Jazz expands in Williamstown
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., April 9, 2003) -- This year’s Williamstown Jazz Festival, which begins next Wednesday and runs through Saturday, April 26, will reflect a more expansive notion of jazz with the inclusion of fusion guitarist John Scofield and his Uberjam band, performing in a dance party format at Mass MoCA next Friday night at 8 in the Hunter Center.
In the past few years, bands like Scofield’s have blurred the lines between the popular jam-band scene, appealing mostly to college-age listeners, and the more conventional, buttoned-down jazz crowd.
Scofield, who has straddled the jazz-rock line ever since he surfaced on the fusion scene in the 1970s, described this duality in a recent phone interview.
“The jam-band audience likes to have a lot of fun,” said Scofield, a Connecticut native and Berklee alumnus who has performed and recorded with the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis. “Jazz audiences are a little wary of fun.”
Wary or not, Williamstown audiences will have a host of events to choose from in this year’s festival, including pianist/composer Kenny Barron’s “Canta Brasil,” featuring Romero Lubambo, Nilson Matta, Duduka da Fonseca and Anne Drummond, in Chapin Hall at Williams College at 9 on Saturday, April 26.
Kenny Barron’s resume as a sideman includes stints with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Yusef Lateef, and Ron Carter. He was a co-leader of the group Sphere in the 1980s, and has long led his own trios. The nine-time Grammy nominee’s “Canta Brasil” project features Barron’s original compositions combining Brazilian dance rhythms and jazz meters.
The festival kicks off on Wednesday at the Clark Art Institute at 8 with a concert by the John Blake Quartet. Violinist Blake, best known as a member of Grover Washington’s crossover-jazz ensemble of the 1970s, is a four-time winner of the Down Beat Critics’ Poll for “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition.” He was also voted one of the top two jazz violinists in the 49th, 50th, and 51st Down Beat Readers’ Poll.
As well as performing with his quartet and as a soloist, he has appeared with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the McCoy Tyner Trio, Turtle Island String Quartet, Quartet Indigo, the Steve Turre Sextet, and the Billy Taylor Trio. Blake will also give a lecture on the history of the jazz violin in the Bernhard Music Center’s Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall at Williams at 4:30 on Friday, April 25.
On Thursday, April 24, at 8, Mass MoCA will screen two jazz-related films as part of its Cinema Lounge series. Narrated by Quincy Jones, “A Great Day in Harlem” investigates the story behind Art Kane’s famous photograph of a pantheon of jazz greats – including Count Basie, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams and Horace Silver -- in front of a Harlem brownstone in 1958. The Academy Award-nominated documentary includes archive performances, home movie footage taken by bassist Milt Hinton on the day of the photograph, and interviews with Gillespie, Rollins and Art Blakey, among others. “Setting the Record Straight” profiles jazz-blues violin trailblazer Papa John Creach, best known for his work with rock bands Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship and his performances with Hot Tuna.
Before the films, MoCA will offer a free jazz tap class with Diane Walker beginning at 5:30; space is limited and reservations are recommended. Walker will also offer free workshops at Williams on Friday, April 25, at 4, and Saturday, April 26, at 2. The dance component of the festival concludes with the presentation of new student works at the Spring Concert of the Williams College Dance Company, on Saturday, April 26 at 7, in Lasell Dance Studio.
Other festival events include a free gospel concert by Rejoiceensemble, on Friday, April 25, at 6:30, at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Park Street in Williamstown. The annual Collegiate Jazz Festival takes place in Chapin Hall on Friday from noon to 4 and on Saturday from 9 to 6. College bands from Yale University, Smith College, Amherst College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Schenectady Community College, Holyoke Community College, Vassar College and other institutions will perform hourly for adjudication by bassist Paul Brown and saxophonist Keith Fiddmont. There is no admission charge.
Over the past few years, John Scofield and like-minded jazz artists including Medeski, Martin and Wood have enjoyed unprecedented popularity and creative resurgences performing for younger audiences at jam-band festivals like Great Barrington’s BerkFest, while continuing to showcase their work before audiences at more traditional jazz venues and festivals.
For Scofield -- whose new album due out next month, “Up All Night” (Verve), expands on the vocabulary his ensemble laid down on the Grammy-nominated predecessor, “Uberjam” -- the exchange between the two is organic. “The jam-band scene is really a group of fans, people who are looking for something a little different and deeper than MTV,” said Scofield.
“In that way it serves the same impulse as jazz. The audiences are both looking for alternatives to mainstream pop culture.
“It doesn’t mean that jam-band fans are jazz fans or vice versa. There are elements that are different. But it’s the same, basic desire of the audience to go deeper, to hear something more honest, creative and artistic.
“I wish it would all come together in one, big, happy world.”
The Williamstown Jazz Festival is a collaboration of the Williams College Music Department, Mass MoCA and the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce. For more information, visit www.williamstownjazz.com or call the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce at 413-458-9077.
[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 18, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]
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