Archive for the Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Category

Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 3 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by curtjazz

The third and final day of this year’s Atlanta Jazz Fest was the best overall. The slight cloud cover throughout most of the day cooled the temperatures a bit. We were able to get started early enough to be in place in time to hear all Mainstage performances and best of all, the music was consistently strong.

The Mainstage acts kicked off with vocalist Yolanda Rabun, who was making her AJF debut. Ms. Rabun, an actress and attorney, as well as a singer; came to play; giving her all throughout her set. She is blessed with an oustanding vocal instrument and boundless energy. Her set was drawn for the most part, from her debut CD, So Real – a good idea as the album includes some very good original material, such as “The Good Wife”, “Marry You Again” and the outstanding title track. 

Yolanda Rabun, as she kicked off the final day of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

However, Ms. Rabun at times veered dangerously close to allowing her set to become too theatrical; using vocal affectations and tricks that someone with an instrument as good as hers does not need to use, in order to effectively deliver a song.  And her 15 minute plus take on the old Gladys Knight & the Pips tune “Friendship Train”, which included Ms. Rabun leaving the stage to dash among the blankets and chairs shaking hands with the audience; may have been too much of a good thing.

In spite of this minor misstep, Ms. Rabun finished strong with a terrific version of “So Real”. She is a very promising performer, from whom we hope to hear more at future AJFs and around the jazz world, in general.

Next up was trumpeter Russell Gunn, who has taken many musical turns during his almost 20 year career, from hard bop to hip hop to jazz rock. I had wondered aloud on Sunday, which Russell Gunn would we see on Monday.  I got my answer during the sound check before his set as I saw a spate of electronic instruments being arranged on the stage behind Mr. Gunn’s trumpet.  This meant that we were getting Elektrik Butterfly, Mr. Gunn’s more recent aggregation, which celebrates the music of the iconic rock group, Black Sabbath.  I’d heard of, but not actually heard Mr. Gunn in this setting before now, so I didn’t know what to expect. 

Russell Gunn during his opening number at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest

Mr. Gunn and group kicked off with a funk-rock Black Sabbath tune that was reminiscent of the type of music we got from Miles in the early seventies. It was hot, funky, edgy and it divided the audience as if it were politics.  As I looked at the  crowd, about half were bopping their heads and beginning to dig the groove. The other half sat there with furrowed brows, as if to say “what the hell is this?”.

Russell Gunn and Elektrik Butterfly performing at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest on Monday 5/28.

 As on Sunday, I missed the middle portion of Gunn’s set, for I hopped a cart ride over to the International Stage again. This time I caught the Melvin Jones Quintet.  Again, the crowd, though larger than Sunday’s, was still, very attentive and enthusiastic and with good reason. Mr. Jones, an Atlanta-based trumpeter and his group, which featured Mace Hibbard on saxes, were on fire; playing some extremely good straight ahead jazz.  I’ve been impressed with Mr. Jones ever since first hearing him at last year’s AJF. He did nothing to change my opinion in 2012.  This was my first time hearing Mr. Hibbard, who performed with his own group at the International Stage on Sunday. He was equally impressive. Here’s a clip what I saw and heard.

And here’s a little more:

In spite of the great music, we dashed back to the Mainstage to catch the remainder of Russell Gunn’s set and to meet with sax prodigy Grace Kelly, prior to hers. By the time we returned, vocalist Julie Dexter had joined Mr. Gunn on stage. More of the crowd was grooving, but there were some who would remain unconverted. No matter. Russell Gunn had done his job. He delivered a well-played set and he got the crowd buzzing. He had even made converts of two tough critics – my wife and son. My wife’s first words to me as I returned were “He is great! Do you have any of this music from him at home?”

Grace Kelly is interviewed prior to her set at the 2012 AJF

Grace Kelly walked into the press tent looking even younger than her 20 years, in a dress made partially of soda can tabs. She is as gracious and articulate a young woman as I have met in this business, who speaks with a stunning casualness about playing with legends such as Dave Brubeck, Phil Woods and Herbie Hancock. Yet when she took the stage, she played with the poise and artistry of someone at least twice her age. 

