Tanglewood Jazz 2001
by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass., August 30, 2001) -- If the lineup for this year’s jazz weekend at Tanglewood has a different cast than in recent years, that’s in large part due to one man: Fred Taylor.

After several years of dwindling crowds and lackluster bookings, the Boston Symphony Orchestra turned to Taylor -- the longtime Boston jazz impresario who owned and operated the legendary Jazz Workshop and who was widely credited with turning Scullers Jazz Club at the DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel into one of Boston’s premiere jazz venues – to help restore luster to Tanglewood’s annual jazzfest.

The result is a weekend lineup with more concerts, more performers, and a wider range of jazz styles than has been heard at Tanglewood in many years. This weekend’s festival, which runs from Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2, features 11 different bands and performers, including vocalists and instrumentalists, traditionalists and fusioneers, commercial “lite” jazz artists and legendary beboppers.

Performers include Sonny Rollins, Ahmad Jamal, Chuck Mangione, George Benson, Spyro Gyra, Nancy Wilson, John Pizzarelli, Poncho Sanchez, Jane Monheit, New York Voices, and Nicholas Payton and the Louis Armstrong Centennial Celebration Band.

In a recent phone interview, Taylor said that when he sets out to book a concert or a festival, the place itself suggests ideas to him.

“I put a lot of consideration into where a place is,” said Taylor. “It helps shape my thinking -- the demographics and geography -- to consider what the tastes might be and how to satisfy them. It’s sort of like making a marriage almost -- it has to feel comfortable.

“You wouldn’t necessarily want to put U2 into Tanglewood -- it wouldn’t be comfortable in the surroundings.”

Taylor said that when he was brought on board, the first thing he did was to urge the BSO to rethink the nature of the annual jazz weekend.

“What I suggested to the symphony folks is that it’s such a prestigious location, why not elevate it from merely being a couple of jazz acts at the end of a classical season into becoming a festival with multiple events and multiple artists with the status of a Saratoga or a JVC event,” he said.

The first time out, however, Taylor tried to be cautious in his programming.

“I’ve tried to give it a lot of variety without straining or going to extremes but covering a lot of ground,” he said. “That’s what my objectives were -- things that were musically valid that cover various areas of jazz.

“Jazz is almost like saying the word ‘virus’ -- what kind, what do you mean? It’s an umbrella with a lot of categories under it, and we’re hoping just to get on board this year and make it successful so that next year we can expand into more areas.”

Taylor said he envisions more workshop-style performances at future festivals. He also would like to take advantage of some of the other performance facilities on the grounds besides the Shed and Ozawa Hall, and perhaps include some more cutting-edge acts in the lineup.

“The first year of anything is always an uphill climb,” said Taylor. “Just getting people to know that it’s a festival, that it’s going on. Any time you change the normal scheme of things you have a lot of orientation to do.

“That’s why I didn’t want to do too much experimenting the first shot right out of the park. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Deep Banana Blackout -- not yet. There is a more conservative approach the first time out in a location like that. But that is not a straitjacket. It’s a three-piece suit. You can open it up.”

For ticket information for this weekend’s jazz concerts at Tanglewood, call 637-5165, visit the Tanglewood box office, or Tanglewood’s website.

Here is an overview of the performers, including dates, venues, times of performances, and commentary on the artists from Fred Taylor:

Chuck Mangione (Friday, Aug. 31, 8, Ozawa Hall): Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good” is one of the most recognizable instrumental melodies in the world, a top-five hit in 1978 that for better or worse almost singlehandedly spawned the entire “smooth jazz” sound and radio format. The trumpeter and bandleader, a native of upstate New York, got his start performing with Maynard Ferguson, Kai Winding and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Mangione will be making his Tanglewood debut tomorrow night. “I thought what a perfect match, his kind of music and composition -- it fit Tanglewood,” said Taylor.

New York Voices (Friday, 8, Ozawa Hall): Fred Taylor compares this Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble to Manhattan Transfer, “but considerably broader and much more musical.” Their recent CD is a tribute to the Big Band era and they will be performing with a horn section in addition to their regular group. “There’s something that nobody has heard in a festival,” said Taylor.

John Pizzarelli Trio (Saturday, Sept. 1, 1:30, Ozawa Hall): John Pizzarelli is a perennial favorite at Tanglewood’s jazz weekend. The singer/guitarist is one of the prime revivalists of the so-called Great American Songbook. His trio is constantly compared to that of the late great Nat “King” Cole’s. His latest album, “Let There Be Love” (Telarc Jazz) features love songs including “These Foolish Things,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “What Is There to Say.”

Jane Monheit (Saturday, 1:30, Ozawa Hall): Since being named first runner-up at the 1998 Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition at the tender age of 20, Jane Monheit has been widely touted as the best new voice of her generation. Look for her to perform with her own group, and then to pair up with John Pizzarelli for a number or two. An interview with Monheit appears in this week’s Beat column elsewhere in this issue.

Ahmad Jamal (Saturday, 7, Shed): One of the great pianists of modern jazz, Ahmad Jamal is a unique stylist whose subtle use of musical space and phrasing is often copied but rarely equalled in effect. The Pittsburgh native typically favors the trio format. Fred Taylor calls Jamal “absolutely a classic.”

Spyro Gyra (Saturday, 7, Shed): Founded in 1975 by saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, Spyro Gyra helped mold fusion into the palatable, smooth pop-jazz it has become, incorporating elements of r&b, Latin and Brazilian music along the way.

Nancy Wilson with Diva (Saturday, 7, Shed): Concertgoers will experience a first when legendary vocalist Nancy Wilson – perhaps best known as host of the syndicated public radio show, “Jazz Profiles” – teams with the all-female big-band, Diva, for the very first time at Tanglewood. Next year will mark Wilson’s half-century in the music business.

Sonny Rollins (Sunday, Sept. 2, 1:30, Ozawa Hall): “He’s a legend, what can you say?” says Fred Taylor about Sonny Rollins. The 71-year-old tenor saxophonist kicks off his most recent album, the modestly titled “This Is What I Do” (Milestone) with “Salvador,” one of his trademark calypso tunes. The album also features Rollins’s brilliant ballad- and blues-playing, which hasn’t been heard at Tanglewood for several years.

Nicholas Payton and the Louis Armstrong Centennial Celebration Band (Sunday, 7, Shed): On “Dear Louis” (Verve), his tribute album to Louis Armstrong, trumpeter Nicholas Payton wisely steers clear of trying to reconstruct Armstrong’s original solos and arrangements. This isn’t a neo-traditional or preservationist effort – we can always go to the source, Armstrong’s recordings, if we want to hear what they were like. Rather, Payton uses Armstrong’s songs and melodies as the foundation to express himself in a contemporary idiom.

Poncho Sanchez (Sunday, 7, Shed): In his 20th year as a bandleader, conga player Poncho Sanchez mixes Latin with soul jazz and Cuban music on “Soul of the Conga,” his follow-up to the Grammy Award-winning “Latin Soul” album. “You’ve got to get Latin into the picture and in my book Poncho Sanchez is the best -- very classic Latin jazz as opposed to salsa,” says Fred Taylor.

George Benson (Sunday, 7, Shed): “George Benson crosses all the boundaries,” says Fred Taylor about the singer/guitarist who will bring the curtain down on this year’s Tanglewood jazz weekend. Best known for pop-jazz hits like “On Broadway,” “This Masquerade,” “Give Me the Night” and “Turn Your Love Around,” Benson is that rare figure in jazz whose pop success hasn’t cost him jazz credibility.

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 30, 2001. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2001. All rights reserved.]

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