By Val Vaccaro
This year marks the momentous celebration of the 15th annual Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pennsylvania. The FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, runs March 11-20, 2005. Once again, there will be an impressive talent lineup featuring top music stars in contemporary jazz, traditional jazz, blues and more! There will be close to 120 events which take place at major venues, restaurants and clubs throughout Berks County. Some of this year’s top artists include Manhattan Transfer, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, Chris Botti, Rick Braun, Chuck Loeb, Spyro Gyra, Jeff Golub, Peter White, Boney James, Fourplay, Pieces of a Dream, Jeff Lorber, The Joyce Cooling Group, Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot, Gerald Veasley, the Heads Up Super Band, Jason Miles, the Yellowjackets, Bob Mintzer Big Band, The B-3 Summit featuring Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Papa John DeFrancesco, the John Pizzarelli Trio, Steve Smith and Buddy’s Buddies, Tom Grant, Shemekia Copeland, and more!!!
According to Connie Leinbach, Executive Director of the Berks Arts Council, "This is a great milestone for us turning fifteen. The FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest has put Berks County on the national map. We've seen tremendous growth and popularity of the festival since we expanded to a 10-day festival in 2000, which was our 10th anniversary." John Ernesto, FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest General Manager said "Our goal is to not to grow the festival, but to maintain it and do it well. We want to make sure we maintain the quality of music in those ten days. We try to challenge the artists to do different things and put together different packages. So even when artists return, it's not the same thing."
This year, Berks Jazz Fest and Heads Up International are both celebrating their 15th anniversaries. In honor of this occasion, Dave Love - President and Founder of Heads Up International, and John Ernesto - General Manager of the Berks Jazz Fest, have put together a commemorative CD 15 Years of Heads Up at the Berks Jazz Fest. According to Dave Love, “We have enjoyed a very special relationship with the Berks Jazz Fest the last 15 years. It’s like we have grown up together. The festival... has always been willing to give our artists a chance to be showcased... So producing a commemorative CD... was an easy decision to make.” The CD features Heads Up musicians who have performed at the festival over the years. This wonderful CD includes 15 songs from these 15 artists: the Heads Up Super Band, Spyro Gyra, Pieces of a Dream, Hiroshima, Gerald Veasley, The Caribbean Jazz Project,the Yellowjackets, Joe McBride, Marion Meadows, Jaco Pastorius Big Band, Andy Narell, Kenny Blake, Joyce Cooling, Pamela Williams, and Paquito D’Rivera. All proceeds from the CD will go to benefit the Berks Arts Council and the Berks Jazz Fest. The CD cover and booklet were designed by Mike Anderson of The Anderson Group, who fittingly, 15 years ago designed the renowned pink neon Berks Jazz Fest logo. The photo on the CD cover is by Steve Shane. Anderson has also recently produced radio shows that will air weekly on a local Pennsylvania radio station (WEEU –AM) featuring interviews and music from artists performing at this year’s Fest (see the news section of www.theandersongroup.com).
Back to the Fest - last year, over 45,000 jazz fans attended from nearly 40 states in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, England and other countries in Europe. The Fest is an important yearly happening in Berks County with jazz fans spending about $5 million. Why is this jazz festival such a success? Returning jazz fans know there is definitely something special about this Fest which makes it a unique experience. Jazz fans new to the Fest will find out for themselves that it’s a real treat. There are lots of wonderful, exciting musical shows, where the supportive Fest atmosphere and enthusiastic fans help bring out the best in the performers. Many favorite artists greet fans when they participate in after-show autograph signings. In addition to great music, there’s also a strong sense of camaraderie and a sense of shared community among jazz fans who convene in this relatively small town, which welcomes you with open arms. The people who run the Fest and the many hundreds of local volunteers exude a hospitality and genuine friendliness that contribute to visitors’ enjoyment. There’s also a special quality to each of the venues. Each major venue has its own personality and is an enjoyable experience. There’s the excitement of the ballrooms with live video screens at the Sheraton Reading and Wyndham Reading hotels. There’s also the upscale grandeur of the Sovereign Performing Arts Center, the formal beauty of the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the cool nightclub vibe of Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base and the classy intimacy at the Inn at Reading Ballroom, along with the special ambience at the other Fest venues.
Here’s an overview of the 2005 Berks Jazz Fest shows:
The 2005 FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest starts off on March 11th with legendary vocal group Manhattan Transfer. Manhattan Transfer has won 12 Grammy Awards since the ensemble’s 1975 debut. In 2003, the group signed with Telarc Jazz. Last year, Manhattan Transfer released the diverse CD Vibrate which has been on the Billboard Top (Traditional) Jazz Albums chart for over three months.