She played jazz classics and some of her newer compositions while engaging the audience in easygoing banter. Many had not heard of Ms. Kelly before her appearance, but by the time she was done, she had clearly acquired quite a few new fans – not the least of which was my son, age 11, who shyly asked me near the end of Grace’s set “Dad… Do you think that she’s attractive?”  Another rite of passage – Jazzy John had his first “Jazz Crush”.

Grace Kelly blowin’ hot during her set at the 2012 AJF on Memorial Day

Whereas the closing acts on the first two night of the AJF had been steeped in nostalgia, the final night was decidedly different. As Robert Glasper, one of the hottest performers in jazz today, was the closing artist.  By the time 9 pm rolled around on Memorial Day evening, the crowd, which was slightly smaller than on the previous 2 nights, due in part to the coming work day for many, was also decidedly younger, a by-product of Mr. Glasper’s more youthful fan base.  During his set, I found myself as excited by the music as by the implications of what was happening around me.

Robert Glasper closing the 2012 AJF on Memorial Day

For years the death knell for jazz has been sounded. Much of it by those who complained that  jazz had nothing to offer a younger audience, that could carry it forward into the middle of this century.  But the audience that night was thumbing its collective nose at the naysayers. As the Robert Glasper Experiment played a set of music from his breakthrough new album Black Radio, which has a strong mix of jazz and hip-hop, I saw crowds of twenty somethings dancing and forming pockets of fist-pumping excitement, especially when Glasper and company played “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  They were digging what they heard and they wanted more.  Jazz had offered them something and they were eating it up!  As the night ended, due to curfew restrictions, more than either artist or audience wanting to stop; Jazzy John asked if I could download Black Radio on his iPod…For me that was as good as it got all weekend.  For I know that, at least in my home,  jazz does have a future.

The Robert Glasper Experiment during the 2012 AJF

As we close the books on the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, we do so with a lot of fond memories and great anticipation for the 2013 AJF. We will also make a vow to plan to spend at least one full day at the International Stage. 

The festival is free because the City of Atlanta has heard that this is an important cultural outreach. And they’ve heard it from those of you who are area residents.  If you are an Atlanta resident, please do your part to ensure that there is a 2013 AJF and that it remains free of charge, by contacting your local government representative. That’s the best gift that you could give to jazz today.


Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 2 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by curtjazz

DAY 2 – Sunday, 5/27

The Sunday of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest had  a decidedly international flavor with artists from different parts of the world showing us a mixture of jazz and their homeland musical styles. It was another great day of music, but for me, it was almost eclipsed by what I heard when I ventured away from the Mainstage for the first time.

The day got off to a frustrating start, as the APD, which otherwise did an outstanding job of traffic control throughout the weekend, closed off access to the street that I had used to access parking every day since I first came to the AJF last year.  This was doubly frustrating because this rerouting caused us to miss the performance of Hatian Jazzman Mushy Widmaier

Determined not to let this blip ruin the day, we settled in and prepared for the performance of Gregoire Maret, the Swiss harmonica master who has been making quite a name for himself of late.  Mr. Maret is an excellent musician and he delivered a solid set; though at times some of the “quiet storm” style grooves that he laid down seemed more suited to late night at an intimate club, rather than a sweltering sunny Sunday afternoon in the park. When he tackled uptempo tunes, he did so with a stunning virtuosity that excited the growing crowd on the lawn.

Gregoire Maret performs at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

I have to confess that I saw the beginning and the end of Mr. Maret’s performance. In the middle, I took a harrowing ride on a golf cart to the other side of Piedmont Park; where I paid my first visit to the festival’s smaller venue, the International Stage.  This stage drew a more intimate crowd, that was all about the music.  The distractions of the large tents and people “stylin’ and profilin'” as they make their way around, interested more in calling attention to themselves than in hearing jazz; are vitrually non-existent at the International Stage.  What you do get, are world-class musicians, just with less recognizable names.

