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Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015: Final Thoughts

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2015 by curtjazz
Diane Schuur takes the stage (Photo by John Davenport)

Diane Schuur takes the stage (Photo by John Davenport)

Some final thoughts on this year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival…

Some very strong performances this year and I love the infusion of more of the younger generation of jazz artists. Continuing this pattern bodes well for the AJF’s future.

The frustrating part is (and always will be) the fact that it is impossible to catch all of the great groups on the three stages. This year I stuck mostly to the Main Stage to keep from fighting the huge crowds. I managed to catch a few terrific sets at the International Stage but I know that I missed so much more…

Top Performances that I saw:

  1. Four Women (Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Terry Harper and the show stealing Rhonda Thomas) a tribute to Nina Simone – Wow…Oh Wow!!! These ladies and the support provided by their musical director Russell Gunn were simply amazing. And the fact that Ms. Simone’s sister was in the audience made it even better.
  2. Otis Brown III – Brother Brown mixed the sacred and the secular into an all-encompassing groove. Big up for the horns – Marquis Hill on trumpet and John Ellis on tenor!
  3. Banda Magda – The charismatic vocalist/multi-instrumentalist  Magda Giannikou and company had the International Stage audience captivated. Hope to catch them again soon.
  4. Diane Schuur – The lady is still as marvelous and classy as ever. And it she was joined by first-class talents including Ben Wolfe on  bass and Don Braden on the saxes.
  5. Nettwork Trio – Charnett Moffett on bass, Stanley Jordan on guitar and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums…no fanfare, no glitz, just three of the best in the business, showing us how it’s done.

The performances that I most regret missing:

  1. Dida Pelled – Curse you ATL Memorial Day weekend traffic!!! I arrived at the park just after she finished.
  2. Arturo O’Farrill – The crowd had grown so big that it was almost impossible to move to The International Stage by Sunday evening. I should have tried anyway!
  3. Mad Satta – Just because I knew from jump that I was going to miss this great young neo-soul group doesn’t make me feel any better about it.
  4. Tony Hightower – This vocalist has a bright future, I’m just sorry that I couldn’t get to the Locals Stage to catch a piece of it.

Big thumbs up for:

  • Karen Hatchett; the AJF’s Awesome PR Director and the wonderful team of volunteers at the Media Tent. Y’all always make John and I feel welcome. Because of all of you, AJF is (and always will be) a first class jazz festival.
  • The beautiful people of Atlanta who come to the AJF every year. I stood at the top of the meadow at one point and looked out over the crowd that was about 85% African-American and I just saw people, enjoying the music and each other. All of the nasty narratives that some nameless cable news outlets peddle about us was nowhere in sight. Sorry that y’all couldn’t find room for the AJF on your “Factor”.
  • The lady in one of the tents with the great looking Red Velvet cake. Ma’am, that cake looked so good, that I almost lied and said that I was part of your family, so could get a slice!
  • Working side by side with my son. Watching as he comes into his own is one of the greatest experiences ever.

BlueSatch, I’m sorry that I couldn’t find you, bro. Next year for sure!

That’s all for 2015. We’ll see you all in the same place next Memorial Day Weekend…

Until then, the jazz continues…

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Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 Preview: Sunday on the Main Stage – “The Center Holds”

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2015 by curtjazz
Pharoah Sanders

Pharoah Sanders

Over the last few years the Atlanta Jazz Festival has developed a pattern in its Main Stage lineup scheduling – on Saturday, the younger, less traditional artists are given the spotlight, with a chance to build an audience for their (and by extension, jazz’s) future. But Sundays remain for the more familiar names. The respected veterans who represent the jazz mainstream, the “Center” if you will. In 2014, pianist Ahmad Jamal and vocalist Freddy Cole were the Sunday headliners. This year, it’s two veterans of similar stature, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and vocalist Diane Schuur, who are the big draws. But before they take the stage on Sunday night, we will hear from two intriguing groups – a super group trio of jazz heavyweights and a quartet of ATL’s finest jazz divas in a promising tribute to one of the all time greats.

 

1:00 PM – Navy Band Southeast V.I.P. Protocol Combo

Early arrivals on this final day will be treated to a quartet of swinging Navy men who will play a variety of standards and instrumentals, to get the day started in a classy way.

3:00 PM – Four Women: A Tribute to Nina Simone Featuring Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Rhonda Thomas and Terry Harper

“Four Women” is the title of one the great Nina Simone’s most compelling and enduring compositions; a celebration of all shades, shapes, sizes, pains and ultimately, the unquenchable spirit of Black womanhood. Over the last few years, many great female vocalists have taken on the song as a centerpiece of a tribute to the incomparable “High Priestess of Soul”.  This year, AJF38 has its own Four Women, who happen to be about the best jazz vocalists that the city can offer – Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Rhonda Thomas and Terry Harper.

