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Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014: Preview – Saturday on the Main Stage

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014 with tags , , , , , , , on May 22, 2014 by curtjazz
Christian Scott

Christian Scott

The 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival kicks off its first full day on the Main Stage with performances by artists from the less
traditional side of the fence. They include a Ethiopian-Israeli jazz funk vocalist; a veteran trumpeter leading a group that will mix jazz and Krunk and finally a young trumpet star who has for the past decade been a leader in the fusion of jazz with 21st Century musical styles. Purists may turn-up their noses but I think that Saturday has the potential to be one of the most musically compelling days on the AJF Main Stage in a long while.

The full Atlanta Jazz Festival Main Stage Schedule for Saturday, May 24:

1:00 pm The Tri-Cities High School Jazz Band – The Youth Jazz Band Competition allows young jazz musicians from all over the metropolitan area the opportunity to showcase their talent. Three winners are selected to receive a financial contribution to their music program and a guaranteed spot to perform on the Atlanta Jazz Festival Main Stage.  The Tri-Cities High School Jazz Band finished second in the competition and will open the Main Stage performances on Saturday.

3:00 pm Rialto Youth Jazz Orchestra – The Rialto Youth Jazz Orchestra was founded in the June 2011 by its Director, Dr. Gordon Vernick.  The RYJO program consists of 1 large jazz ensemble and 5 jazz combos.  Last year participating high school students came from the following counties: Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Clayton, and Fayette. The students are selected through auditions.

5:00 pm Ester Rada – Ester Rada is an Israeli born Ethiopian vocalist whose sound  gracefully combin[es] Ethio-Jazz, Urban-funk, Neo-Soul and R&B, with mixed undertones of black grooves”.  Growing up in a highly religious Jewish family in modest conditions in Israel, gave Rada the drive to change her way of life and fulfill her dream of creating music.

And yes, her sound is as unusually cool and hip as you would expect from someone with her pedigree. The buzz around Ms. Rada began with
the release of her self composed/produced EP, Life Happens, last year. The tracks that make up Life Happens also appear on her recently released eponymous full length project.

Ms. Rada names Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill as her major influences and I hear traces of all of those divas in her performances. People may argue about her “jazz cred” but frankly, I don’t give a damn, she is exciting to listen to and watch. Be there!

7:00 pm Russell Gunn’s Krunk Jazz Orchestra – Mr.  Gunn is a veteran of many appearances at the AJF and he consistently surprises us every year with a new and interesting twist to his sound. This year Russell Gunn brings us the Krunk Jazz Orchestra, an aggregation that is likely intended as an amalgam of various jazz styles with that beat driven synthesizer heavy style of hip hop, known as “Crunk” (or “Krunk”) that is popular in the South.  Gunn’s 2006 album Krunk Jazz should give you an idea of what to expect when he hits the stage.

I know that I (and many others of a certain age) will need Icy Hot or a similar type of product on Sunday as a precursor to the visits to the chiropractor that we will all need next week from all of the spontaneous and violent head nodding that we will engage in while Gunn drops his groove. It will be well worth it.

9:00 pm Christian Scott – Though Christian Scott is not a known purveyor of “Krunk Jazz”, per se; he definitely works the same side of the street as Mr. Gunn, favoring musical styles that owe as much to jazz traditions as they do the sounds of hip hop and other currently popular musical styles. Mr. Scott, who now also goes by the name Christian aTunde Adjuah (in tribute to his ancestors), set the jazz world on fire in 2006 with the release of Rewind That, his major label debut. Rewind That was exciting because so many things were happening on each track. You heard Scott’s deep New Orleans Jazz roots, his Milesian influence, a bit of Coldplay style rock and an insistent hip hop based underpinning. Each was fighting to be heard and when all elements hit at the same time, something totally fresh and new happened.

Mr. Scott has continued down that stylistic path on most of his subsequent recordings. He has never let go of what he learned from his mentors such as his uncle saxophonist Donald Harrison, but he has also definitively refused to let himself get stuck in a retro-jazz rut. His most recent recorded project, Christian aTunde Adjuah,  is a 2 disc set that has given Scott the space to bring many of his new “stretch music” ideas to the forefront. I’m sure we will hear some of those on Saturday night. And I will make every effort to avoid spontaneous eye infections and catch this set, unlike 2011.

