New York’s Pop-Up Concerts Kick Off With Jazz at a Vaccination Site

It seemed at first like a small, no-frills concert in a carefully controlled environment: The jazz musician Jon Batiste sitting at a piano in an auditorium at the Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side, performing for an audience of about 50 health care workers seated in evenly spaced rows — some wearing scrubs, others Army fatigues.

The dancer Ayodele Casel began tapping, with no musical accompaniment except a recording of her own voice, her amplified cramp rolls filling the room. And the opera singer Anthony Roth Costanzo performed “Ave Maria” in a countertenor’s angelic tones.

But about half an hour in, the performers stepped off the stage and exited the room, turning what had begun as a formal concert into a rollicking procession of music and dancing that grooved through the sterile building — the convention center was turned into a field hospital early in the pandemic and is now a mass vaccination site — where hundreds of hopeful people had come on Saturday afternoon to get their shots.

Batiste switched to the melodica, a toylike, hand-held reed instrument with a keyboard, and the troupe of musicians — which had expanded to include a horn section and percussionists — paraded up the escalator and through the convention center, eventually reaching a high-ceilinged room where dozens of people sat waiting quietly for the requisite 15 minutes after getting their vaccinations.

This concert-turned-roaming-party was the first in a series of “pop-up” shows in New York intended to give the arts a jolt by providing artists with paid work and audiences with opportunities to see live performance after nearly a year of darkened theaters and concert halls. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced plans for the series, called “NY PopsUp,” last month, declaring that “we must bring arts and culture back to life,” and adding that their revival would be crucial to the economic revival of New York City. The shows are getting underway as he finds himself under fire for the state’s handling of Covid-19 deaths of nursing home residents.

Because the program is wary of drawing crowds, most of the performances will be unannounced, emerging suddenly at parks, museums, parking lots and street corners. The idea is to inject a dose of inspiration into the lives of New Yorkers — a moment in which they can pause their scheduled lives and witness art during a pandemic year that has limited human contact and imposed tight restrictions on people’s activities.

“We need more spontaneity; that’s what the beauty of this is,” Batiste said in an interview. “You don’t know what’s around the corner.”

As the troupe of musicians moved through the Javits Center, the audience of health care workers followed them, clapping to the beat and recording the spectacle on their phones. Batiste, who is the bandleader on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” propelled his musicians through the space (most of them have played with the show’s house band, including Endea Owens on bass, Tivon Pennicott on saxophone, and Joe Saylor and Nêgah Santos on percussion).

Bre Williams, a 35-year-old nurse in blue scrubs who had come from Savannah, Ga., to help out…

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