Jersey City Jazz Band Celebrates 47 Years of Music and Cultural Awareness

It’s always special when a group of musicians, a venue and an audience come together to celebrate something they all share in common: music. The Spirit of Life Ensemble has been part of this celebration for 47 years, since its formation in July and August 1975.

Since its formation, the band has been under the direction of multi-percussionist Daoud-David Williams, with the Afro-centric and multicultural unit music reflecting the band’s name. The Jersey City Cultural Arts Commission recently presented Williams with its “Legacy” award during a celebration at the Mana Contemporary on Newark Avenue in Jersey City.

“There was very little cultural arts in the community where I lived when we started the Spirit of Life Ensemble,” Williams said. “People didn’t really know what was there, and that’s what started the initiative to start the band.”

The Ensemble was born out of an arts studio created in 1971 and located at the corner of Claremont and Jackson avenues. Known as Ascension Arts Workshop, it was named after John Coltrane’s 1966 album “Ascension”.

Their first shows as a group would feature all the arts in multicultural performances with other musicians, painters, dancers, actors and poets.

The Spirit of Life Ensemble has performed to national and international audiences. It was the jazz orchestra in residence at the internationally acclaimed Sweet Basil Jazz Club in New York from 1995 to 2001. It has been featured at many different jazz festivals such as the Pori International Jazz Festivals in Finland; Kaunas International Jazz Festival in Lithuania and LaRuce au Jazz Festival in Bayonne, France.

Although their music is deeply rooted in the jazz tradition, it has been heavily influenced by a number of musical styles found in the African diaspora, including rhythms from Latin America, South America, the islands from the Caribbean, African and African-American musical genres. rhythm & blues, gospel, funk and blues.

Although the band have been known to play a number of venues around the world, you can easily catch them here in Jersey City performing on the Community Awareness series, part of the Jersey City Free Public Library and the series will be celebrating its 45th anniversary next October.

Upcoming summer concerts for the Spirit of Life Ensemble this month include Liberty State Park on Sunday, August 14, 6-8 p.m. on the north side of the park at 1 Audrey Zapp Dr., Jersey City; and Ercel Webb Park, 124 Lafayette St., Jersey City, Wednesday, August 17, 6-7 p.m. There is a rain date for the Ercel Webb Park show on August 24 in case of bad weather.

The usual performance size for the Ensemble is eight to 18 players, and it has several components: a 5-7 piece combo, an 8-11 piece unit, and a 12-18 piece modern big band. It includes jazz artists such as Dwight West, Rob Henke, Michael Cochrane, TK Blue, Chip Shelton, McLester McKee, David Robinson, Michael Logan, Sipho Kunane, Dennis Cruz, Carlos Francis, Calvin Hill, Bob Ferrel, Vinnie Cutro, Yashmin Charnet Abler, Bruce Cox, Cleave Guyton, Richard Clements, Everald Brown, Bryan Carrott, Marcus McLauren, Greg Bufford, Jann Parker, Lenny Argesse, Mark Gross, Mamdouh Bahri, Joe Ford, Jason Curry, Timithy Hayward, Bradford Hayes, Eddie Henderson, Ubaka Hill, Victor Jones Chip Lyles, Gary Lyles, Joe Lee Wilson, Ted Curson, Cliff Walston, Paul Abler, Clifford Adams, Guilherme Franco, Rick Conga, and Benny Powell, among others.

The Spirit of Life Ensemble members’ collective experience includes performances and recordings with jazz icons such as the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Count Basie Orchestra, Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, John Hicks, Nancy Wilson, Ahmad Jamal , Shirley Scott , Charles Mingus, Bob Crenshaw, Horace Silver, Buddy Rich, Sonny Fortune, The African Rhythms of Randy Weston, Abbey Lincoln, Wynton Marsalis, Max Roach, Miriam Makeba, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Winard Harper, Dee Dee Bridgewater , Jimmy Owens, Jerry Gonzalez & Fort Apache, and Pharaoh Sanders.

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Henry R. Wright