For further information about the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at  http://atlantafestivals.com/

 

 

 

 

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Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014: Preview – Roberta Gambarini / Roy Hargrove

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014 with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2014 by curtjazz

roberta gambariniNow this is what I call an impressive start!roy hargrove

In a change from the recent past, the Atlanta Jazz Festival will kickoff Memorial Day Weekend on Friday evening,
instead of Saturday afternoon. And just to make sure that they have your attention, the headliners will be two of jazz’s biggest stars, vocalist Roberta Gambarini and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. With these two luminaries taking the stage, I expect temperatures on Piedmont Park’s Mainstage to be a few degrees hotter that what the thermometer reading will tell you.

In addition to their impressive individual work in recent years, Ms. Gambarini and Mr. Hargrove have worked together quite a bit, each guesting on  the other’s recent albums and live performances. We can only hope that this trend will continue in Atlanta this weekend as, from what I’ve heard, they seem to bring out the best in each other.

The full AJF Schedule for Friday, May 22

All Friday performances will take place on The Main Stage. The International and Local Stages will start on Saturday.

5:00 pmNorth Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band – The Youth Jazz Band Competition allows young jazz musicians from all over the Atlanta metropolitan area the opportunity to showcase their talent. Three winners are selected to receive a financial contribution to their music program and a guaranteed spot to perform on the Atlanta Jazz Festival Main Stage. The North Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band took first place this year and they are sure to start the 2014 AJF in fine fashion.

7:00 pm – Roberta Gambarini Quartet – Ask the world’s greatest jazz musicians who their favorite living vocalist is and many of them will say without hesitation, that it is Roberta Gambarini.  This Italian born beauty first set foot on American soil in 1998 and two weeks later took third place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk vocal competition. The late great pianist Hank Jones, a man who knew a thing or two about singers, declared Ms. Gambarini to be “The best singer to emerge in the last 60 years”. Legendary saxophonist Benny Carter essentially shared the same opinion.  Mr. Jones showed his appreciation by recording a marvelous album of duets with Gambarini, 2008’s You Are There. Ms. Gambarini’s debut album, Easy to Love (my personal favorite) and her most recent U.S. release, 2009’s So In Love, were both Grammy nominated. My only complaint is that as of now, her latest release The Shadow of Your Smile, is only available as an expensive Japanese import. Come on U.S. distributors, do something about this!

What is it about Roberta Gambarini that everyone loves? Well, we can start with her voice, a clear soprano with a multiple octave range which  can bring you to shouts of joy on minute and to compassionate tears the next. Musicians love her because she also is possessed with an innate sense of musical timing and she can swing her head off. In other words,  Gambarini is not just a singer vocalizing out in front of the band, she is a musician who happens to sing extremely well. She has taken the lessons of the masters of  her craft; Sarah, Ella, Billie, Betty and Anita and melded them into a style that is singularly hers. I have no doubt that we will be in for a major treat come Friday night.

9:00 pm – Roy Hargrove Quintet – It was 1990 when Novus Records dropped on us Diamond in the Rough; a new album from a fresh-faced 19-year-old trumpeter, who possessed incredible technique and a developing style that set him apart from the glut of others like him that the major labels were pushing on us at that time. Others could play the instrument but this young cat had The X-Factor, that Milesian duende that only the greats possessed.

That fresh-faced kid is now 44 and a well-respected veteran who has amassed an impressive list of recorded credits including a foray into “hip hop meets jazz” (Rh Factor), which was considered by many to be groundbreaking.  But through it all, be it bop, Latin, modal, soul jazz, big band, strings and all the stops in between, each time he puts that trumpet to his lips, Roy Hargrove still has that sound that makes you stop dead in your tracks and listen to what he has to say.

The fact that he is bringing a Quintet to Atlanta leads me to believe he will be playing a set of the type of straight-ahead jazz that has been his forte going back to those albums of the early ’90’s. For those of you unfamiliar with Hargrove’s work, check out With the Tenors of Our Time, the pinnacle of his early work; Crisol Habana a hard charging Afro-Cuban album with the great Chucho Valdes and others; Emergence a strong  modern big band CD with guest spots by Ms. Gambarini; or Earfood, a  recent quintet date on which Hargrove proves that he still has the goods. Whatever album you choose you won’t be disappointed, as I expect that collectively, we will not be disappointed on Friday.

