Friday night, keyboardist Brian Simpson was playing, he was supported by Marcus Finnie on drums, Marius Goldhammer on bass, Christof Lindner on guitar, Lutz Deterra on keys, plus Rene Junior on sax, a young player from the Czech Republic that contacted Brian Simpson three weeks before the show and was allowed to sit in. The band went through a string of Brian Simpson's hits, among them "Persuasion" and others, with lots of great solos by all involved, especially Rene Junior blended in well with his soulful, smooth tenor sax playing. During the last groovy song people got up to dance, a bunch of girls went onto the stage to dance along Brian, when an enthusiastic male fan joined in and stole the show with his expressive dancing, ending an entertaining set.

The 6th annual Smooth Jazz Festival Mallorca kicked off with the Smooth Jazz All-Stars, a show that unites most of the players of the festival on one stage. The event usually is held in the unfinished church Església Nova in Son Servera open air, but due to some unexpected cold and rainy weather, it took place at the festival's main venue, the 5-star Protur Biomar Gran Hotel & Spa, which was fine with me.

The show was hosted by keyboardist Brian Simpson, they opened the concert with all players on stage, before the individual players were featured in smaller settings, supported by the festival band consisting of keyboardist Lutz Deterra, bassist Marius Goldhammer, drummer Heiko Braun and guitarist Christof Lindner. The drum seat changed frequently, adding in Marcus Finnie and the legendary Harvey Mason, both playing several nice solos. We got an incredible variety of music, each of the players brought his own style to the table, particularly enjoyable were the young Grace Kelly with her energetic playing, funking up "Amazing Grace", and saxophonist and flutist Nelson Rangell delivering an awesome rendition of Hampton Hawes' "Sonora", whistling and piccolo flute included, with a great solo by Alex Bugnon. Violonist Ken Ford brought the house down with the EWF classic "Can't Hide Love", while Alex Bugnon scored with his own classic "107° In The Shade", recreating a great 70ies jazz-funk feeling. Jeff Kashiwa played some beautiful tenor, while Warren Hill took the Beatles' classic "Hey Jude" to the next level, with some audience participation. Guitarist Norman Brown delivered "On Broadway" in style, with a nod to George Benson. The show concluded with the funky Hancock classic "Chameleon", having all players on stage, bringing a great show to a rousing end.

This was a great festival start, lots of more great shows ahead!

The closing concert of the festival traditionally took place at the Scottish Rite Cathedral with Kirk Whalum's Gospel According To Jazz Celebration featuring Kevin Whalum, Doxa Gospel Ensemble, Lindsey Webster, Tamika Patton plus special guest Fred Hammond. The band consisted of Kevin Turner on guitar, Marcus Finnie on drums, Braylon Lacy on bass and musical director John Stoddart on keys and vocals. This event has become a festival favourite and always sells out. The band started out with "Do You Feel It" and an instrumental that gave each member some solo time, before the singers came out, first Kevin Whalum did "Somebody, Somewhere", before Lindsey Webster and Tamika Patton each did a great song, then it was time for the main guest Fred Hammond to take over with a string of his hits, plus some preaching in between songs. The night was concluded with the rousing "Love Is The Answer" joining all the artists for the finale, having everybody on their feet.

The Sunday morning bruch was held at the Crowne Plaza ballroom, the featured band was Four80East led by keyboardist Rob DeBoer and percussionist Tony Grace, they were supported by guitarist Matt Marshak and saxophonist Art Sherrod, Jr who have been playing with this band for years and blend well with their groovy style of music. The band was in fine form and went through several of their classics plus songs from the catalogs of Matt Marshak and Art Sherrod, Jr. which provided nice changes of pace. The show was well received.

At midnight, it was time for another one of Gerald Veasley's Midnight Jams, this time we got people like Bobby Lyle, Brian Bromberg, Matt Marshak, Art Sherrod, Tony Grace, Andy Snitzer, David P Stevens, Donald Robinson, Richard Waller, Michael Manson, Brian Simpson, Andrew Neu and Vincent Ingala among others, it was another memorable jam with lots of outstanding musical moments.

Berks Jazz Fest 2017: Marcus Miller

At 10pm, bassist Marcus Miller appeared at the Double Tree hotel ballroom with his band, it was his first appearance at the Berks Jazz Festival. The band consisted of Alex Han on sax, Marquis Hill on trumpet, Alex Bailey on drums and Brett Williams on keyboards. This band of master musicians and top improvisers provided a truly memorable show, they started out with two songs from the current release Afrodeezia with cool solos by all involved, but the true highlight came with "The Preacher's Kid", a song dedicated to this late father that had saxophonist Kirk Whalum guesting and featured Marcus Miller on the bass clarinet. Things were funked up with his cover of "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" with lots of slapping and plucking in his own inimitable style, while "Tutu" written for Miles Davis provided another highlight. This was a simply awesome show by a bunch of world class players.

In between shows, I took the opportunity to briefly check out the show of trumpet player Rick Braun doing The Music of Chet Baker in the SOUTH Jazz Parlor at Berks. He was accompanied by a fine young band of musicians from LA, they played in a classic acoustic quartet formation doing straight ahead jazz out of Chet Baker's catalog. Glad to see this kind of music represented at the festival!

Berks Jazz Fest 2017: Jim Brickman

In the early evening, I had the opportunity to see new age pianist Jim Brickman live for the very first time at the Miller's Centre for the Arts. I followed his career while he was on Windham Hill and later he got off my radar. He performed solo at a beautiful Steinway grand piano going through several of his hits, doing the vocals himself. In between songs he talked to the audience revealing details about his career and told stories behind particular songs, the last part of the show was dedicated to fan requests that were collected prior to the show. It was an entertaining show providing plenty of pretty melodies by a consummate pianist.

Saturday afternoon, Everette Harp & Friends were Remembering George Duke. Led by saxophonist Everette Harp, several artists whose careers were linked to the late keyboardist George Duke paid tribute to this great artist who passed away in 2013. Singers Chante Moore and Phil Perry, bassist Brian Bromberg, keyboardist Brian Simpson, drummer Rayford Griffin, guitarist Dwight Sills, plus the 5 piece Berks Horns stood on the stage, doing songs from the catalog of George Duke and projects he was involved in. They started out with "Brazilian Love Affair", followed by "Shine On" which was sung by Everette Harp and the nice latin track "Geneva" featuring some nice flute work. In between songs, stories and memories were shared and some tears were shed, George still is sorely missed. Both Phil Perry and Chante Moore did some truly heartfelt songs, among them "Love Don't Love Nobody", "Touch And Go", "Sweet Baby" and "No Rhyme, No Reason", before they wrapped it up with "Reach For It" with bassist Michael Manson joining in. This was a truly unique, touching and personal concert dedicated to the late great George Duke leaving a satisfied crowd.

Then I rushed over to Gerald Veasley's Midnight Jam at Building 24 where artists like Phil Perry, Paul Jackson Jr., Brian Simpson, David P Stevens, Donald Robinson, Andy Snitzer, Richard Waller, Michael Manson, Andrew Neu, Vincent Ingala and others provided another great time of music, especially nice were covers of "Friends And Strangers" plus an awesome vocal of "Free" sung by Tamika Patton that brought the house down.