Singing sensation Al Jarreau performs on Friday, March 18th. This year, Al Jarreau's Accentuate The Positive received a Grammy nomination for best jazz vocal album, to add to five previous Grammy awards in jazz, pop and R & B and various international music awards. Audiences will delight in hearing dozens of Jarreau’s hits, such as “We’re In This Love Together” from the platinum selling CD Breakin’ Away, the upbeat “Mornin’” from the CD Al Jarreau and the popular “Moonlighting” TV show theme.
On Saturday March 12th, legendary saxophonist David Sanborn, the key innovator of the contemporary jazz alto sax sound, will perform with his group. A six-time Grammy winner, Sanborn has released over 20 solo albums since his 1975 debut Taking Off. Sanborn’s been a sideman for jazz artists such as Miles Davis, Gil Evans, John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius, the Brecker Brothers, Chicago blues legend Albert King, the Butterfield Blues Band (at Woodstock), and pop stars Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, and The Who. Sanborn has also played solos on a plethora of radio hits for many pop superstars . Sanborn’s recording success continues with his current CD Timeagain (Verve 2003) includes funky, bright covers of “Comin' Home Baby” and “Tequila,” as well as a number of bluesy, soulful tunes. Recently, the CD Essentials (Rhino Records 2002) was released that includes many of Sanborn’s top hits such as “Chicago Song,” “This Masquerade,” “Neither One of Us” and “Bang Bang” (probably the only contemporary jazz song with a music video played on VH1). All time Sanborn favorites include the inspirational “The Dream” from A Change of Heart (Warner Bros. 1990) and the blues-drenched “Benny” on Upfront (Electra1992).
Opening for Sanborn will be amazing trumpet virtuoso Chris Botti. Botti’s current CD, When I Fall In Love, covers jazz standards and current love songs. Since it was released in September 2004, the CD has been #1 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz charts for months, and is the No. 12 best-seller for all musical genres on Amazon.com. In addition to the title track, the CD has other lush romantic tunes such as “What'll I Do?,” “No Ordinary Love,” “My Romance,” “Let's Fall in Love,” “The Nearness of You,” and “One For My Baby And One More For The Road.” The CD also includes “Someone to Watch Over Me" which Botti played last December with a full orchestra at the Noble Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway (telecast worldwide and hosted by Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey). Back In 1998, Botti and his band played at the Berks Jazz Fest. It was evident then that Botti has a breathtakingly beautiful, often ethereal sound and his style lends itself to a graceful performance. Botti’s debut solo album First Wish (1995) was followed by Midnight Without You (1997) and Slowing Down the World (1999). In 2002, Night Sessions went to #2 on the Top Contemporary Jazz chart and his holiday CD December reached #7. Botti’s 2003 CD A Thousand Kisses Deep has been on Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz chart for over a year. That CD includes original, pretty, melodic “mood” songs like “Indian Summer,” a romantic cover of the “The Look of Love” and a beautiful, sparse, poignant version of the classic “My Funny Valentine.” Botti continues to have an illustrious and multi-talented career. He’s composed movie scores and was co-host of a TV talk show. Recently, Botti was named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People." A few months ago, Botti introduced a syndicated radio show on smooth jazz stations featuring his picks for “chill” music. In addition to Botti’s solo career, he’s toured with Josh Groban and Dave Koz and is a successful sideman for pop stars Sting (since 1999), Paul Simon (from 1990-95), Joni Mitchell and Natalie Merchant.
On Friday, March 18th, the Heads Up Super Band is reuniting (after five years) to celebrate the 15th anniversaries of the Heads Up record label and the Berks Jazz Fest. The Heads Up Super Band features multi-talented keyboardist/vocalist Joe McBride, bass superstar Gerald Veasley, talented saxman Kenny Blake and dynamic drummer Keith Carlock. Appearing with the Heads Up Super Band as special guests are the Berks Jazz Fest Horns (Mike Anderson on alto and tenor saxophones, Bill Miller on trombone, Rob Diener on trumpet, and guest Chris Heslop on baritone sax). The Heads Up Super Band and its guest artists will perform two shows as part of A Tribute to Ray Charles. On Saturday, March 19th, the Heads Up Super Band will also headline an afternoon show and evening concert of their own music.