For more information about the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at http://atlantafestivals.com/

 

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014: Preview – The International Stage

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014 with tags , , , , , , on May 16, 2014 by curtjazz

Somi - The Lagos Music SalonIt’s confession time…When I last attended the Atlanta Jazz Festival in 2012, most of the truly memorable musical moments I experienced were not at the Main Stage but at the smaller and more intimate International Stage.  Like the Main Stage, the International Stage features world-class musicians but the setting makes all the difference. You are much closer to the musicians, those in the audience are there for the music, not a party and the artists are happy to reward the patrons for their respect and attention.

In years past, the International Stage had featured a mix of artists from outside the U.S. and groups that hailed from the Atlanta area. However with the advent of the Locals Stage this year, the lineup at the International Stage has taken on a true World Music feel, featuring the most culturally diverse group that I’ve ever seen at the AJF.

I admit that I will be torn at times between a “name” artist on the Main Stage and an up and comer that I am fond of on the International Stage. Unless cloning is perfected within the next week, I’m likely to make the decision spontaneously. Scott Fugate, I hope that you’re up for a few of those “harrowing golf cart rides”!

 

The International Stage Schedule

Saturday, May 24

1:30 pm: Edmar Castañeda Trio – This quote from the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, about Mr. Castañeda sums it up: “The Colombian plays the harp like hardly anyone else on earth. His hands, seemingly powered by two different people, produce a totally unique, symphonic fullness of sound… served with euphoric Latin American rhythms, and the improvisatory freedom of a trained jazz musician…”

3:30 pm: Somi – Born in Illinois to parents from Rwanda and Uganda, this vocalist brings a mix of African rhythms, jazz and soul that is as gorgeous and unique as anything I’ve heard on today’s musical scene. She has been called “a modern-day Miriam Makeba” by some with a sound that Vogue Magazine called “gorgeous”.  He recorded work has been first-rate (my favorite is 2011’s Live at Jazz Standard) and we are looking forward to her upcoming major label debut The Lagos Music Salon, which will feature Common and Angelique Kidjo, with great anticipation.

5:30 pm: Eldar Trio – This young pianists stunning dexterity has drawn breathless comparisons to Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and many other keyboard giants. Eldar Djangirov has been praised by legends such as Dr. Billy Taylor and Dave Brubeck, who called Eldar “a genius…”. Born in Russia and raised in Kansas City, the 27-year-old last year simultaneously released jazz (Breakthrough) and classical (Bach/Brahms/Prokofiev) albums to critical acclaim across the musical spectrum. If you plan on attending his performance, make sure that you bring a chair with a seat belt.

 

Sunday, May 25

1:30 pm: Ali Amr – Ali Amr is a Moroccan singer and Qanun performer. The Qanun is a zither-like stringed instrument that is played throughout much of Asia, the Middle East and Southern Europe. Mr. Amr has always been musically curious and that curiosity has brought him and his Qanun into a variety of musical settings and genres, among them being jazz. He performed at the Newport Jazz Festival last year and we look forward to what he has brought south for us to hear in Atlanta.

 

3:30 pm: Diego Figueiredo – Diego Figueiredo is considered one of the most talented guitar players in the world today. He is the winner of several important competitions including the Montreux Jazz Competition and the VISA Prize. He has released twenty albums, three DVD’s, and several instructional books. His music is a fusion between Jazz, Bossa Nova and Classical. Diego has performed in over forty countries around the world.

5:30 pm: Cyrille Aimee – Winner of the Montreux Jazz Festival’s International Vocal Competition, the Sarah Vaughn International Jazz Vocal Competition and finalist in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition, French/Dominican vocalist Cyrille Aimée is, in the words of Will Friedwald of The Wall Street Journal, “one of the most promising jazz singers of her generation. ( A side note, I happen to agree with Mr. Friedwald, 100 percent.) Cyrille’s major label debut, It’s a Good Day, will be released this year but while your waiting, check out her Live at Smalls CD, featuring Roy Hargrove.

For more information about the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at http://atlantafestivals.com/ 

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014: Preview – The Locals Stage

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2014 by curtjazz

AJF in Piedmont Park - May 23-25So here we go jazz fans! For the next 10 days you’ll be hearing from me on a daily basis as we crank things up for the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont Park.  As mentioned in a prior post, there will be a few things different this year, such as a Friday evening kickoff with a HOT concert (more on that in a future post).  Another new addition is a third stage; The Locals Stage, which will feature artists who should be familiar to ATL Jazz Lovers.

