There are many jazz festivals each year, and some of the best take place in the US Northeast and Canada. Here are some highlights from 2015.
The 2015 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
The 36th Festival International de Jazz de Montréal presented an amazing array of musicians, in over 150 indoor concerts and 350 free outdoor concerts.
The Bad Plus Joshua Redman. The Bad Plus Joshua Redman mesmerized on “Beauty Has It Hard,” “Faith Through Error,” “County Seat,” “As This Moment Slips Away,” “Big Eater,” and “Lack the Faith, But Not the Wine.” Saxophonist Joshua Redman, who’s performed with a veritable Who’s Who in jazz, was visibly moved by the audience’s appreciation of the outstanding chemistry with pianist Ethan Iverson, drummer David King, and bassist Reid Anderson (The Bad Plus).
Wayne Shorter Quartet. Wayne Shorter’s opening act was astonishing young pianist, Joey Alexander. This supremely talented 12-year-old is already very accomplished, and his splendid set included songs from his 2016 Grammy-nominated CD, My Favorite Things, earning the prodigy a well-deserved standing ovation. From a musician just starting his pro career to the legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter, this multigenerational show demonstrated that jazz has no age limits. Young Joey Alexander and veteran Wayne Shorter both play like they’re 40, creating some special synergy. When Shorter took the stage with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, they played seamlessly for an hour. Few words were spoken, but the music said it all!
An Evening With Chris Botti. Trumpeter Chris Botti charmed the crowd, welcoming photos and videos, adding, “I only have one request. If I screw up, don’t put that part on YouTube!” Generously praising his band, Botti described pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist Richie Goods, guitarist Ben Butler, violinist Lucia Micarelli, drummer Lee Pearson, and vocalists Sy Smith and George Komsky as “incredible all-stars.” The set included “When I Fall in Love,” “Hallelujah,” “La Belle Dame Sans Regrets,” “Flamenco Sketches,” “Let’s Stay Together,” a sublime “The Nearness of You,” and “My Funny Valentine.”
John Pizzarelli Quartet–McCartney and More. Singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli was joined by drummer Kevin Kranner, pianist Konrad Paszkudzki, and bassist Martin Pizzarelli on “Cheek to Cheek,” “Satin Doll,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “In a Mellow Tone,” a mashup of “Lush Life” and “ Drunk on the Moon,” and songs from John’s CD, Midnight McCartney. Pizzarelli, a fine raconteur, did a convincing impression of McCartney. John also paid heartfelt tributes to late musicians he’s worked with, including pianist Ray Kennedy, who toured with Pizzarelli for 13 years and managed to keep his battle with Multiple Sclerosis secret.
Dee Dee Bridgewater With Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield said, “We decided to bring New Orleans to Montréal tonight!” After an energetic Louisiana-styled number, Mayfield introduced Dee Dee Bridgewater as “The sexiest woman alive.” Vibrantly stylish, Bridgewater performed “One Fine Thing,” “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans,” a hilariously sexy duet with trumpeter/vocalist Leon Brown, a sultry “St. James Infirmary,” and “What a Wonderful World.” Before the encore, “The House of the Rising Sun,” the band played into the audience parade style, and really did New Orleans proud!
Oliver Jones Presents Piano Chameleons. Oliver Jones hosted an evening of magnificent piano performances. Jones was joined by Matt Herskowitz, John Roney, and Julie Lamontagne, who played multiple pianos in different combinations. Along with jazz, they included Chopin and Beethoven, and an amazing Oliver Jones composition about scales and exercises that students use to sharpen skills, as they shared the pianos. For the finale, they performed a dazzling version of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk.”
Ron Carter Quartet With Renee Rosnes, Payton Crossley, and Rolando Morales. Double bassist Ron Carter, an elegantly dressed, consummate professional, was joined by pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Payton Crossley, and guitarist Rolando Morales in a show filled with excellent solos by all. Carter’s beautiful mastery of the bass was on full display in an exquisite solo on “Caminando.”
Richard Galliano and Sylvain Luc–Hommage à Édith Piaf. This gorgeous, quintessentially French concert was a celebration of chanteuse Édith Piaf. Accordionist Richard Galliano and guitarist Sylvain Luc played a version of “La Vie En Rose” that was so evocative and dreamy that you could imagine yourself in Paris. When the audience started spontaneously humming, Richard Galliano encouraged everyone to sing aloud.
