Jazz Greats Pass the Torch at NXTHVN

Mindi Rose Englart | February 26th, 2024

Jazz Greats Pass the Torch at NXTHVN

Black History Month  |  Culture & Community  |  Jazz  |  Music  |  NXTHVN  |  Arts & Culture

New Haven and Hartford jazz icons and future musical legends unite at NXTHVN for Black History Month. Mindi Rose Englart photos.

An intergenerational jazz band performed for a full house of music lovers tapping their toes and bobbing their heads to a sonic legacy that they helped shape and sustain.

Haneef N. Nelson on trumpet.

The occasion was a celebration of Black History Month at NXTHVN curated by New-Haven bred drummer Ryan Sands. Featuring Elm City jazz musicians Jeff Fuller, Jesse Hameen II , and Sands, along with Hartford-based musicians Haneef N. Nelson, Andrew Wilcox, Eneji Alungbe, the band played songs they (or their friends and family) had written like “The Mission” by Hameen; “Buds Tune” by Christian Sands, who is Ryan’s brother; and “Clouded Vision” by Nelson.

They also played classic jazz tunes like “On the Que-Tee” by Freddie Hubbard and “My Funny Valentine” by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, at times shifting their style of play to include Brazilian, Samba, Bebop and fusion for the 175 people gathered at NXTHVN.

Sands said the concert was a way of paying homage to New Haven’s jazz legacy, especially to Hameen and Fuller. He counts both men as mentors, having taken lessons with Hameen from the age of four to when he left for Manhattan School of Music at 18.

He’s known Fuller nearly as long. Fuller worked on his brother Christian’s first album in 2000 and Sands studied with him at Neighborhood Music School Jazz Camp and at Educational Center for the Arts.

Stephanie and Ryan Sands.

Sands said he wanted the audience to feel joyful, prideful and to celebrate the arts in New Haven and that NXTHVN was the perfect place to host the event.

“NXTHVN is a relatively new space in New Haven and it’s going to be a very important part of New Haven Black history and Connecticut music culture going forward,” he said.

From the first piece, “Keep Hope Alive” written by Fuller, the crowd enthusiastically engaged. They tapped their feet and nodded their heads as they listened to the rumbling, rolling buildup of Sand's drums, Hameen’s percussion and Nelson’s smooth trumpet. 

As the concert progressed, whether the music was soft and slow, with delicate notes from keyboardist Wilcox or a lively, rock-in-your-seat swell of sound with Alungbe hammering at the bass, the crowd responded. At times, the sound of the audience clapping became part of the music itself. 

Sands said the concert was to honor internationally-known jazz created by Black legends in the tradition of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, but also local legends, like The Buster Brothers and Ronnie Lawrence.

Additionally, he said he wanted to celebrate Black History Month and honor Dixwell’s rich jazz history by bringing together New Haven jazz legends Fuller and Hameen to “pass the torch” onto younger players like himself, Alungbe, Nelson and Wilcox. 

Sands, who believes New Haven is starving for jazz, recently started running a monthly jazz jam at Neighborhood Music School with Alexis Robbins and Jamie Berlyn. The next jam is at 6:30 p.m. on March 15.

Agosto welcomed to guests NXTHVN and encouraged people to meet someone new.

Jasmin Agosto, NXTHVN’s programs and exhibitions manager, said the event was a perfect example of the kind of work they do at NXTHVN through fellowships and apprenticeships. NXTHVN will host its next event, an art opening, on March 9.  

“That’s our mission,” she said. “We want to honor that everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to offer. Each one, teach one.”

The musicians represented four generations on stage, with Sands being the youngest among them. As they performed, sometimes all together, and sometimes in smaller groups, Hameen, who is in his early 80s, wowed the crowd with his drumming, fitting a flurry of beats into each second he played. 

Jesse "Cheese" Hameen II and Eneji Alungbe.

He thanked the audience for coming out and told them this was not just a performance; he said the musicians were coming from the heart. 

“I was born and raised in the neighborhood and moved to New York for 30-something years,” Hameen said. “They try to claim me, but I say no. New Haven is my home.”