The depth and artistic strength of the local Atlanta Jazz Scene is very impressive. Though many jazz fans limit themselves to the music coming out of NYC, Philly or Chicago, you shouldn’t sleep on the cats who play at Churchill Grounds and other spots around the ATL. Stop by the Locals Stage on Saturday, 5/24 or Sunday 5/25 and hear for yourself.

The Local Stage Schedule

Saturday, May 24

12:30 pm: J.C. Young Middle School Jazz Orchestra – A middle school with its own jazz orchestra? Very cool! Very talented young people.

2:30 pm: Willie Ziavino and the C.O.T. Band – This band is one of the hottest Latin groups in the Atlanta Metro Area. Their mix of Cubana, Brazilian, Salsa and Caribbean rhythms is infectious. Check out their album Camino Empedrado which is now available.

4:30 pm: Brian Hogans Quartet – This saxophonist’s 2010 debut album Evidence of Things to Come, had many impressive moments. I’m looking forward to hearing him bring that same intensity to his live performance.

 

Sunday, May 25

12:30 pm: Rialto Jazz for Kids – Rialto Jazz for Kids is an ongoing series of comprehensive jazz education programs for elementary and middle-school aged students throughout metro Atlanta. The fruits of these youngster’s labors will get the audience they deserve at the AJF.

2:30 pm: Darren English Quintet – A native of Capetown, South Africa, this young trumpeter has caught the ear of many jazz fans throughout the Southeast. He won’t be Atlanta’s secret for much longer!

4:30 pm: Kemba Cofield Quartet – Kemba Cofield is a past winner of the “Future of Jazz Straight Ahead Vocalist” competition. She has a fine voice, a terrific way with a lyric and most importantly, she swings. Ms. Cofield has released a number of albums, with Shades of Kemba being the one that I most highly recommend.

You probably won’t be able to catch some of these artists in the relatively intimate setting that the AJF Locals Stage will provide for long, so do yourself a favor and do it while you can.

For further information about 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at http://atlantafestivals.com/

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014 – The Lineup

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2014 by curtjazz
Russell Gunn

Russell Gunn

As you may recall, I reluctantly chose to miss last year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival. As much as I wanted to be there, I took the advice of family, friends and doctors to stay close to home a little while longer as I recuperated from cancer surgery. Well, a year has gone by and thank God, I’m feeling GREAT. So the fam and I will be back in Piedmont Park this Memorial Day weekend, attending the best free jazz festival in the country and maybe the world.

A few things will be different this year than in the recent past. The organizers have scrapped the performances on Memorial Day Monday. Instead they are kicking things off in a big way on Friday night with Roberta Gambarini and Roy Hargrove on The Main Stage. Saturday will bring Russell Gunn’s latest group and Christian Scott. On Sunday the wonderful Freddy Cole and the exciting young chanteuse Cyrille Aimee will be performing simultaneously on two different stages (tough choice!) but all will be back at the Main Stage later that evening as the legendary Ahmad Jamal closes out the festival.

Also new this year will be The Locals Stage, which will feature some of the best jazz artists that are working in the ATL. Thankfully, one of my favorite locales, The International Stage, will be going strong on Saturday and Sunday.

All in all, the lineup is strong as usual, with a true international flair. As someone who prefers to check out new and unfamiliar artists in addition to the recognizable, the 2014 AJF has a lot to offer for me and I plan to sample as much as possible.

As we get closer to May, we’ll start with our usual preview reports and video clips. We’ll also drop some “live” videos from the festival and maybe some interviews with the artists. Hopefully we’ll see some of y’all in Piedmont Park Memorial Day Weekend as we make our triumphant return!

Visit the AJF 2014 Website for more info: http://atlantafestivals.com/

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014 – The Lineup

Friday, May 23

MAIN STAGE

  • 5:00PM: NORTH ATLANTA CENTER FOR THE ARTS JAZZ BAND
  • 7:00PM: ROBERTA GAMBARINI QUARTET
  • 9:00PM: ROY HARGROVE QUINTET

 

Saturday, May 24

MAIN STAGE

  • 1:00PM: TRI-CITIES HIGH SCHOOL JAZZ BAND
  • 3:00PM: RIALTO YOUTH JAZZ ORCHESTRA
  • 5:00PM: ESTER RADA
  • 7:00PM: RUSSELL GUNN’S KRUNK JAZZ ORKESTRA
  • 9:00PM: CHRISTIAN SCOTT

