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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…

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 Preview: Friday (5/22) on the Main Stage

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , on May 15, 2015 by curtjazz
Mad Satta

Mad Satta

The 38th Atlanta Jazz Festival will kick off again this year with a Friday evening Main Stage performance. Unlike last year, where the Friday lineup consisted of two mainstream jazz stars in Roberta Gambarini and Roy Hargrove, 2015 will start with artists that are associated more with the neo-soul and indie R&B scenes than they are with the straight ahead jazz world. It’s a risky move but one that perhaps will pay off in a needed expansion of the AJF audience.

7 PM – Mad Satta

Like many of this year’s AJF groups, Mad Satta is based in New York City. They are an eight member, self-described “future soul” group with a retro-groove guitar/organ/horns vibe that I find absolutely intoxicating. On top of that, there’s lead singer Joanna Teters; a coolly charismatic young woman who is the vocal love child of Al Green and Macy Gray. When the group hits its’ stride – as they often do on their debut album, Comfort with ethereal keyboards punctuated by soulful horn lines and Ms. Teters’ dusky vocals, you realize that they are something special. Mad Satta’s star is on the rise. I’m not the only one who has noticed, as Mad Satta has played in major jazz venues such as The Blue Note in NYC and Yoshi’s in Oakland, CA. They also have a monthly residency at Daryl’s House, the hip music club/restaurant in Pawling, NY, owned and operated by ’80’s pop music icon Daryl Hall.

For me, there’s good news and bad about this group. The bad news – I won’t be hitting ATL until the morning of May 23, so I will miss Mad Satta’s AJF performance on Friday night. The good news – they are making a stop in here in Charlotte on their way down to Atlanta, on Thursday, May 21, at a club called The Tavern. Trust and believe, I will be there.

9 PM – Thundercat

Thundercat (aka Stephen Bruner) comes from a very musical family. His father, Ronald Bruner Sr. is a soul / R&B drummer who has played artists from  Diana Ross to The Temptations. His brother, Ronald Bruner, Jr. is also drummer. He has played with Kenny Garrett, Marcus Miller and Wayne Shorter, among many other jazz artists. As for Thundercat, he joined his brother on a Japanese tour with Stanley Clarke while still in high school and he has been going ever since.

Thundercat has used his jazz roots and experimental nature to create unique sounds in a variety of situations, as he has worked on projects by a wide range of artists, from Mr. Clarke to Erykah Badu (he has been called Ms. Badu’s Billy Preston) to Wiz Khalifa. But it was Thundercat’s touring and subsequent collaboration with producer/musician/rapper Flying Lotus, that led to Thundercat’s 2011 solo debut The Golden Age of Apocalypse, which was co-produced by Flying Lotus.

In 2013, Thundercat teamed with Lotus again, to create his second album, Apocalypse, which has received extremely positive reviews. It also caused other a list artists to seek out Thundercat’s services. He worked closely with Kendrick Lamar on the rap star’s latest hit album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Rolling Stone called Thundercat “The Jazz Fusion Genius Behind [Butterfly]”. Mr. Bruner has also collaborated with tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington on the saxman’s new and aptly titled three CD set, The Epic, which is also drawing stellar reviews.


As you see in the accompanying clips, Thundercat is also a highly entertaining performer. He is sure to bring a spark to the AJF Main Stage, that will kick the Festival off right.

Next stop – a look at the Saturday’s Mainstage artists.

For more information about the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website:



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:

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