Joe McBride is one of the most lively, multi-talented pianists around – playing everything from contemporary jazz to jazz standards, mixed with funky boogaloo, gospel, and the blues. Whatever music McBride plays, it’s always a joyful experience for audiences, especially when he sings his heart out. McBride’s most recent CD, Keepin’ it Real (Heads Up) includes funky, blues-tinged vocal and instrumental versions of "Woke Up This Morning," the theme to the HBO TV hit The Sopranos. McBride has been part of Heads Up’s South African music recordings and live shows and is a big star at the jazz festival scene there since 1999. He recorded the song “11 K’s to Freedom,” a tribute to Nelson Mandela for the 2000 all-star CD Smooth Africa. McBride’s other CDs on Heads Up including Grace (1992), A Gift for Tomorrow (1994), Keys to Your Heart (1996) and Double Take (1998) which had guests Dave Koz, Peter White, Rick Braun and Larry Carlton.
Gerald Veasley’s goal is “making music that touches people in a voice that is authentically my own.” Veasley’s achieved this objective with his collection of contemporary jazz CDs on the Heads Up label including: Look Ahead (1992), Signs (1994), Soul Control (1997), Love Letters (1999), On The Fast Track (2001) and Velvet (2003). Some favorite Veasley tunes include his energizing covers of “Do I Do” and “the In Crowd” from the 2001 release, and “Sarah’s Song,” Do you Remember” and “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” from the CD Velvet. In September 2004, Veasley opened up Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base club at the Sheraton Reading Hotel. Last November, Veasley interviewed legendary pianist Joe Sample at World Café Live (www.worldcafelive.com) for a cable TV series called “Music Lab.” Music Lab will be shown at schools and will feature the lives and art of great musicians. Veasley also plays an important role as a music educator with workshops. This year, Veasley continues his Bass Bootcamp at the Berks Jazz Fest on March 11-13 at The Institute of Arts for bass players of all levels “to inform and inspire... in a challenging yet supportive environment.” Veasley also has released a Solo Bass Techniques Video. Veasley has been named “Best Electric Bassist” by Jazziz magazine. Downbeat Magazine Critics' poll voted Veasley in the category of "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition." Veasley has worked with the late Grover Washington Jr., Joe Zawinul, Special EFX, Pieces of a Dream, McCoy Tyner, Gerald Levert, Teddy Pendergrass, Nnenna Freelon, Philip Bailey, the Dixie Hummingbirds, John Blake and Phil Perry, as well as fellow Heads Up Super Band members.
Kenny Blake was a local jazz great in Pittsburgh for twenty years before his Heads Up albums Interior Design (1991), Rumor Has It (1992), Since You Asked (1993), and An Intimate Affair (1996). Blake’s clear, bright and melodic alto saxophone has often been heard on smooth jazz radio with a fabulous version of the classic “Harlem Nocturne.” Blake started playing clarinet at age 10 and began on saxophone at 12. Blake says he was drawn to jazz because "within its parameters, I could forge my own style. My soul hybrid sound came from playing both genres, which were never mutually exclusive anyway. The strong grooves of R&B engage your heart, while jazz makes sure you don't deny your brain intellectual stimulation... Once you master the basics of the horn, it's up to the artist to find his own little spin on things."
Keith Carlock has played with the Heads Up Super Band for many years and is featured on the group’s 1998 CD Live at the Berks Jazz Fest. Carlock also played the snare drum on Steely Dan’s 2000 hit album Two Against Nature, and played drums on the album’s DVD audio release. He also joined Walter Becker and Donald Fagan for the next Steely Dan project, Everything Must Go. He’s also worked on a number of pop and jazz CDs, including guitarist Leni Stern’s CDs Finally The Rain Has Come and When Evening Falls and Freddy Cole’s In The Name of Love.
The Berks Jazz Fest 15th Anniversary Celebration Concert takes place in the early evening on Saturday, March 19th. This fantastic lineup has musical director keyboardist Jason Miles with his band Maximum Grooves. Maximum Grooves’ debut CD, Coast to Coast, (Telarc) was released last year. Jason Miles, Russ Freeman, James Genus and Gene Lake recently received a Grammy nomination for best pop instrumental performance for "Chasing Shadows," a tune on Maximum Grooves: Coast to Coast. Jason Miles has worked with artists like Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, David Sanborn and Michael Jackson. Miles recently produced Gato Barbieri’s CD The Shadow of the Cat, which won Billboard's 2003 award for "Best Latin Jazz Album.” Miles also did a tribute CD to the late, great saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. To Grover With Love (nominated for “Record of the Year” at the National Smooth Jazz Awards in 2002). In 2001 Miles won a Grammy for producing the CD A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins. Miles has also had two acclaimed jazz albums of his own - World Tour and Mr. X. Performing with keyboardist Jason Miles at the Berks Jazz 15th Anniversary Celebration Concert are: renowned multi-saxophonist and vocalist Walter Beasley, acclaimed saxophonist Kim Waters; legendary guitarist and Rippingtons founder/leader Russ Freeman; charismatic soprano saxman Marion Meadows; keyboardist/arranger extraordinaire Deodato (known for the "2001: A Space Odyssey" soundtrack); sideman guitarist/session player and Grammy-nominated solo artist Paul Jackson Jr.; saxophonist Andy Snitzer, who performs and records with top pop stars; tenor saxman David Mann of Tower of Power fame, who performs with superstars and plays on movie soundtracks and TV themes/jingles; up-and-coming saxophonist Jaared who tours with Peter White; and the ever-great muliti-saxophonist Spyro Gyra founder/leader Jay Beckenstein.
