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
5:00 pm – North 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/