When I arrived, I was treated to the Son Jazzy Orchestra a Latin Jazz group, based in the Atlanta area.  They commanded the stage with a fire that gave me goosebumps. I immediately whipped out my Flip camera and recorded the clip of their performance of “Night in Tunisia” that you see below. Please excuse my shoddy camerawork, as I was in motion during most of the performance.  I also was interrupted in the middle by an attempt to arrange a ride back to the other side of the park, thus the inopportune break about 6 minutes into the film. I did return to catch the remainder of the performance.  Other than the group’s leader, Nelson Ramos, I don’t know the names of the rest of the group and their web page didn’t provide much more info. As I do find out though, I will update this post.

If I hadn’t left my family on the other side of the park, I would have likely remained at the second stage for a few hours longer, but sadly, I had to leave the International Stage and the Son Jazzy Orchestra after that one tune. But there were two more great artists awaiting when I returned to the Mainstage.

Lionel Loueke at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

West African guitarist Lionel Loueke and his trio were next on the Mainstage. Many in the audience knew Mr. Loueke from his work with Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock,  in additional to his two critically acclaimed albums for Blue Note. He captivated the crowd right off the bat with a beautiful sonic mélange that turned into “Skylark”.  Mr. Loueke’s set consisted mostly of tunes that started with a beautiful theme, highlighted by his vocalizing. Then as soon as the audience was lured into a place of serenity, Mr. Loueke reminded us to not get too comfortable, as the music would veer off into jazz-rock themes that were often dissonant.  From the looks on the faces of many in the crowd, many of the roads that the Loueke trio took were a bit confusing; but he would always return us home safely.

Tito Puente Jr. shows off his tattoo of his legendary father, prior to his set at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

The evening closed with a set from Tito Puente, Jr., who has now decidedly stepped  into his late father’s shoes as “The Mambo King”. He is also every bit the gregarious and gracious showman that his dad was; arriving early to spend a bit of time with us press types and staying late to patiently sign autographs and listen to reminiscences from those in the audience affected by his father’s music.

Tito Puente Jr. during his performance of “Manteca” at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

Puente, Jr’s band was hot and road tested, as they cranked out the classics from the Latin Jazz canon, “Tanga”, “Manteca”, “Ran Kan Kan” and many others. Tito, Jr. also told many heartwarming and humourous stories about himself, his dad and the music that made them famous.  He also slipped in a few numbers from his own song book, such as the fiery “Junior’s Mambo”, which Tito, Jr. composed for his three-year old son, whom he referred to as “Tito Junior, Junior”.  Though there was no official dance floor impromptu ones sprang up all over the packed lawn, as people grooved in whatever way they knew how, to the infectious rhythms.

If you ever saw Tito Puente, Sr. perform, this facial expression is very familiar

Just when you thought they were finished, Tito told a story about a song that his father composed in the late ’60’s that was then made famous by a 19-year-old guitarist named Carlos Santana.  The pianist then hit that familiar syncopated block of chords and a near-riot broke out… With a big grin, Junior then held out the mike to the crowd, saying “I know y’all know it…sing it!” And thousands who had never spoken a word of Spanish in their lives, were now singing “Oye Como Va” at the top of their lungs.

It was a great end to a great second day. The best news was that there was still more to come on Monday on both stages.

Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 1 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , on June 3, 2012 by curtjazz

The 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest couldn’t help but exceed its immediate predecessor, based on volume alone. This year’s festival featured three full days of free jazz in Piedmont Park, whereas 2011 had only two.  Four acts a day were featured on the Mainstage and another four on the other side of the park at the International Stage.

What follows over the next three posts, will be my thoughts on the festival, opinions on performances and observations on some things that caught my attention. In addition, there are some photos and video clips. So this is not so much a review as it is a recap.