Groovin' for Grover is a tribute to legendary saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. which features top saxophonists Gerald Albright (alto sax), Richard Elliot (tenor sax), Paul Taylor (soprano sax) and renowned keyboardist Jeff Lorber on Friday, March 18th. Albright’s most recent CD Kickin’ It Up (GRP) epitomizes his high-energy music. Before releasing eight CDs on his own, Albright performed with Anita Baker, and for over 20 years has been a highly in-demand session player for his soulful, bluesy playing and amazing altissimo high notes.
On Richard Elliot‘s latest CD Ricochet (2003), Elliot worked with top producers Rex Rideout and Jeff Lorber and had a number of hits including the catchy “Corner Pocket.” He’s also many other hits with the help of co-producer Steven Dubin on Chill Factor (1999) and Crush (2001). Fans always enjoy Elliot’s trademark, dramatic version of “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which he plays at every show, usually accompanied by his touring band (one of the best in the business). It’s been a great career from the time of Elliot’s debut album Initial Approach in 1986, to his stints with Motown and Tower of Power to super-success as a smooth jazz artist. Currently, Elliot is working with Rick Braun to introduce their new record label ARTizen Records, which will release a new CD by Elliot later this year.
Paul Taylor has released five CDs: On the Horn (1995), Pleasure Seeker (1997) (the title track was in heavy radio rotation at smooth jazz stations), Undercover (2000), Hypnotic (2001) and his most recent CD Steppin’ Out (2003) which was on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart. Taylor recorded and toured with pianist Keiko Matsui and her husband Kazu for two years before Kazu produced Taylor’s debut On The Horn. Taylor also worked with Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons and keyboardist Jeff Lorber.
Jeff Lorber, who Dave Koz has called “the Godfather of Smooth Jazz,” played a significant role in developing the late 70’s, early 80s R&B-jazz hybrid sound that later evolved into today’s contemporary jazz. Lorber recorded his first album Jeff Lorber Fusion in 1976. Fast-forward to February 2005 - Lorber’s new CD Flipside (Narada Jazz) was released with the first single "Ooh La La." Lorber worked with longtime co-writer/producer Steve Dubin and keyboard player Nelson Jackson to take his music in new directions. Flipside is a creative collection of swing rhythms, R & B, Latin, Jamaican, modal jazz, and hip-hop production, with lots of improvisation; the CD also includes classic Jeff Lorber sounds. Lorber’s recent popular smooth jazz CDs were Kickin’ It (2001) (with a spirited hit cover version of Chaka Kahn’s “Ain’t Nobody”) and Philly Style (2003), an ode to his hometown. Lorber has also been a top producer for many artists such as Dave Koz, Richard Elliot, Gerald Albright, Jeff Golub, Rick Braun, Wayman Tisdale, Paul Jackson Jr., Al Jarreau, Chris Botti, Russ Freeman, Paul Taylor, Michael Franks, Herb Alpert, Eric Marienthal, and of course, Kenny G (who was originally in Lorber’s band in the ‘80s before launching his solo career). On the Dave Koz CD Saxophonic, Lorber produced the hot radio single "Honey-Dipped" which received this year’s Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Lorber (like just about every top smooth jazz star these days) was recently featured on Cameron Smith’s Smooth Jazz TV. Lorber also has his own satellite radio show at 9:00 PM (EST) on Saturdays and Sundays on www.Sirius.com called Planet Jazz.
