Haitian Jazz Project Blows Away the Grind

Monica Sager, Scarlet Staff

The Grind was standing-room only Wednesday night for the sixth annual Geller Jazz Concert.  

This year, the show was performed by the Haitian Jazz Project, consisting of Godwin Louis on saxophone, Bill Buss on trumpet, Aaron Goldberg on keys, Johnathan Michael on bass, and Allan Mednard on drum.  

The band also featured vocalist Pauline Jean.

The “all-star” group plays a mélange of jazz and creole-style music.  

“The deeply soulful and melodious voice of Haitian-American singer Pauline Jean delights audiences at home and abroad, perfectly capturing her creole background and love of classic jazz music with tunes and arrangements of her own creation,” The Kreol Magazine reported.

The Haitian Jazz Project started with their take on the Haitian National Anthem.

“Normally in Haiti, with every event, you usually start with the national anthem followed by the flag song. So that’s the number we heard. We decided to swing it a bit for you,” Louis said. “This is a Haiti experience. We’re going to give you a little potpourri of Haiti.”

All of the songs indeed represented Haiti in one way or another.  

“Whenever you hear about Haiti, you usually hear about natural disasters and just chaos,” Louis said. “But when you actually go to Haiti, it’s interesting. You find everyone joyous and celebrating. They’re dancing to … all that good stuff.”  

Louis grew up in Harlem, as well as Port au Prince in Haiti where he started playing saxophone at 9 years old. He then graduated from Berklee College of Music and the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz Performance. Since, he has traveled around the globe, studying and performing with musical-greats such as Herbie Hancock, Patti Labelle, Gloria Estefan, Clark Terry, Roger Dickerson, and Madonna.

Jean and Louis taught the audience some Creole to sing along.

“The best choir we’ve seen yet,” Louis remarked.  

Each member had an obvious command over their instruments. Michael, for example, even tuned his bass, which was borrowed from Clark, in the middle of a tune. Mednard would crash the cymbals while simultaneously hitting three drums in one even sweep. The improvisations of each musician flowed perfectly as if pre-conceived.

Godwin has such a hold of the band that he directed while performing.

The band kept growing off each other in both energy and sound. It was truly incredible.

This was the band’s first time in Worcester.

“We’d like you to know that we actually now prefer Worcester over Boston,” Louis said. “Go Worcester, our new favorite Massachusetts city.”

The Geller Jazz Nightclub is made possible because of Selma Geller, a New York City philanthropist, and her donation to Clark. Her gifts were for music scholarships as well as musical performances.

The Geller series hosts two events each year.  

The Spring performers will be announced in April. Last year’s Spring performance was by Linda Oh and Christian McBride.