DAY ONE 5/26

Have to confess that the fam and I moved slowly on Saturday morning, while leaving Charlotte for Atlanta. So slowly that it backfired a bit. By the time we got everything we needed, dropped the dog off at doggie care, drove the 4 hours to ATL, dropped off our luggage at the hotel, found parking and walked back to the park, we unfortunately had managed to miss the first Mainstage performance by Dwight Andrews.  We settled in as Cyrus Chestnut was finishing his first number, which meant that   I was too late to take pictures of the “Nut Man”.  A bit disappointing, but it was my own fault.

Ernie Gregory, the renowned jazz photographer and Atlanta Jazz Festival emcee. introduces Kathleen Bertrand

As for Mr. Chestnut and his trio, they were up to their usual level of excellence. Chestnut, Dezron Douglas on bass and Neal Smith on drums have worked together long enough now that they are in musical lockstep. By the time they reached “CC Rider” the crowd had joined them, rocking along and snapping fingers as one. Another terrific performance by a great group.

 Between sets, we got settled in, enjoyed gourmet popsicles from a vendor who called himself “King of Pops”. My son John and I also took time to shoot our first vlogs of the weekend.

Up next was Atlanta-based vocalist Kathleen Bertrand.  Ms. Bertrand, an attractive and appealing singer, immediately caught the attention of the crowd with her pop influenced jazz vocals and her form-fitting dress.  Most of her material came from her latest album Katharsis, including “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, the set opener and the strong originals, “Date Night” and “Don’t Let It Die”; which is a plea for the survival of mainstream jazz.  A medley of standards in the middle of the set missed the mark a bit, but Ms Bertrand recovered strongly with an appropriate set closer “Jazz at Piedmont Park”.  It was a good set overall and it left the crowd feeling energetic and ready for the headliner.

Kathleen Bertrand performs “Wrapped Around Your Finger” at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest

 And that headliner was the great Roy Ayers. I watched Mr. Ayers move slowly backstage prior to the performance (he is in his seventies, after all). However when his introduction came and he hit the stage, he did it with more energy than many men half his age.  He exhorted the crowd, sang, told stories and even played a little on the vibes. It was a virtual love fest as young and not so young on the by now packed lawn sang and danced along with “Red Black and Green”, “We Live in Brooklyn Baby”, “Searching”, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and the inevitable set closer, “Running Away”. Kathleen Bertrand even returned, joining Roy on vocals on one number. Roy Ayers is still a great performer and a very good vibraphonist. His vocals are by now, a bit shaky, but again, he is 71 and an R & B/Hip-Hop/Jazz legend.  He came and gave the crowd what they wanted and we all went home happy and anticipating another great day on Sunday. 


Roy Ayers exhorts the crowd during his performance at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest


And Sunday was a great day, with a real revelation for me.

More on that in the next post, which will include more photos and performance footage.

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – Yolanda Rabun

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 with tags , , on May 28, 2012 by curtjazz

Today is the last day of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival. If you’ve missed an opportunity to be a part of the great music and party, you’ve got one more chance, but you’ve got to do it today! The good news is that there is plenty of top-notch music left in Piedmont Park, starting today with vocalist Yolanda Rabun.

A graduate of Atlanta’s Northside School of the Arts, Ms. Rabun is a busy lady. She has worked with R & B legend Issac Hayes, opened for Tony/Grammy winner Jennifer Holiday, and has performed in festivals in Hawaii, Japan, South Korea and throughout the U.S.  She is also an actress and a practicing attorney, with a JD from Boston College Law School. 

 In her current home of Raleigh, NC, Yolanda is the lead vocalist with the Stanley Baird Group, one of the top jazz organization in the Triangle Area. Now she has stepped out on her own with her debut CD So Real. The smooth-jazz disc has received good reviews and is making its way up the charts.

Ms. Rabun will get the last day of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival off to a great start, kicking off her Piedmont Park Mainstage set at 3 pm. If you’re in the ATL, there’s no better way to spend Memorial Day.

