ On documentary about Terry and his relationship with his protege, blind pianist Justin Kauflin. Terry had both legs amputated after suffering from diabetes, and the JFA’s support enabled him to receive round-the-clock care and continue to mentor Kauflin.
Questlove, drummer for The Roots (house band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon) introduced the highlight of the evening, the tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White. Chaka Khan brought the entire audience to its feet, performing the EW&F classics “That’s the Way of the World” and “Shining Star” with White’s brother, Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White, Angelique Kidjo, Late Show With David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer on keyboards, and guitarist Ray Parker Jr.
“Reece was about real music, enlightenment and encouraging people,” said White about how his brother formed Earth, Wind & Fire in 1970. He mentioned how Maurice was inspired by legendary artists, including “Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, John Coltrane, and Mahalia Jackson.”
Blues was also part of the musical menu in addition to jazz and R&B. Bruce Willis, who released two albums in the 1980s and continues to perform with his blues band, demonstrated his passion for music as he sang and played harmonica on “Devil Woman” with Schaffer, Parker, and singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi.
For the grand finale, Khan returned to the stage with Kidjo, Hancock, Shaffer, and Parker for the Rufus classic she co-wrote with Parker, “You Got The Love.”
Other performers during the evening included Montreux Jazz Festival piano competition winner Jorge Luis Pacheco from Cuba, soul singer Charles Bradley, and 13-year old blind piano prodigy Matthew Whitaker.
The “Great Night in Harlem” concert raised funds for the Jazz Musician’s Emergency Fund which has provided financial assistance and free medical care to needy musicians across the country for the past 25 years.