Ms. Bertrand is a AJF veteran and one of the stars of Atlanta area jazz, having appeared as a headliner during the 2012 Festival and with Roy Ayers that same year. She has released a number of recommended albums, including Katharsis, which features the AJF’s unofficial anthem “Jazz in Piedmont Park”. The British born Julie Dexter has been an Atlanta resident since 1999. She has a broad and devoted fan base around the globe and moves easily between the jazz and R&B worlds. Ms. Dexter is also a past AJF artist. My family still talks of her impressive Main Stage set with Russell Gunn in 2012. Though I missed the 2013 AJF, I’ve heard that Ms. Dexter’s set that year was also a highlight.

New York native Rhonda Thomas was a new name to me, until she was announced as part of this group. My research led me to her duet album with guitarist Michael Coppola Guess Who I Saw Today.  Her range, and vocal versatility made me an instant fan. Anyone who can perform the under-appreciated modern classic “Miss Celie’s Blues” the way Ms. Thomas does, is alright with me. Terry Harper is also new to me but her family certainly isn’t. The vocalist is married to trumpeter/educator Danny Harper, whose younger brothers Phillip and Winard, formed The Harper Brothers, one of the best of the “Young Lion” groups of the 90’s.  Terry, Danny and the rest of their family are also the hosts of The Harper Family Jam Session, each Thursday night at Atlanta’s Best Jazz Spot, Churchill Grounds.

These four ladies are proven talents. I’m expecting that somewhere, Ms. Simone will be smiling.

5:00 PM – Nettwork Trio: Charnett Moffett, Stanley Jordan, and Jeff “Tain” Watts

Stanley Jordan on guitar; Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums; Charnett Moffett on bass. For cats like me, who cut their teeth on jazz during the 80’s/90’s renaissance, each of those cats is an icon, by himself. Now the three of them have come together to form a trio called Nettwork. The potential is mind-blowing.

Jordan, you may recall, was one of the first artists signed to the newly revived Blue Note records in the ’80s. He set the jazz (and rock) world on fire with his amazing “touch” technique that allowed him to sound like multiple guitarists playing at once. Even thirty years later, his creativity is still astounding. Moffett, the son of drummer Charles Moffett was another wunderkind who hit the scene around the same time, also with astounding ability that garnered him legions of fans and work on over 200 recordings. And Watts, known to many as the drummer on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, first came to fame for his work with Wynton and Branford Marsalis on their early work and he remains one of the best drummers alive on the planet.  Why these cats had never thought of coming together before now, is a mystery. And with their various commitments, I get the feeling that their time working together now, will likely be brief. I glad that I’ll have the chance to catch them live.

7:00 PM – Diane Schuur

Diane Schuur first came to prominence around the same time as Moffett, Jordan and Watts. Discovered by Stan Getz, Ms. Schuur is one of those vocalists whose style is so singular that you know it’s her within the first few words of a song. Her career has now spanned over three decades, with two Grammy wins and many more nominations. She’s wailed in front of the Basie Band, sang the blues with B.B. King and on a recent album The Gathering, she displays some impressive Country chops. I’ve been a fan of Ms. Schuur’s since her first album Deedles in 1984 and it has been wonderful watch her grow from a young woman with impressive, if undisciplined pipes, into the mature and affecting song stylist that she is today.

At AJF38 you can expect to hear Ms. Schuur sing selections from her catalog of over 20 albums, including her latest, I Remember You (With Love To Stan and Frank). The album is a heartfelt tribute to two of Schuur’s most important mentors, Getz and Frank Sinatra. We’ll also likely hear tunes that were made famous by Ms. Schuur’s biggest vocal influence, Dinah Washington. Regardless of the set list, it’s a great chance to hear one of jazz’s best living vocalists, practice her craft.

9:00 PM – Pharoah Sanders Quartet featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel

Pharoah Sanders is one of jazz’s handful of living iconic figures, a man who learned his craft literally beside John Coltrane, as the second tenor sax in Trane’s last groups. He also created one of the most unforgettable “free jazz” records of the of the late 60’s in “The Creator Has a Master Plan” (from his album Karma). In more recent times, he worked with rock oriented producers such as Bill Laswell, who have added another dimension to his sound and introduced Mr. Sanders to a new audience. Sanders sound has also mellowed a bit recently as he has begun to embrace the ballads and the melodic playing of his mentor Coltrane’s earlier years; yet Sanders has managed to maintain the some of the gritty intensity that has always been his trademark.