For further information about Yolanda Rabun visit her website

The Atlanta Jazz Festival website is at



Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – The International Stage

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , on May 26, 2012 by curtjazz

There is so much jazz going on at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, which begins Saturday in Piedmont Park, that one stage couldn’t hold it all.  Though we’ve been talking about all of the Mainstage Acts (We still have to cover Monday!), there are a lot of terrific albeit lesser-known artists performing on the Atlanta Jazz Festival International Stage. Many of these artists are based in the Atlanta area.  These performances will be going on simultaneously with the ones on the Mainstage, so you will have to choose. But either way you’ll win with some great jazz.

Among the International Stage names that caught my eye were trumpeter Melvin Jones, who made a big impression during last years festival as he backed singer Audrey Shakir; Saunders Sermons is a very fine vocalist/trombonist; Ernest “EC3” Coleman; a hard swinging drummer and Mace Hibbard, a strong saxophonist. Now that I look at the lineup, the International Stage would make for a damn fine festival, all by itself.

I’ve dropped the complete International Stage Schedule and a few video clips below. Check the clips out, then if you’re at the festival this weekend drop by the International Stage and check these artists out. You’re in for a pleasant surprise.

2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival International Stage Schedule

Saturday, May 26

Sunday, May 27

Monday, May 28

For more info on the individual artists, click on their names to access their websites or Facebook pages, where available.

For more info on the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest, visit their website

Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 Preview – Tito Puente, Jr.

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 with tags , , , , on May 24, 2012 by curtjazz

“He was just too vibrant, too exciting. There was magic in the music my father made. It made people happy all over the world.” – Tito Puente, Jr.

Tito Puente, Jr. is one of three cats in the world of music that I wouldn’t trade places with for anything.

The other two are Frank Sinatra, Jr. and Ravi Coltrane

By now, you get my point. These guys have chosen to make a living in a musical world where their fathers were not just legends, but transcendent figures. Not only that, they also all bear striking physical resemblances to their dads and they are practicing their art on the same instruments that made their fathers famous.  The younger Sinatra, with all due respect has wilted under the pressure. Whereas the other two are more than holding their own.

Puente, Jr., who turns 41 in early June, has fully embraced his legacy, as he now leads a band that joyously celebrates his dad by playing many of the songs that made Tito Puente a household name, in addition to some newer tunes that were composed for or by Tito, Jr.

The younger Puente is touchingly reverent about his father’s memory “People who don’t know anything about Latin music know my father and people always, always smile when they say my father’s name.  That is a very special gift I have been given.”

Tito Puente, Jr. will share that gift with us on Sunday night May 27, as he closes the second night of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival with a show that starts at 9 pm. I don’t know if there will be a dance floor, but what the hell, we’ll just make our own!

Tito Puente, Jr.’s latest album is Got Mambo? on Salsalsa Records. You can find more information about him on his new official website

For further information about this year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival visit

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – Lionel Loueke

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 on May 23, 2012 by curtjazz

The second day of this year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival will have a distinct international flair.  And none more so than the remarkable guitarist Lionel Loueke, who hails from the West African country of Benin.  If you haven’t heard Mr. Loueke before, do yourself a favor and listen to these clips. After you’ve listened, if you’re anywhere within a couple hundred miles of Atlanta, do yourself an even bigger favor and get to the AJF on Sunday and hear Lionel Loueke live.

Lionel Loueke began playing percussion instruments around the age of 9, but was influenced by an older brother who played guitar, which he began playing himself in his late teens. It took Loueke a year to earn the $50 he needed to buy his first guitar. However, he could not afford to replace the strings which had to be special-ordered from Nigeria. Instead, he soaked his strings in vinegar to keep them clean. When the strings broke, he had to replace them with bicylce brake cables, which were very hard on his fingers.

Loueke got his first professional job by accident, when a club manager heard him playing a guitar he had grabbed off the bandstand during a break and offered him work. He played African pop music, but discovered jazz when a friend returned from Paris with a George Benson album. This inspired Loueke to study jazz in Paris. He then won a scholarship to study at Berklee.