INTERNATIONAL STAGE

  • 1:30PM: EDMAR CASTAÑEDA TRIO
  • 3:30PM: SOMI
  • 5:30PM: ELDAR TRIO

LOCALS STAGE

  • 12:30PM: J.C. YOUNG MIDDLE SCHOOL JAZZ ORCHESTRA
  • 2:30PM: WILLIE ZIAVINO AND THE C.O.T. BAND
  • 4:30PM: BRIAN HOGANS QUARTET

 

Sunday, May 25

MAIN STAGE

  • 1:00PM: MILTON HIGH SCHOOL JAZZ ENSEMBLE
  • 3:00PM: AIRMEN OF NOTE
  • 5:00PM: FREDDY COLE QUARTET
  • 7:00PM: BILL FRISELL’S GUITAR IN THE SPACE AGE FEATURING GREG LEISZ, TONY SCHERR AND RUDY ROYSTON
  • 9:00PM: AHMAD JAMAL

INTERNATIONAL STAGE

  • 1:30PM: ALI AMR
  • 3:30PM: DIEGO FIGUEIREDO TRIO
  • 5:30PM: CYRILLE AIMÉE

LOCALS STAGE

  • 12:30PM: RIALTO JAZZ FOR KIDS
  • 2:30PM: DARREN ENGLISH QUINTET
  • 4:30PM: KEMBA COFIELD QUARTET

2013 Atlanta Jazz Festival – Hate To Miss It but We’ll Be Back

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2013 with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by curtjazz
Layers by Charly Palmer - signature artwork of the 2013 Atlanta Jazz Festival

Layers by Charly Palmer – signature artwork of the 2013 Atlanta Jazz Festival

It’s funny how something can become a part of you so quickly.

I had never attended the Atlanta Jazz Festival before 2011. But after having been at the last two, it had already become something that just felt right on Memorial Day Weekend –  the crowds, the atmosphere, spending quality time with my family and of course, the great music. As 2012 gave way to 2013, the 36th AJF was definitely marked on my calendar.

Then, as many of you know, I faced some unexpected health problems earlier this year. I am recovering quite well, thanks to God and my doctors but my initial recuperation made for some challenges of the kind we didn’t expect, in the area of time off from our “real jobs” to be in Atlanta all weekend.

So my wife and I talked it over and we very reluctantly decided to take this year off from the AJF. It’s scheduled to start tomorrow and man, it feels weird not to be packing a bag and prepping to head to Atlanta in a few hours. It has also felt a little odd to not write my series of festival preview articles for this blog over the last couple of weeks.

So here’s the schedule for the weekend. Kudos to those who program the AJF because the schedule gets stronger and more relevant each year. If you’re a jazz fan and in the ATL this weekend you have to go. And as usual, the AJF events at Piedmont Park are free.

Save me a spot on the lawn and in the hospitality tent because CurtJazz and the crew will be back at Piedmont Park in 2014!

36th Atlanta Jazz Festival – Piedmont Park May 25 – 27, 2013

Saturday, May 25

Main Stage

  • 1pm – Stephenson High School Jazz Ensemble
  • 3pm – Aaron Diehl Quartet
  • 5pm – Alexandra Jackson
  • 7pm – Meshell Ndegeocello
  • 9pm – Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet

International Stage

  • 2pm – Tri-Cities High School Jazz Band
  • 3:30pm – Aruán Ortiz Quartet
  • 5:00pm – Rio Negro
  • 6:30pm – Cécile McLorin Salvant

Sunday, May 26

Main Stage

  • 1pm – North Atlanta Center for The Arts Jazz Band
  • 3pm – Rialto Jazz for Kids All Star Jazz Band
  • 5pm – Jacob Deaton and the Tribulaton Band
  • 7pm – Gretchen Parlato
  • 9pm – Tia Fuller

International Stage

  • 3:30pm – J. C. Young Middle School Jazz Ensemble
  • 5:00pm – Ginou Oriol
  • 6:30pm – Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Gamak

Monday, May 27

Main Stage

  • 1pm – Benjamin Mays High School Jazz Orchestra
  • 3pm – Rialto Youth Jazz Orchestra
  • 5pm – Julie Dexter
  • 7pm – The Dominick Farinacci Group
  • 9pm – José James

International Stage

  • 3:30pm – The Westlake High School Jazz Ensemble
  • 5:00pm – Uri Gurvich Quartet
  • 6:30pm – The Miguel Zenón Quartet

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.