Joining Pharoah Sanders will be Kurt Rosenwinkel, a fine guitarist with a fluid, yet edgy style that should provide a great compliment to Sanders’ big toned tenor. Together, I expect that they will create music that will push a few boundaries in order to keep things interesting. They may play ballads at times but they won’t be gentle. It should be an engaging set that will end AJF38 on a high note.

You can hear the music of these and many other AJF38 Artists from 5 PM – 7 PM daily on our Curt’s Cafe Noir, our streaming 24/7 jazz radio station. Click HERE to listen now.

For more information on the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival visit their website at http://atlantafestivals.com 

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 – All That Jazz and it’s FREE

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2015 by curtjazz

Atlanta Jazz Festival - red logoThey’ve been doing it for almost 40 years with no sign of slowing down…It’s friends, family, food, fun and most important (for me, at least) JAZZ.  The biggest and best free jazz festival in the Southeast, The 38th Atlanta jazz Festival will take over Piedmont Park once again this Memorial Day Weekend, Friday May 22 – Sunday, May 24. The full lineup was announced yesterday.  I am impressed that once again, in a world that readily slaps the name “jazz festival” on virtually any multi-day musical event that features adult oriented black artists, the producers of AJF38 have booked a lineup that is varied but true to the music’s origins.

This year we will hear from a classic jazz legend, in Pharoah Sanders; a contemporary legend in the form of vocalist Diane Schuur, plus, in a not to be missed Saturday night lineup, sponsored by Blue Note Records, we will hear from three of that venerable label’s young keepers of the flame: Marcus Strickland, Otis Brown III and Derrick Hodge. There will also be a couple of supergroups; one a quartet of Atlanta finest female jazz vocalists (Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Rhonda Thomas and Terry Harper), in tribute to Nina Simone; the other a trio of cats who are all leaders in their own right and who will surely be nothing short of combustible together: Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, Stanley Jordan on guitar and Charnett Moffett on bass.

The International Stage will as always, be the hippest spot at the AJF; as the sounds of jazz will be mixed with the rhythms of Cuba, Brazil, Greece, Israel and other cool spots from around the globe. Headliners will be the pianist and Quincy Jones protegé Alfredo Rodriguez and the multiple Grammy winning son of Afro-Cuban music royalty, Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra .

Back again in 2015 will be one of AJF 2014’s best ideas – The Locals Stage. Featuring the artists who work in and around the Atlanta area most of the year, getting a chance to show a wider audience what they can do. Wolfpack ATL, Tony Hightower and Jeff Sparks will be among the hometown favorites hitting that stage.

Of course as we get closer to May 23, we’ll start with our usual preview reports and video clips. You’ll also hear the music of many of the artists in special AJF38 segments on Curt’s Cafe Noir.

I’ve got a lot a musical dilemmas to settle between now and then, because as much as I’ve tried to do it, I’ve determined that I can’t be in two (or three) places at one. Hope to see you there come Memorial Day Weekend.

Visit the AJF 2015 Website for more info: http://atlantafestivals.com/

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 – The Complete Schedule

Friday, May 22

Main Stage:

7:00 pm                                Mad Satta

9:00 pm                                Thundercat

Saturday, May 23

Local Stage:

12:30 pm                              Tri-Cities High School Jazz Band

2:30 pm                                Jessie Davis & the Nebraska Jones Experiment

4:30 pm                                Kenosha Kid

6:30 pm                                Wolfpack ATL

International Stage:

1:30 pm                                North Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band

3:30 pm                                Dida

5:30 pm                                Banda Magda

7:30 pm                                Alfredo Rodriguez Trio

Main Stage:

1:00 pm                                Contemporary Violinist Daniel D.

3:00 pm                                The Rad Trads

5:00 pm                                Marcus Strickland Twi-Life

7:00 pm                                Otis Brown III

9:00 pm                                Derrick Hodge

 

Sunday, May 24

Local Stage:

12:30 pm                              Joe Gransden and his Big Band

2:30 pm                                Mastery

4:30 pm                                Jeff Sparks

6:30 pm                                Tony Hightower

International Stage:

1:30 pm                                Fernanda Noronha

3:30 pm                                Strings from Haiti

5:30 pm                                Emrah Kotan

7:30 pm                                Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Main Stage:

1:00 pm                                Navy Band Southeast: VIP Protocol Combo

3:00 pm                                Four Women: A Tribute to Nina Simone – Featuring Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Rhonda Thomas and Terry Harper

5:00 pm                                Nettwork Trio: Charnett Moffett, Stanley Jordan, and Jeff “Tain” Watts

7:00 pm                                Diane Schuur

9:00 pm                                Pharoah Sanders Quartet featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel