Nine-time Academy Award host Billy Crystal is assuming a new role tomorrow night, May 1, when he hosts Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 2014 gala concert. Called “Love, Loss and Laughter: The Story of Jazz,” it will be Webcast live on livestream.com/jazz and jalc.org/live.
The musical revue will highlight some of the greatest songs in the history of jazz–from its inception in New Orleans to its flowering in New York and current integration into global culture—through song, dance and monologue. Performing in it—beside the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra—will be Jonathan Batiste, Bill Cosby, Jon Faddis, Norm Lewis, Taj Mahal, Mark O’Connor, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Roberts and Cecile McLorin Salvant.
Crystal actually has a lifelong connection to jazz: His father, Jack Crystal (memorialized in Billy Crystal’s one-man Broadway show, 700 Sundays, now on HBO, http://www.hbo.com/comedy/billy-crystal-700-sundays#/), managed the legendary Commodore Music Shop in Manhattan, while his uncle, Milt Gabler, was a record producer of songs including “Strange Fruit,” made famous by Billie Holiday, and also creator of the Commodore Jazz label. According to Wynton Marsalis, managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Crystal “spent time with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday.”
Greg Scholl, executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, said Crystal was “a real logical choice” to be the host of the concert, since “he grew up in a house where jazz was very much in the air.” He said Crystal’s narration would be a collaboration between him and Jazz at Lincoln Center,” although he predicted that although Crystal will “have a storyline to work with, he will make it his own,” since he is “a master of improvisation.”
Proceeds from the gala will help enable Jazz at Lincoln Center’s performances, education programs, free Webcasts and distribution of scores annually; Scholl said it reaches more than one million people globally of all ages.
It has been particularly aggressive in its online programming, increasing the number of Webcast concerts from five in the 2011-12 season to 223 in the 2013-14 season, which Scholl said is an increase of over 100 per cent from the 2012-13 season. Unique views on its Web site have also jumped from 103,000 in the 2012-13 season to 391,000 in the current season. Scholl said online audiences were from over 100 different countries.
He said he hoped much of the 2014 gala would reside online permanently once “clearance issues” were resolved.
He also said he had “zero concerns” about Webcasts of concerts cannibalizing ticket sales. They help “build awareness, excitement,“ he said.