Jazz Along the Charles aims to educate and inspire when the free outdoor concert returns to the Charles River Esplanade on Oct. 7.
Kicking off the 2023-2024 season for the Celebrity Series of Boston, the event will feature 25 bands and 100 Boston-based musicians, playing the same songs simultaneously — but interpreted in their own styles — while stationed along a 1.5-mile loop.
From hits like Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” to classics like Ann Ronell’s “Willow Weep for Me,” the show will pay tribute to women composers and musicians with Boston ties. Zahili Zamora, a pianist, composer, and assistant professor at Berklee College of Music, co-curated the set list with saxophonist and composer Ken Field and hopes that it will open attendees’ ears to the “wonderful legacy” of these artists.
“As an artist, you want to be a messenger of history and legacy,” says Zamora, speaking by phone last week. “These are great composers who paved the way for other artists.”
The event will also feature the world premiere of “Bay Warriors,” a new piece composed by decorated jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. A Medford native and three-time Grammy winner, Carrington created the song to honor the resiliency of Bostonians today while acknowledging the “very real history of Massachusetts” when it comes to the struggles faced by Indigenous peoples.
“In part, that legacy of warrior strength or spirit comes from before the state was colonized,” says Carrington, in a telephone interview on Monday. “I wanted to tie all of it together.”
A Boston music legend who has played with jazz icons like Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, and Al Jarreau, Carrington has spent her career blazing trails and using her work to tell important stories. In 2018, she founded the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice and, last fall, she released her book “New Standards: 101 Lead Sheets by Women Composers,” compiling nearly a century of jazz compositions by women artists.
“At this stage in my life and career, I’m most interested in things that revolve around social justice, because, how does that expression go, you have to stand for something or fall for nothing,” says Carrington.
Getting the chance to play songs by Carrington and other women composers means a lot to Ciara Moser, a Dublin-born bassist now based in Boston, who makes her first Jazz Along the Charles appearance this weekend. Moser finds inspiration in their work, especially since entering “the real world” and experiencing a dearth of opportunities for women.
Additionally, as a blind musician, Moser appreciates Jazz Along the Charles for making the process of applying to perform easy to navigate and inclusive.
“Especially for me as a blind musician, sometimes it’s harder to find those opportunities,” says Moser, in a telephone interview. Her debut album, “Blind. So what?,” releases Oct. 20. “I’m really happy this is such an inclusive environment that gives everybody an opportunity.”
Creating a space that is open to all is at the core of the event, according to Zamora, with the diversity of backgrounds and musical styles fueling creativity. As a Cuban artist, Zamora notes how her approach to jazz may bring in elements like congas or Afro-Cuban rhythms, while a Venezuelan artist may utilize aspects of joropos. The uniting factor that makes something jazz for her, however, comes down to experimentation.
“All over the world, we play jazz,” says Zamora. “Just other Afro-Latino cultures, you could have 20 different rhythms and still be playing jazz because, at the essence, you’re improvising over the music that you’re doing.”
“That is the essence of jazz, as a big umbrella where you go out and experiment,” she adds. “But if you’re not experimenting, I would say, it’s not jazz.”
As experimentation leads to evolution, artists like Zoe Murphy, a Boston-based trumpeter who also performs this weekend, sees jazz as a “living, breathing art form” that continues to serve as “a backbone” informing today’s music.
But as jazz evolves and a new generation embraces the artform, Carrington believes it is crucial to not forget its history and lineage.
“Wayne Shorter said jazz means no category,” says Carrington. “Duke Ellington said jazz is freedom of expression. I say jazz is a spirit.”
“It’s built upon the struggle of African-American people and I think you cannot forget that or you’re playing fake jazz that’s not based on any foundation,” she adds. “Things evolve, but you can’t forget the foundation.”
JAZZ ALONG THE CHARLES
Charles River Esplanade, Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. Free. www.celebrityseries.org/live-performances/public-performance-projects/jazz-along-the-charles-2023