And All That Lincoln Center Jazz

by Kelly Laffey Photographed by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
Friday, April 28, 2017

Sequins and sparkles were in style on Wednesday night, as jazz cats gathered on the fifth floor of the Time Warner Center to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, the first lady of song, at the annual Jazz at Lincoln Center Gala.

Hosted by Harry Connick Jr., the event played tribute to Fitzgerald, featuring performances by her friends and admirers, all led by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis.

“I’m such a huge fan of jazz and all the people who are performing tonight,” said Audra McDonald, one of the evening’s performers and a six-time Tony Award winner who most recently appeared in the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast. “For me, whenever I do an event that gears toward jazz, which is not really what I do, it’s so much fun to go and fan girl over everyone.”

“To honor Ella is a great honor for me tonight,” said singer Marilyn May. “It’s so deserved. We both were working singers together. I still am and she’s up there listening.”

The evening honored David and Thelma Steward with the Ed Bradley Award for Leadership. “It’s amazing to be honored for something that you love, and that’s this music called jazz,” said David Steward. The award is named in honor of Ed Bradley, who served on the Jazz at Lincoln Center board from 1992 until his death in 2007. The esteemed award recognizes and celebrates the integrity, wisdom, and pioneering spirit of outstanding leaders in jazz.

“I first started listening to jazz from the crib,” recalls Steward. It was jazz that brought him and Thelma together, as they met at a dance 42 years ago. The couple brought just shy of 100 people from their adopted hometown of St. Louis, where David’s company World Wide Technology is based, with them. “If you see a group of people staring at the tall buildings, it’s us!” he joked.

Connick, a New Orleans native, shared an anecdote from the first time he met Fitzgerald. As a teenager, he was asked to play piano at Fitzgerald’s birthday. Though the guest of honor was surrounded by friends, he went up to her and begged her to perform with him, which she—reluctantly, recalled Connick—agreed to do. Connick made it his mission to jam, and to get Fitzgerald to move. She did, and he never forgot it—much like guests will never forget the gala evening.

After the performances, patrons dined overlooking Columbus Circle. Proceeds from the evening help to fund the diverse education programs and resources produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center each year.


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