J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band
New York Moment
As the name implies, this band is a ‘tweener” somewhere between a large ensemble or a larger band. Additionally, most units of this type would have one main vocalist while this one has five, each with a distinctly different style. The J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band is a forward-looking (with plenty of retro strains too) swing ensemble that has been a regular feature at Harlem’s historic Minton’s Playhouse every Saturday night for several years. As we know New York is a scary place right now with COVID-19, an event that no one saw coming. Yet, perhaps this stirring music will lift some spirits when it’s needed most.
The title of New York Moment, J.C. Hopkins’ latest project, is described by the composer in this way: “People say that a New York minute is really just a second, a split second, whereas a New York Moment transcends time. It’s when time stops. It’s when the trumpet player plays an otherworldly melody, or when the saxophonist wails like a wild duck creating a sense of tumult in an already tumultuous world, or when the singer sings just the right notes as the band lays down a lush chord. And it’s so beautiful that it resonates in your soul.”
The project consists of J.C. Hopkins’ originals and the arrangements of tenor-saxophonist Drew Vandewinkle for the spirited group. Featured in key spots are five singers. Nico Sarbanes, who is also an excellent trumpeter, takes the lead on “We Can Change The World” and “Lulu” (singing, like Sinatra and taking a particularly fluid trumpet solo on the latter), and sharing the vocals with Joy Hanson on the love song “Beguiled” and “What Would You Say.” Hanson is also heard on the quietly sensuous “The Wonderful Things To Come” and the ballad “Close Your Eyes.” Vanisha Gould adds to the New Orleans party atmosphere of “One Of Those Days” with her jubilant singing and puts plenty of honest emotion into “Sublime Beauty.” Shawn Whitehorn uplifts the medium-tempo love song “Oh, Kitty” while Alicyn Yaffee excels on the lowdown blues “The Children Will Lead Us.”
The Biggish Band also has its opportunities to be featured throughout the diverse material with a killer “must listen” instrumental version of Charles Mingus’ “Better Git It In Your Soul” having some joyfully wild ensembles and passionate playing by altoist Julian Pressley. This track alone is reason enough to pick up this recording.
Chances are you may have not heard of Hopkins prior to reading this. This writer had not. But, when you learn about the lineage of vocalists in his bands over the past twenty years, you’ll be in awe. J.C. Hopkins moved from his hometown of San Francisco in 2000 to Brooklyn where he soon formed this band. His singer in the early days was the then-unknown Norah Jones. After her phenomenal success, she was succeeded by a long list of other great jazz vocalists including Madeleine Peyroux, Queen Esther, Jazzmeia Horn, Alicia Olatuja, and Brianna Thomas. Hopkins, whose song “Dreams Come True” was recorded as a duet by Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, recorded his first album with his band, Underneath A Brooklyn Moon, in 2005. 2017’s Meet Me At Minton’s (which has guest spots for Jon Hendricks, Andy Bey and Jazzmeia Horn) celebrates the Biggish Band’s long-time Saturday night residency at Minton’s Playhouse, the historic club where early 1940s jam sessions featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and others helped form bebop. Hopkins is also Minton’s long-time music programmer.
New York Moment may well be the J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band’s finest recording to date and shows just how much the music is swinging at Minton’s Playhouse in the 21st century, 82 years since its birth in 1938.
Joy Hanson, Nico Sarbanes, Vanisha Gould, Shawn Whitehorn and Alicyn Yaffee – Vocals J.C .Hopkins – piano, Nico Sarbanes – trumpet solos, Drew Vandewinckle – arranger and tenor sax, Jason Marshall – Baritone sax, Julian Pressley – alto sax, Beserat Taffesse – trombone, Walter Cano – trumpet, Evan Hyde – drums, Kaisa Maenshivu – upright bass