Roxbury native Guru (above), the legendary MC of iconic hip-hop duo Gang Starr and the driving force behind the innovative Jazzmatazz series, was the featured guest at last Saturday’s “A Hip-Hop Tribute to ’Trane,” the 31st annual John Coltrane Memorial Concert. (Below, from left): Event co-producer Emmett G. Price III, Guru, producer Solar, and event co-producer Dr. Leonard Brown. (Victor Kakulu photos)
Dating back to 1977, the John Coltrane Memorial Concert at Northeastern University is the world’s oldest annual performance honoring the late, world-renowned musician.
Last Saturday’s “A Hip-Hop Tribute to ’Trane,” the 31st installment in the series, featured iconic MC and Roxbury native Guru, super-producer Solar and their Jazzmatazz musical ensemble pulling out all the stops to honor the legendary jazz saxophonist.
Northeastern professors and event co-producers Emmett G. Price III and Dr. Leonard Brown hailed the tribute, attended by nearly 1,100 appreciators and hosted by Eric Jackson of WGBH’s “Eric In The Evening,” as a memorable performance.
“Tonight’s concert shows not only the brilliance of Guru and … Solar in exhibiting their own musical contributions, but also their ability to study and comprehend the black musical experience and its importance to the legacy of this country,” said Price. “They have exemplified that the legacy of John Coltrane goes further than the reach of just jazz and has impacted musicians of various styles and genres.”
The breadth of Coltrane’s sonic influence was on display at Northeastern’s Blackman Theatre last Saturday. Though the interpretation sounded a bit different from Coltrane’s original compositions, the emphasis on his musical and spiritual legacy remained constant throughout the evening.
Mixtape titan DJ Doo Wop played classic material from Guru’s extensive catalogue and multi-instrumentalist David Scott gave extraordinary performances on keyboards, guitar, flute and saxophone.
Perhaps the scene-stealer of the evening, Toronto-based trumpeter Nick “Brownman” Ali wowed the audience throughout the night with amazing musical interpolations of classic pieces by both Guru and Coltrane.
Not to be outdone, co-producer Brown provided his own highlight with a saxophone performance of “Acknowledgement,” the unforgettable four-note theme of the first movement of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”
After the event, Brown sounded quite satisfied with the way the evening turned out.
“Tonight’s event accomplished everything we could have wanted and more,” he said.
While the tribute was far from a conventional celebration of Coltrane’s work — to the extent that “Coltrane” and “conventional” can share space in a sentence — Brown maintained that the mission of this year’s concert was not only to celebrate the man’s music, but also to show how his singular jazz style has influenced other artists and even other genres, such as hip-hop.
The tenor of that celebration drew as many younger listeners to the Blackman Theatre as older appreciators. One younger attendee, 26-year-old Rocklyn Clarke, was all smiles throughout the evening.
“It was a laid-back cool,” said Clarke, a Dorchester native.
He cited “State of Clarity,” a track off of Guru’s “Jazzmatazz: The Time Bomb (Back To The Future)” mixtape, released earlier this year, and an interpolation of Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme” as his favorite performances of the evening.
Clarke praised the organizers for recognizing the significance of an artist like Guru in celebrating Coltrane.
“There aren’t too many artists today who can incorporate the importance of jazz in the hip-hop culture,” said Clarke.
“It’s hard to pull off if it’s not in your heart, and Guru is very genuine in this area.”