Berkshire Jazz Festival
“Music should be without boundaries, so you don’t have to be one specific thing -- you should be all you could be,” said jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves in a recent phone interview. Reeves was talking about herself and the way in which she moves around freely from pop-flavored world-beat to pop hits by the likes of Peter Gabriel and Leonard Cohen to more standard jazz like her latest effort, a tribute to Sarah Vaughan.
But Reeves’s anything-goes sentiment could also stand as a theme for this weekend’s Berkshire Jazz Festival, the first of a projected annual festival being produced by Jazz Forum Arts, a not-for-profit arts organization based in Westchester County, N.Y., and directed by trumpeter/producer Mark Morganelli
The festival boasts a diverse, eclectic lineup of performers ranging from the New Orleans traditionalism of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to the Brazilian percussion of Guilherme Franco to the Latin fusion of Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri. It includes the big-band colors of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the organic “earth jazz” of the Paul Winter Consort and the Thelonious Monk-influenced Africana of Randy Weston.
There will be trumpeters – two of the best in Roy Hargrove and Terence Blanchard – saxophonists, including Houston Person and Barbieri, keyboardists such as Weston on piano and Joey DeFrancesco on organ, and female vocalists, including Cassandra Wilson and Etta Jones in addition to Reeves.
Besides the main stage performances, the festival will feature concerts in the upper lodge and workshops throughout the day ranging from instrumental workshops to jazz for kids, the New Orleans tradition and Brazilian percussion. One workshop even promises a “Jazz History Overview” in all of 45 minutes (where were they when Ken Burns’s camera was rolling?). The festival will also include daily jam sessions, and there will be an array of food and craft vendors on the premises.
There is more to the festival than just this weekend’s events at Butternut. Beginning earlier this week there have been festival-related activities throughout Berkshire County. This morning at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield there is a presentation called “Jazz History – A Century of Jazz,” at 11 a.m., and tomorrow night nightclubs throughout the Berkshires will feature live jazz, including John Sauer, Bob Nieske and Randy Kaye at the Lion’s Den in Stockbridge and the Richie Hart Trio at the Egremont Inn in South Egremont. In Great Barrington, the Lee Shaw Trio plays at the Castle Street Café, the John Suters Quartet is at the Union Bar and Grill and Club Helsinki morphs into Club D’Elf, the Boston-based, experimental, improvisational ensemble led by bassist Mike Rivard, whose rotating lineup of guest musicians has included guitarist Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie, Tin Machine), Duke Levine (Mary Chapin Carpenter), DJ Logic, Dr. Didg, and John Medeski, who performed in Great Barrington a few weeks ago with his new group, The Word, at BerkFest.
Plans are for the Berkshire Jazz Festival to be an annual event, and eventually to expand jazz programming in the Berkshires beyond the confines of a weeklong festival, in the process restoring jazz to its rightful place alongside classical music, theater and dance on the menu of the Cultural Berkshires.
What follows is a selective look at the some of the main stage and a few of the second stage performers this weekend:
Pat Martino (Sunday, noon, Main Stage): Pat Martino is living proof that everything that goes around comes around. First of all, the Philadelphia-bred guitarist got his start on the soul-jazz scene of the 1960s playing in organ jazz ensembles led by the likes of Charles Earland, Jack McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Don Patterson. This style, of course, is now once again popular in jazz nightclubs as well as in rock clubs that cater to the groove and acid-jazz crowd, and after fading in popularity, Martino is once again playing top clubs and festivals, as well as being championed by a younger generation of musicians, such as organist Joey DeFrancesco, who performs with him on the burning hot “Live at Yoshi’s” (Blue Note) as well as at this weekend’s festival.
As if the revival of his style weren’t enough of a story, Martino himself was faced with literal revival when he nearly succumbed to a life-threatening brain aneurysm in 1980. When he awoke in the hospital, he found the resulting amnesia had totally buried any memory of how to play his instrument. Over time, he had to relearn guitar and the music from scratch, which he accomplished in large part by listening to his own recordings.
Roy Hargrove (Saturday, 1:30, Main Stage): On his most recent album, “Moment to Moment” (Verve), trumpeter Roy Hargrove took the unusual step of recording nothing but ballads – lush, slow ballads backed with string arrangements full of lush sentimentality. Already hailed as one of the most lyrical horn players of his generation, the album highlights the vocal quality of Hargrove’s playing on classic tunes by Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, Ray Noble and Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as on a few originals and Pat Metheny’s “Always and Forever.” Hargrove’s quintet at this weekend’s festival will include pianist Larry Willis, bassist Gerald Cannon, drummer Willie Jones III and alto saxophonist Sherman Irby.
