Live Concert Photography: Janelle Monae with Nate Ruess at SummerStage, Rumsey Playfield 9/29/16
Over its 31 year history, SummerStage, which initially began rather humbly with a handful of shows in Central Park, has developed a reputation for presenting a diverse art, music and culture in parks across New York’s five boroughs. The festival began its 31st season back in June on a miserable and rainy night featuring a bill of jazz legends — pianist and octogenarian McCoy Tyner, perhaps best known as a member of the John Coltrane Quartet and for a lengthy and influential solo career; double bassist and octogenarian Ron Carter, who has appeared on well over 1,100 recording sessions with the Miles Davis Quintet, which featured contemporary superstars such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams, the aforementioned McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver, Roy Haynes and countless others, as well as lengthy solo career that includes winning a Grammy for a composition he wrote for Round Midnight; and drummer and nonagenarian (!) Roy Haynes, who over the course of his 70 year career is considered one of the most recorded drummers in jazz history, recording in a wild variety of styles including swing, bebop, jazz fusion and avant-garde with an incredible array of jazz greats including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and others. And in some way, it seemed fitting that SummerStage ended its outdoor season on a chilly, somewhat ominous night featuring Nate Ruess and Janelle Monae.
Janelle Monae is a Kansas City, KS-born, Atlanta, GA-based singer/songwriter, actress and model, who initially received attention with the release of a concept EP Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase), which peaked at number 115 on the Billboard 200. Her full-length debut The ArchAndroid was released by Bad Boy Records and was a concept album and sequel to Metropolis that was critically and commercially successful, as the album was nominated for a Best Contemporary R&B Album Grammy and album single “Tightrope” was nominated for a Best Urban/Alternative Performance Grammy at the 53rd Annual Grammys– and the album landed at number 17 on the Billboard Top 200. Interestingly, the end of September bill can actually trace its origins to when Monae collaborated with fun. on their mega-hit single “We Are Young,” a single that reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, her first appearance with the US Top 10.
Her 2013 sophomore effort The Electric Lady thematically continued the sci-fi, utopian, cyborg concepts of her previous work while experimenting with other genres including jazz, pop-punk, gospel and Quiet Storm R&B-like ballads while featuring guest spots from Prince, Solange Knowles, Miguel and the incredible Esperanza Spalding and production from previous collaborator Deep Cotton and Roman GianArthur.
Last year, Epic Records CEO and chairman L.A. Reid along with Monae announced that Monae’s independent label Wonadaland Arts Society signed a joint venture partnership to revamp the label and promote artists on the label, now known as Wonadaland Records, making the Kansas City, KS-born, Atlanta, GA-based artist one of contemporary music’s newest moguls. And then she released a a five song compilation EP The Eephus, which included tracks from Jidenna, Roman GianArthuer, St. Beauty, Deep Cotton and Monae herself. And she followed that up with “This Is For My Girls,” a Michelle Obama arranged super-team collaboration featuring Missy Elliott, Kelly Clarkson, Zendaya and others, and was produced by Diane Warren and Elliott.
Opening the night was Nate Ruess. Perhaps best known as the frontman of now-defunct band The Format and smash-hit band fun., Reuss has also been performing as a solo act since last year, and his set featured material from his time with The Format, Fun.’s major hit “We Are Young,” and material from his solo debut effort, Grand Romantic.