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In Central Park, mid-pandemic, jazz was alive atop sacred ground

Nasheet Waits (drums), Rashaan Carter (bass), Mark Turner (tenor sax), Steve Nelson (vibraphone) perform in Central Park during the Walk with the Winds series.
Jimmy Katz
Nasheet Waits (drums), Rashaan Carter (bass), Mark Turner (tenor sax), Steve Nelson (vibraphone) perform in Central Park during the Walk with the Winds series.

Autumn in New York is often a wondrous time — but last year was a whole different story. During a phase of the pandemic before vaccines or rapid tests, jazz clubs were still dark, like so many other businesses. There was a lot of hurt in the musical community.

So one valiant New Yorker aimed to bring a glimmer of hope by producing an outdoor concert series in the heart of Central Park: Jimmy Katz, legendary photographer and founder of Giant Step Arts, called the series Walk With the Wind.

"I didn't want to end up on the other side of the pandemic and have people ask me, well, 'What did you do for the jazz community?' " Katz recalls. "I wanted to respond in a very positive and aggressive way."

Katz provided an outlet where musicians could both get paid and release their pent-up energy. It just happened to be outdoors in an iconic spot, on top of a hidden history. The series took place at Seneca Village, the first free Black settlement in New York City, and featured some of the baddest musicians in the city, from tenor saxophonist Mark Turner to drummer Nasheet Waits.

In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll hear highlights from Walk With the Wind, which Katz dedicated to the memory of congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis. We'll also learn the backstory of Seneca Village, which was razed to build Central Park in 1858. Historian Cynthia Copeland takes our host, Christian McBride, on a tour of the grounds — prodding him to imagine what life was like in this African American community in the decades before its destruction.

As for Katz, a jazz photographer in the mold of Herman Leonard and William Gottlieb, he's accustomed to improvising with his work. For more than 30 years, he's captured timeless images of Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Esperanza Spalding and many more.

Immanuel Wilkins (sax), Tyron Allen (bass), Josie Say (dancer), Nazir Ebo (drums)
/ Jimmy Katz
Jimmy Katz
Immanuel Wilkins (sax), Tyron Allen (bass), Josie Say (dancer), Nazir Ebo (drums)

As you'll hear in this episode, Katz was glad he could make an impact during this difficult period: "Basically, I feel like we all have very little time on planet Earth and each of us, no matter how old we are, has one foot in the grave and one on a banana peel. And so the idea is to do as many good things as you can while you're here."


Nasheet Waits Quartet: Nasheet Waits, drums; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Rashaan Carter, bass; Steve Nelson, vibraphone

Mark Turner Quartet: Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Jason Palmer, trumpet; Joe Martin, bass; Jonathan Pinson, drums

Set List

  • Nasheet Waits Quartet, "Snake Hip Waltz" (Andrew Hill)
  • Nasheet Waits Quartet, "Five The Hard Way, AW" (Nasheet Waits)
  • Mark Turner Quartet, "Bridgetown" (Mark Turner)
  • Mark Turner Quartet, "Sonnet For Stevie (Mark Turner)
  • Nasheet Waits Quartet, "Moon Dance" (Nasheet Waits) 
  • Credits:

    Writer and Producer: Sarah Geledi; Recording Engineer and Audio Mix: Jimmy Katz; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Senior Director of NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Gabrielle Armand

    Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

    Sarah Geledi left her job in advertising in Montreal to pursue a career in music in New York City. She fulfilled that mission, producing content for the JAM Festival at WBGO, segments for The Checkout, and programs for WWOZ and PRI's Afropop Worldwide. She also served as a producer for NYC Winter Jazzfest before landing the "job of her dreams," producing radio for Jazz Night in America.