Terence Blanchard and Cassandra Wilson (Saturday, 6, Main Stage): Two of the hottest talents in contemporary jazz will join forces when vocalist Cassandra Wilson performs with the Terence Blanchard Group. The unusual pairing – Wilson usually performs with her own group – is an outgrowth of Blanchard’s latest album, “Let’s Get Lost,” a tribute to composer Jimmy McHugh that features Wilson, as well as fellow vocalists Dianne Reeves, Diana Krall and Jane Monheit (who will perform at Tanglewood’s jazz weekend next week). McHugh compositions like “I’m in the Mood for Love” and “You’re a Sweetheart” prove to be great fodder for Blanchard and his band, allowing the vocal-oriented trumpeter to duet with the singers. Wilson’s numbers on the album are an incredibly dusky “Don’t Blame Me” and a sultry “On the Sunny Side of the Street” – expect to hear them and a whole lot more on Saturday.
Sylvia Cuenca (Sunday, Upper Lodge, 2:30): While she’s hardly a household name, the list of bandleaders who have enlisted her services as a drummer is certianly filled with them. In addition to her regular gig in trumpet legend Clark Terry’s band, Cuenca has played with Regina Carter, stan Getz, Nicholas Payton, Mark Whitfield, Joshua Redman, Mingus Big Band, Jimmy Heath and most recently, Kenny Barron, Ray Drummond and Michael Brecker.
As a bandleader, her debut CD, “The Crossing,” featured contributions from trumpeter Eddie Henderson, saxophonists Vince Herring and Seamus Blake, and pianist Dave Kikoski on the title track, written by Cuenca herself. The album also includes compositions by Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Cuenca originally hails from San Jose and now calls New York home. As for her unique position as a woman drummer bandleader, Cuenca told Modern Drummer magazine a few years back, “I’m a drummer who happens to be a woman. The music doesn’t have a gender. Sure, the discrimination is there, but I can’t focus on that. My focus is taking care of business on the bandstand.”
In addition to her group’s headlining show on the upper stage, Cuenca will be taking care of business all over the place this weekend. Look for her to play over the course of the weekend with a variety of other performers, including David Amram, Mel Martin and Vic Juris, on the workshop stage and in the lodge. She’ll also hold down the drum seat in the festival’s culminating jam session on Sunday at 6 in the lodge.
Alan Simon (Sunday, 3:45, Upper Lodge): Pianist Alan Simon has seen and heard it all from behind the 88 keys of his piano – the view of the audience from the stages of Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Opera House as part of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra to the clink of glasses right here in Great Barrington playing for the after-dinner crowd at the Union Bar and Grill.
In between, Simon, who lives not far in Millerton, N.Y., has accompanied the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Tate, Slide Hampton, Frank Foster, George Coleman, Toots Thielemans, Anita O’Day, Mel Lewis and Lee Konitz. This weekend, his quartet will perform with vocalist Nicole Pasternak, with whom he recorded “Don’t Go, Don’t Leave, Please Stay,” an album of standards plus a few originals. Simon is both a sympathetic accompanist and a tasty, swinging soloist on the Connecticut native’s album. In addition to his headlining gig, Simon will be sitting in with Sylvia Cuenca in the lodge on Sunday at 2:30.
Schedule of concerts and workshops
Noon: Houston Person and Etta Jones
1:30: Roy Hargrove Quintet
3: Randy Weston Trio
4:30: Preservation Hall Jazz Band
6: Terence Blanchard Group with Cassandra Wilson
Noon: David Amram Quartet
1:15: Mario Pavone/Michael Musillami Quartet
2:30: Richie Hart Trio
3:45: Roberta Gambarini Quartet
5: Mel Martin and Bebop and Beyond
6: Festival Jam Session
Noon: Jazz for Kids
1: Vocal Jazz with Roberta Gambarini
2. “From Cairo to Kerouac” with David Amram
3: New Orleans Jazz Tradition with members of the
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
4: Jazz History Overview
5: Brazilian Percussion Clinic with Guilherme Franco
Noon: Pat Martino Trio with Joey DeFrancesco
1:30: Paul Winter Consort
3: Dianne Reeves
4:30: Gato Barbieri
6: Duke Ellington Orchestra
Noon: Vic Juris and Kate Baker Quartet
1:15: Charlie Tokarz Quartet
2:30: Sylvia Cuenca Group
3:45: Alan Simon Quartet with Nicole Pasternak
5: Charles Neville Quartet
6: Festival Jam Session
Noon: Jazz for Kids
1: Jazz Guitar Styles with Richie Hart
2: Vocal Jazz with Kate Baker
3: Jazz History Overview
4: Jazz Saxophone with Mel Martin
5: Brazilian Percussion Clinic with Guilherme Franco
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