Highlights In Jazz: 38 Years of Jazz History, Closing Up Shop
For the past 38 years, Jack Kleinsinger was impresario and host of “Highlights In Jazz,” a moveable fete of jazz luminaries presented in not-really-jam-sessions. And now, in light of financial considerations, it ends. “I’m not giving up on jazz, it’s just this deepening recession,” Kleinsinger says. The final Highlights In Jazz concert took place last night, Thursday, May 13.
I served as Jack’s consultant ever since the second concert, which was held at the Theatre de Lys — now the Lucille Lortel Theatre — in Greenwich Village. The series moved first to another Village theatre and then into local universities: NYU, Pace and finally the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at Borough of Manhattan Community College. In all there have been 300 concerts, and with the 100 or so entertainers per year for 38 years, well, do the math as to how many jazz players have graced the Highlights stages. I should mention that neither Jack nor I were jazz pros: Kleinsinger was an Assistant State Attorney General, I was a securities trader.
Highlights sprang to life when there were pitiably few if any such series in existence.
Each year, Highlights has included a salute to a living performer. In 2010 we presented a plaque to Lew Tabackin. And Highlights has also saluted songwriters Irving Berlin, Eubie Blake, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Yip Harburg, Johnny Mercer and Fats Waller. If they were available, they were there. Jack also introduced a “surprise guest” at each concert. Sometimes they surprised him; from his audiences came Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz.
While musicians did not come with their groups, the sessions were nonetheless structured. “I never let them decide at the last moment what the program would be,” Jack explained. “I saw too many times how musicians would stand around discussing what to play next. My concerts needed fluidity.”
Such was the case with his idols, Norman Granz and George Wein. “I took my first date to a midnight Carnegie Hall concert of Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic,” Jack remembers. As for Wein, “He was my inspiration.” Wein hired Jack twice to emcee in Nice, France, and later honored him in two concerts at his JVC Jazz Festivals in New York. Jack returned the encomium — on two occasions Wein the pianist was Jack’s guest at Highlights.
“I took examples from [Granz and Wein] by making sure that all of my concerts were integrated,” Jack says. In more ways than the obvious: Highlights also mixed age groups. He’d present veterans and mix them up with new lights and make sure they played together. One such was Bucky Pizzarelli, who brought his young son John to NYU. It was to be John’s launch.
Highlights sprang to life when there were pitiably few if any such series in existence. There was no Jazz at Lincoln Center, new or old; no jazz at the 92nd Street Y. “If I had to put my finger on an impetus for [those institutions], it might well be Highlights,” Jack says matter-of-factly.
Jack is a jazz fan first, foremost and forever. “I still go out two or three times a week to clubs and concerts. So if funding comes my way, there will be more [Kleinsinger-produced] concerts.”
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