Andre Leroux. One of Canada’s leading saxophonists, Andre Leroux was super busy! In addition to gigs as a quintet leader and sideman, he also wrote a jazz mass that was performed at Gesù, Centre de Créativité.
Jamie Cullum. Energetic British singer/pianist/songwriter Jamie Cullum was like a whirling dervish, using every part of the piano, while backed by an excellent big band. He sang directly to some audience members, and posed for selfies. After his fabulous show, Jamie hosted a free showcase at L’Astral, where he performed and introduced emerging artists Malaika, The Peter Edwards Trio, and Mammal Hands.
Club Jazz Casino de Montréal is a new outdoor New Orleans-inspired venue with live music, where patrons can feast on jambalaya, gumbo, crab cakes, shrimp, po’ boys, and oysters. The Festival website says, “It’s your Louisiana oasis right downtown!”
Guy Nadon. Drummer Guy Nadon gave a delightful outdoor concert with some of Montréal’s finest: saxophonist Jean-Pierre Zanella, clarinetist Yvan Belleau, pianist Gaétan Daigneault, and double bassist Frédéric Grenier. Guy Nadon is a festival mainstay, appearing over 30 times. Octogenarian Nadon has lost none of his energy, musical chops, or sense of humor!
La Grand Soirée a la Memoire de B.B. King. The cream of the Quebec blues scene gathered to pay tribute to the legendary B.B. King. Standout performances included the powerful, Janis Joplin-like voice of Angel Forest, and the wonderfully expressive singing of Brian Tyler.
Festival Awards. Singer Erykah Badu received the Ella Fitzgerald Award, and humbly said there’s no comparison between her and Ella, besides using their voices like drums, with rhythmic intent, adding, “I am so honored…since she has always been one of my biggest influences.” Writer Bill Milkowski received the Bruce Lundvall Award and discussed the value of the Internet, while noting what’s been lost for young fans, with the whole world’s music at their fingertips. Milkowski recalled driving miles to find a particular recording, which made for greater appreciation of music. Harmonica giant James Cotton received the B.B. King Blues Award, and saxophonist Jim Galloway was posthumously honored with the Oscar Peterson Award. The Miles Davis Award was bestowed on guitarist Al Di Meola for his body of work. The Antonio Carlos Jobim Award, for notable world music artists, was given to Juju/Afro-pop musician, King Sunny Adé.
Dedications. The 2015 festival was dedicated to “King of the Blues” B.B. King (1925-2015), whose music influenced countless artists. The festival also celebrated the life of Bruce Lundvall. The program stated, “Our great friend and supporter Bruce Lundvall passed away… His…25-year tenure heading the Blue Note label consolidated his peerless reputation…Thank you, Bruce Lundvall, for the friendship you showed us for so many years.”
Montréal also commemorated the life of Alain De Grosbois, a leader in Canadian radio, an exceptional jazz producer, and one of the founders of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Festival Artistic Director André Ménard said, “Without him, the festival would not have taken off and become what it is today.” The Jazz Beat concert series was dedicated to the memory of Alain De Grosbois.
Montréal, Beyond the Festival. Montréal is filled with musical treasures. Noted educator, Professor Norman Cornett, held two of his famed “dialogic” sessions, with David Binney and Marc Cary. Prolific saxophonist David Binney discussed his work, including “The Golden Zone” from Anacapa, and answered questions. Binney said he usually leaves compositions in progress untitled, only adding titles for people to have a point of reference. In highly respected pianist Marc Cary’s session, he expressed amazement at the dialogic process, and wished for more programs like this in schools. Cary touched on politics and race, noting, “Music is something that everyone can access.” Marc also discussed his appreciation for the differences between large and small venues. Professor Cornett’s illuminating sessions offer a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with musicians!
Hostess extraordinaire Madeleine Murphy has experienced a number of changes, including moving from her beloved L’Espace 64, where she held her beautiful and popular parties, Les vendredis Jazz. However, Madeleine continues to display her magical, artistic touch, and gave a lovely jazz event on the opening night of the festival, showing that she continues as a major force in Montréal’s music circles.
Montréal really knows how to party, with great concerts, jam sessions, acrobats, lavishly costumed street performers, and parades! The 37th Festival International de Jazz de Montréal will be held from June 30 to July 9, 2016. For more information, go to www.montrealjazzfest.com.
