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Jazzing up Friday night

The Makanda Project brings local composer’s work to the stage

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Jazzing up Friday night
The reed section of the Makanda Project performs at the Dudley Library. (Photo: Photo: Celina Colby)

On a drizzly, unwelcoming Friday night, the Dudley branch of the Boston Public Library bursts with energy. Four times a year, the Makanda Project hosts free jazz concerts at the library, and the community can’t get enough. The room is packed with well over a hundred guests. It’s a diverse group in both age and background.

A toddler in pink pants and double buns runs up to an unused keyboard and taps out a melody while her mother chats with their neighbors. A teen brings his elderly relative a cookie from the bake sale tables in the back. Everyone is an old friend. At 7 the musicians break off from the crowd and take their places at the front of the room. Without pretension, the concert has begun.

John Kordalewski, a student of the jazz composer Makanda Ken McIntyre, assembled the Makanda Project in 2005 in memory of the artist. McIntyre had some 350 unpublished songs at the time of his death, and the group performs them around the city to keep his passion alive.

“Makanda was many things,” says Kordalewski. “He was uniquely powerful, educated, and tremendous on his instruments. There’s something intriguing about his writing.”

Lyrical language

In 2008 the band began their regular concerts at the library. The music appeals to jazz enthusiasts and music lovers alike.

“It’s stretching the boundaries of what jazz does, but it’s still rooted in the fundamentals,” says Kordalewski. It’s that blend of new and familiar that keeps people coming back.”

Once a year renowned jazz musician Oliver Lake joins the group for a concert. McIntyre had released an album with Lake’s label, which sparked Lake’s interest in his music.

“The fact that his music was so ahead of its time makes the work very interesting and very challenging,” says Lake.

The set list takes advantage of the variety of jazz music but creating a kind of narrative. A low, moody piece leads into a tight, suspenseful number, and is wrapped up with a lively, saxophone-heavy resolution.

It was important to Kordalewski to stage these concerts in areas like Roxbury, not only because McIntyre lived there, but because of the jazz history that was made on those streets. Roxbury resident Leonard Brown was attending his first Makanda Project concert on Friday, May 13.

“It’s good to have the music in these communities where the music lives,” says Brown. He reminisces with a friend about the earlier days when jazz was performed outside and clubs weren’t as hard to find.

Community is the heart of the Makanda Project concerts. It’s not just an evening of impeccably executed jazz, it’s an opportunity to socialize with friends and neighbors. The free, centrally located events give residents the chance to experience art on their own turf, without having to venture to the self-proclaimed culture centers of the city.

Brown puts it best as he gesture out to the rows of friends before him.

“There’s all kinds of people here, all ages, all sexes, it’s a cross section of what we hope the community will be.”

The next Makanda Project concert is June 11, at 1 p.m., at the Bromley heath Amphitheater in Jamaica Plain.