In 2002 Loueke began playing with trumpeter Blanchard. Loueke was featured on two albums with Blanchard for Blue Note Records, Bounce and Flow. He subsequently has had a prolific career as a sideman. He has performed on jazz pianist Herbie Hancock’s albums Possibilities and River: The Joni Letters . In addition, Loueke has worked with a host of major jazz artists, from Wayne Shorter to Charlie Haden to Dianne Reeves and so many more.

Loueke’s unforgettable guitar, which mixes African traditions with samba and jazz and his captivating vocals have been captured on several solo albums, the most recent being Mwaliko on the Blue Note Label. However any of Loueke’s other albums, including Karibu, Virgin Forest and In a Trance are all worth acquiring. His third album for Blue Note Heritage, co-produced by Robert Glasper, is due out this August.

But I reiterate – seeing Lionel Loueke live is better than any of those albums. He will perform at 7 pm, this Sunday on the Atlanta Jazz Festival Mainstage. For further information about Mr. Loueke, visit his website

For further information about all of the great 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival Performances go to

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – Grégoire Maret

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 with tags , on May 21, 2012 by curtjazz

For most people, the list of jazz harmonica players begins and ends with the legendary Toots Thielemans.  However there are a number of others who are worthy of your attention one of them is Swiss born Grégoire Maret, who will appear live this Sunday at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

 A graduate of the prestigious Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique de Genève, Grégoire moved to New York City to study at the New School University’s Jazz Department.  Today he is one of the most sought after harmonica players in the world. And yes, he has been often compared to Thielemans and to another guy who has been known to dabble in the mouth organ, Stevie Wonder.  Among the famous musicians he has played with are Youssou N’Dour, Me’ Shell Ndegeocello, Pete Seeger, David Sanborn, George Benson and Cassandra Wilson.


In 2005, Grégoire toured with Pat Metheny, receiving a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for their album The Way Up.  He also won the Jazz Journalists Association’s Player of the Year Award. After his Grammy win, Maret embarked on a two-year tour with the world-class bassist Marcus Miller and subsequently joined Herbie Hancock’s band.

In March of this year, Mr. Maret released his first album as a leader, the eponymous Grégoire Maret. It features guest appearances by a number of notables; including  several members of Take 6, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Miller, Wilson, Mino Cinelu, Gretchen Parlato and Mr. Thielemans, in a lovely “passing of the torch” on Ivan Lins’ “O Amor E O Meu Pais”.

We’ll be treated to selections from Mr. Maret’s album and more during his Atlanta Jazz Festival Set. His Mainstage performance will begin at 5 pm on Sunday, May 27.  For more information on Grégoire Maret, visit his website

For more information on the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, go to

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – Mushy Widmaier

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 with tags , , on May 20, 2012 by curtjazz

“Haitian Music is, Song, Classical, Root, Dance, Contemporary, Traditional, Jazz and all musical genres originated from the Haitian soul. This variety constitute the Opera of our History.” – Mushy Widmaier

Mushy Widmaier has a fairly unique name and, for a jazz musician, a fairly unique background; as Mr. Widmaier, a keyboardist,  is of Haitian descent.  A mélange of influences can be heard in his playing, from the rhythms of his island roots, to the European masters he was taught about as a boy, to the modern jazz masters of this era, such as Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner.  These influences come together to create a sound that can be at once soothing yet energetic.

Mr. Widmaier has been a working musician since the late ’70’s, when he formed a jazz rock group with his brother, Joel.  He has been a mainstay of the Caribbean jazz scene, for the better part of three decades and since settling in South Florida, he has begun to make inroads in the States as well.

His latest album, My World is a beautiful blend of all of his influences, at times, it’s reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s work during the late ’80’s and early ’90’s.

You’ll get to experience the sound of Mushy Widmaier, which is perfect for a summer afternoon; as he opens Day 2 of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, on the Mainstage, Sunday, May 27, at 3 p.m., at Piedmont Park. Admission is, of course, free.