The 2015 Newport Jazz Festival
The 61st Newport Jazz Festival, presented by Natixis Global Asset Management, hosted a fantastic lineup, including Cassandra Wilson, Christian McBride, Jack DeJohnette, Maria Schneider, Bill Frisell, Ambrose Akinmusire, John Hollenbeck, Kenny Garrett, Mike Stern, and Jon Faddis. The Navy Northeast Brass Band entertained at the check-in gate.
Storyville, a new intimate indoor venue, is named after the Boston club George Wein opened in the 1950s, where Wein presented some of the world’s greatest jazz artists of the time. Newport’s Storyville’s inaugural act was the talented Christian Sands Quartet, playing to a standing-room only crowd. Storyville also hosted seminars and piano performances by Frank Kimbrough, Helen Sung, Aaron Diehl, and Giorgi Mikadze.
Joey Alexander. There was so much buzz about young sensation Joey Alexander, a large crowd gathered outside the Storyville building, trying to get a glimpse of the rising star. The festival wisely added a mini-concert later at the Quad Stage, where Joey played an exquisite version of “Round Midnight,” then invited bassist Russell Hall to join him. The set was taped for the TV newsmagazine, 60 Minutes, and the segment recently aired on CBS.
Jon Batiste and Stay Human. Jon Batiste was one of the most in-demand musicians at the festival, opening for Chris Botti at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and performing at the Gala. In a Saturday-afternoon concert, Batiste and Stay Human played an irresistible version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and guest saxophonist Grace Kelly killed it with her solo on “Love For Sale.”
Hiromi: The Trio Project. Wearing a stunning black outfit and sky-high hairdo, Hiromi received a standing ovation before playing a note. Hiromi performed with such passion, as if she couldn’t contain all the excitement in her tiny frame! With Anthony Jackson on contrabass and drummer Simon Phillips, she earned every bit of that early ovation on “Warrior,” “Desire,” “Dreamer,” and “Alive.” Hiromi also did a piano duo set with Michel Camilo, and the duo went from percussive to soft and romantic, capturing the audience with no other instruments!
Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Irvin Mayfield discussed the urgent need for prison reform, noting that too many talented people are wasting away in jail, as introduction to a song inspired by the infamous Angola Prison. The eclectic set continued with “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “Overjoyed.” For the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Mayfield performed his heartbreakingly beautiful composition “May His Soul Rest in Peace” for his father, who perished in the hurricane. The show ended on a surprisingly upbeat note, with an unexpected version of “We Will Rock You!”
Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra With Rudresh Mahanthappa. 2016 Grammy nominee Arturo O’Farrill spoke movingly about the new relationship between the US and Cuba, and the positive impact it will have on music. He also discussed the immigration debate, extolling the virtues of the immigrants who’ve made positive contributions, adding, “We are a nation of immigrants, and no one has the right to look down on anyone else!” Arturo introduced saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, praising his DownBeat Magazine honors, before launching into a fantastic set that included “The Afro Latin Jazz Suite” and “The Triumphant Journey.”
Dr. John and the Nite Trippers. Dr. John made his triumphant return to Newport, after having to cancel in 2014 due to illness, and the crowd gave him a rousing welcome! Dr. John was in fine form, rocking throughout the set on “St. James Infirmary,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “Goodnight Irene.” He introduced everyone, including the musicians, tour manager, and personal assistants!
Cécile McLorin Salvant With the Aaron Diehl Trio. Celebrated singer, Cécile McLorin Salvant, received the JJA’s Female Vocalist of the Year Award. Salvant said, “I’m not very good at speaking, so I think the best way to acknowledge this award is to sing!” And sing she did, on “The Trolley Song,” “Sweet Man Blues” “Growling Man,” and “I Get a Kick out of You.” The audience certainly got a kick out of this gifted singer (nominated for a 2016 Grammy), who also displayed strong acting ability in her interpretation of lyrics.
Arturo Sandoval. During the introduction, reference was made to the HBO movie, For Love of Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story, which depicted Sandoval’s incredible life. Sandoval said as a kid in Cuba, it was a faraway dream to play at the Newport Jazz Festival. In his third appearance, he still looked at the sky and said, “Mommy, Daddy, I made it!” Sandoval wowed the crowd with his vast instrumental talent, his ability to scat/rap, some wicked dance moves, and a funny love story. He did a beautiful “Round Midnight,” and closed the show with “A Night in Tunisia” where every band member played brilliantly.
