Jazz Concerts Celebrate Met Opera Composers on an Intimate Scale

In the musical “Jelly’s Last Jam,” which just had an acclaimed revival in the New York City Center Encores! series, Jelly Roll Morton, a pianist and composer who claims he invented jazz, pays for his hubris. But while the show occasionally excoriates him, its fictionalized tale revels in his real-world achievements.

On Saturday, during the final weekend of the run, Nicholas Christopher summoned wave after wave of electricity as Morton — not only during the song and dance numbers, but also during scenes in which he managed to create an affecting portrait of a figure who needed to hustle to receive his due credit.

Morton’s biography resonated in two other concerts presented in New York on Friday and Saturday. These performances likewise featured the music of composers who have cut significant profiles in jazz, but with a privilege never afforded to Morton: Their works have made it to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, the largest performing arts institution in the United States.

Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” was the first opera by a Black composer to be presented by the Met, where it will be revived in April. At Jazz at Lincoln Center on Friday, he began a two-night retrospective with a program that delved into his early experiences playing with Art Blakey as well as his later work scoring films for Spike Lee.

Then, at the NYU Skirball on Saturday, some early, sizzling early chamber music by Anthony Davis — whose opera “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” arrived at the Met last fall — received a rare airing from the International Contemporary Ensemble in a performance that also featured Davis playing some ferociously elegant solo piano.

With their Met premieres, Blanchard and Davis have attained a status for Black jazz artists that would have made Morton, an opera lover, envious. But as these concerts demonstrated, there is much more in each composer’s catalog for audiences to mine.

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