For further information about Mushy Widmaier and his music, visit his website

To find out more about what’s happening at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, go to

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – Roy Ayers

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 with tags , on May 15, 2012 by curtjazz

“Having good health, being able to breathe and be happy, that’s one of the most beautiful gifts. On top of that, I have the gift to play music and make people happy through that. I’m just telling you from my heart, I’m so in love with life” – Roy Ayers

About 15 years ago, my wife and I were boarding a plane from Nashville back to New York after attending a friend’s wedding. While in Nashville we had  bought t-shirts – mine was John Coltrane, hers, Miles Davis. As we boarded the flight, we encountered a rather boisterous group of brothers in our section. When they saw our shirts, they became even more boisterous “Ohhhhh look out now y’all, we got some heavy hitters sittin’ with us!!!”, said the oldest of the gentlemen; who had on some funky looking shades. The good-natured ribbing continued for a few minutes. As I looked at the cat with the funky shades, I whispered to my wife, “That guy looks familiar, I’ve seen him somewhere before”. 

He then took the shades off and became deadly serious.  He said to me “Trane was the man, bro…he was the man…” He shook his head in a gentle awe and was transported  to another place, clearly hearing those sheets of sound in his head.  But this seemed like it wasn’t just a memory of a recording, like my Trane moments. No; this cat had the look of someone who had been there and experienced Coltrane in person.

I knew by now that he had to be somebody.  I was dying to ask the cat who he was, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself by admitting that I didn’t know him. 

I went to the rest room during the flight. I had decided that on the way back to my seat, I was going to ask this man who he was.  However, by the time I returned, the cat with the funky shades was asleep. I wasn’t going to wake him just to satisfy my curiosity.

The cat and his crew got off before us in New York and disappeared into the La Guardia throng. As my wife and I drove home, I was still curious about this man’s identity.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. As I opened the mailbox to collect what had been left over our long weekend, the latest issue of one of the major jazz publications was in the box. Staring back at me, in a full-page ad on the inside cover was, you guessed it, the cat with the funky shades…Roy Ayers.

Roy Ayers is a legend of jazz funk; adored by hundreds of thousands of fans, sampled over the years by countless hip-hop artists and unfortunately, sneered at by a handful of jazz purists who have no use for his brand of fusion. 

Let them sneer all they want, but know this, Roy Ayers is no Kenny G.  Roy Ayers has paid his dues. Roy Ayers has influenced and inspired many who have come along after him.

Ayers got his first vibraphone mallets from Lionel Hampton at age five.  He broke in as a part of the thriving straight ahead jazz scene on Los Angeles’ Central Avenue in the early sixties, playing alongside L.A. heavyweights such as Curtis Amy and Jack Wilson, so yes, when Roy Ayers spoke of Trane, he knew what he was talking about, first hand.  In the mid ’60’s, Ayers joined forces with Herbie Mann and Gerald Wilson to produce some strong mainstream and soul-jazz records.  If you ever get a chance, check out Virgo Vibes and Stoned Soul Picnic, two early Ayers albums on Atlantic Records.

Then came the 70’s and Roy Ayers, the jazz-funk legend was born. UbiquityCoffyMystic Voyage… and the list goes on. Then in the 80’s came his work alongside seminal Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, introducing Ayers to a worldwide audience.  With the rise of hip-hop sampling in the late 80’s and early 90’s Ayers became a hero to another generation; the hip-hop deejays and producers who began to sample a lot of Ayers’ killer 70’s grooves.  Roy Ayers was now reborn as the “Godfather of Acid Jazz”. He has worked steadily ever since, attracting audiences that cross generational and cultural lines.

So at 71, Roy Edward Ayers, Jr., the cat on the plane with the funky shades, has no need to explain himself to anyone, fan or critic.  What he still wants to do is perform music from his catalog of five decades and entertain his fans, including the couple in the Miles and Trane t-shirts. And we’ll bring along our son, another generation of Ayers fan. We’ll be there when he closes out the first night of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, we hope you will too.

Roy Ayers is scheduled to perform at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest in Piedmont Park; on Saturday, May 26, 2012, at 9 p.m. Admission is free.

For further information about Roy Ayers, visit his website at

For further information about the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at