Jamie Cullum. Jamie Cullum closed the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival with a bang! Cullum used University of Rhode Island students as his back-up musicians, and they were totally up to the task on a delightful show that included “When I Get Famous” and “All at Sea.” The boyishly charming Jamie ran into the audience, and security had to look sharp to keep up with him! There were no worries, though, as he returned to the stage after soaking up the love. Cullum revealed that he had just met the students/musicians that morning, but from the way they collaborated, you’d never have guessed!
Coming to Newport. George Wein recently announced the lineup for the 2016 Newport Jazz Festival, July 29 – 31, which includes Chick Corea, Gregory Porter, Christian McBride, Angélique Kidjo, Robert Glasper, Charles Lloyd, John Scofield/Joe Lovano, José James, Steve Coleman, Darcy James Argue, Kneebody, Kenny Barron, Anat Cohen, The Bad Plus, Christian Scott, and many more! For more information, go to www.newportjazzfest.org.
The 2015 Litchfield Jazz Festival
At the Opening-Night Gala, talented students from the Litchfield Jazz Camp played, including standout performances by vocalists Christina Colon and Deja Carr. Festival founder Vita West Muir praised the students and the non-competitive nature of the Camp, and Board President Peter Adomeit mentioned the positive impact on his children, who were Camp students. The Litchfield Jazz Orchestra, which features a number of Jazz Camp instructors, played arrangements by the late multi-instrumentalist, Thomas Chapin. Ted Chapin described his brother Thomas as a ball of fire on stage who made friends all over the world, and announced the screening of the documentary, Thomas Chapin – Night Bird Song, the next afternoon. The Jazz Camp auction kicked off at the Gala, and all proceeds went toward scholarships. The three-day festival also featured delicious food and art vendors, children’s activities, and an after-party jam.
Anat Cohen Quartet. Clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen is one of the most requested artists to return to Litchfield, and in her second appearance, she was joined by pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Daniel Freedman on “Putty Boy Strut” and a beautiful ballad, “Ima,” which means “mother” in Hebrew. Cohen spoke of music being communicated from the heart, and added that it’s a privilege to perform jazz.
Sharpe Meets Tharpe: Avery Sharpe’s New England Gospel Choir Salutes Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Sister Rosetta Tharpe lived an extraordinary life, performing both sacred and secular music, and put gospel touches in jazz. Rosetta faced controversy, because most churches frowned on secular music. Renowned bassist Avery Sharpe brought a gospel choir together with jazz musicians in a spirit-filled tribute to Sister Tharpe. The group performed “Spiritual Dilemma,” “Up Above My Head,” “This Train Is Bound for Glory,” “Shout, Sister Shout,” “A City Called Heaven,” and “Down by the Riverside,” which was a hit for Tharpe, and became a rallying song for the Civil Rights Movement.
Grégoire Maret Quartet. Switzerland-born Grégoire Maret is one of the most sought-after harmonica players in the world. In his second appearance at Litchfield, he was backed by pianist James Francies, bassist Burniss Earl Travis, and drummer John Davis. On a fine set that included “Groove” and “Blue in Green,” the soft-spoken Maret didn’t talk much, but it didn’t matter, because his harmonica spoke volumes!
Matt Wilson Topsy Turvy. Drummer Matt Wilson is a staple at Litchfield, appearing 19 times! The witty drummer introduced “Rehearsing for a Nervous Breakdown” as a theme song for people with teenagers. In addition to “Flamingo” and “Repetition,” Matt and his group performed a whimsical version of the 1970s pop song, “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Matt said they wanted to have fun, which it was. If you can jazz up that song, you can jazz up anything!
Wycliffe Gordon and Friends. Wycliffe Gordon made his trombone sound like it was talking on “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” and the audience loved it! During “The Sunny Side of the Street,” Wycliffe got a huge laugh when he sang, “I’d be rich as Don Braden,” substituting for “Rockefeller!” The jovial Gordon continued with the laughs, saying they had CDs for sale, and although they didn’t play a lot of the songs on the CDs, they did play a lot of the same notes! Gordon was backed by pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Alvin Atkinson, Jr.
Mike Stern Band Featuring Bob Franceschini, Tom Kennedy, and Richie Morales. Acclaimed guitarist Mike Stern gave a shout-out to Wycliffe Gordon and Friends (who played in the set before), and added “We were scared to follow them!” Stern needn’t have worried, because his band definitely held their own. Their rock-infused jazz on “Out of the Blue” and “Avenue B” was extremely well-received, and the multiple-award-winning Mike Stern and his cohorts gave a great ending to the second day of the festival.
A Salute to the Great Drummer Charli Persip. This drum extravaganza was held in honor of the legendary Charli Persip, and featured drummers Matt Wilson, George Schuller, Robin Baytas, and Cory Cox, and a horn section led by trumpeter Dave Ballou. There were several testimonials about Persip’s excellence as a mentor and friend, and his prowess as a drummer. Charli gave a history lesson about the role the drum has played in jazz. Persip was awarded a beautiful plaque in honor of his remarkable career.
Les Paul’s Trio Featuring Nicki Parrott and Bucky Pizzarelli. Continuing the legacy of Les Paul, singer/bassist Nicki Parrott introduced guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli as “89 years young!” They did a fine set consisting of “All of Me,” “Where or When,” Young at Heart,” “Tangerine,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” In a post-show “Artist Talk,” they discussed Les Paul’s role as a mentor, and revealed that he was quite a prankster, too. Nicki said she still misses their weekly talks.
Sean Jones Quartet. Trumpeter/composer/educator/activist Sean Jones discussed being inspired by surviving a difficult time in graduate school, and how you can see more clearly after a tough time is over. Jones and pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Kris Funn, and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr. played several moving numbers, including “Dark Days,” “What’s Going On,” and “60th & Broadway.”
The Christian McBride Trio. Celebrated bassist Christian McBride played at the inaugural festival in 1996, so he fittingly returned for the final set of the 20th Litchfield Jazz Festival. McBride, pianist Christian Sands, and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. were all splendidly dressed, and their playing was as sharp as their clothes! They performed “Day by Day,” “Caravan,” “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” and “Call Me Irresponsible,” and McBride invited Don Braden for a fantastic encore Thelonious Monk number.
The 2015 Wall Street Jazz Festival
The 12th Annual Wall Street Jazz Festival in Kingston, New York was held during a picture-perfect Labor Day weekend.
The Jaki Byard Project. The first set was The Jaki Byard Project, led by flutist Jamie Baum. Pianist/festival organizer Peggy Stern introduced the band, recalling how Jamie Baum’s set was rained out the last time she was at the festival. Jamie exclaimed how nice it was to be back, with no rain! The charming set was dedicated to the late piano titan Jaki Byard, who played with some of the greats, including Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and included “Strolling Along,” “Aluminum Baby,” and “Tony” from Bayard’s album, Family Suite.
Dena DeRose Trio. Pianist/vocalist Dena DeRose traveled from Europe, was joined by bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff Siegel. The group started with “Sunday in New York,” and continued with “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and “Listen to Your Heart.” Dena praised festival organizers Peggy Stern and John Bilotti, and thanked them for having her back. On the last song, Dena welcomed surprise guest, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, for a Wayne Shorter composition.
The Ingrid Jensen/Christine Jensen Quintet. With these talented Canadian sisters, music definitely runs in their family! Saxophonist Christine and trumpeter Ingrid were joined by guitarist Jesse Lewis, bassist Doug Weiss, and drummer Jared Schonig. The group started with a haunting number, “Leaves,” that Ingrid said was a nod to the inevitable arrival of autumn. They continued with “Castle Mountain” and “Swirl Around.” Ingrid said they wouldn’t talk too much during the set, because they wanted to play as much music as possible, and the music communicated beautifully!
Estrella Salsa Band. The festival ended on a high-energy note with the Estrella Salsa Band. Vocalist Suzi Stern, soprano saxophonist Sweet Sue Terry, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, alto saxophonist Christine Jensen, pianist Peggy Stern, Claire Daly on bari sax, bassist Lew Scott, drummer Brian Melick, and Roland Vasquez on congas played some deliciously hot salsa, sounding great on “The Elephant Tango,” and “You and the Night and the Music.” Peggy Stern thanked the audience for coming, and expressed gratitude for all the people who helped with the festival, especially co-producer John Bilotti.
The Wall Street Jazz Festival might be small, but there’s nothing small about the music they present or the spirit that showcases women jazz leaders, and it’s a wonderfully relaxed way to end summer!