Supremely popular trumpeter Rick Braun will be joined by acclaimed guitarist Chuck Loeb and his Quartet to perform a unique combination of An Evening of Standards, Ballads and Blues on Wednesday, March 16th. Braun, a veritable icon as artist, producer and composer in the contemporary jazz music world, and Loeb, the acclaimed guitarist who’s also a producer, arranger and composer should make for a great show. Braun’s classic recording Beat Street (1995) established his Miles Davis/Chet Baker influenced trumpet as a major artist in smooth jazz. In 2003 Braun’s CD Esperanto featured the funky, upbeat party hit, “Green Tomatoes.” In 2002, Braun was part of the super-group BWB with Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown. BWB drew upon classic 60’s and 70s soul, jazz and funk and had the No. 1 radio hit cover tune “Groovin’.” On BWB’s CD, Braun also recorded a magnificently poignant version of “Povo,” a traditional jazz tune by legendary trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. “Povo” is a preview of what the special upcoming Berks Jazz Fest show will bring to audiences on March 16th. In 2004, Braun released his first independent CD Sessions, Volume I, a collection of 11 of Braun’s “greatest hits” (“Cadillac Slim,” “Notorious,” “Philadelphia,” “Grazin’ in the Grass,” “Missing in Venice,” “Love Will Find a Way,” “Groovis,” “TGIF,” “Nightwalk,” “Marty’s Party,” and “Coolsville,” and a new song “RSVP”). The CD was recorded as an informal, live in-the-studio date with his longtime band (and is currently available exclusively via Rick’s website and at shows). Also this year Braun, Richard Elliot, their manager Steve Chapman and Braun’s attorney Al Evers launched their new independent label recently named ARTizen Music. Braun also has plans to tour with Elliot, Peter White and Jonathan Butler, and is hosting a Smooth Jazz Cruise in November.
Last year, Chuck Loeb and his group of East Coast All Stars performed to a standing-room only crowd as the Fest finale. Also at last year’s Berks’ Jazz Fest Jam, Loeb was musical director for an all-star cast (including Rick Braun) who interpreted traditional jazz songs by Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. That’s a long way off from Loeb’s recent reputation as a cool, smooth jazz artist with many cheerful, happy-go-lucky, catchy radio hits. Loeb’s solo career as a smooth jazz artist on the Shanachie label includes a great collection of CDs: The Music Inside (1996), The Moon, The Stars and the Setting Sun (1998), Listen (2000), In a Heartbeat (2001) and Ebop (2003). Loeb has also been a producer for Larry Coryell, Nelson Rangell, Warren Bernhardt, Donald Harrison, Jon Lucien, Sergio Salvatore, Eddie Daniels, George Garzone, his wife Carmen Cuesta, Kim Waters and Bob James. In 1979, Loeb landed a high-profile gig with saxophone star Stan Getz and remained a vital part of his band through the early ‘80s. Loeb was also part of the fusion band Steps Ahead. Loeb has also written the theme songs for CNN, The Montel Williams Show, Nightline, ESPN, One Life To Live, CBS News Up To The Minute, the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. Singer/songwriter Carmen Cuesta (Loeb's wife) will be opening the show for Loeb and Braun. Cuesta's unique style and mellifluous voice blend her love and knowledge of many musical flavors.
Peter White featuring Jaared will perform on Saturday, March 12th, for an afternoon show, and a late night concert. Superstar acoustic guitarist White’s sweet-sounding melodies and smooth grooves have earned him the title “Guitarist of the Year” four years in a row from National Smooth Jazz Awards. White’s had twelve No. 1 smooth jazz radio hit songs including “Talkin’ Bout Love,” from his current CD Confidential. In May 2004, the Mediabase 24-7 radio airplay tracking service found that White is the most played artist in the entire smooth jazz format. Jaared is a charismatic saxophonist who draws upon soulful R & B roots that have made him a powerful player in contemporary jazz. Jaared is an exciting performer, who also is a talented vocalist. Jaared was a nominee for Best New Artist at the third annual National Smooth Jazz Awards. Jaared’s current CD Hang Time continues to exude the cool vibe which smooth jazz audiences first got to hear on the radio with his cover of “Baby Come Back.” His popular CD Foreward (2001), had the song “Love Takes Over” reach No. 1 and was the most-added tune its first week on U.S. radio (it was also No. 5 in Japan and No. 1 in England).
A smooth jazz fan's dream show is the Boney James and Pieces of a Dream double bill on Sunday, March 13th. Enthusiastic crowds at past Berks Jazz Fests have often chanted “Go Boney, go Boney” and are delighted with his shows. James, the superstar saxman with the smooth and funky sounds has had numerous best-selling CDs (500,000 units) for Seduction (1995), Sweet Thing (1997) and Body Language (1999). James, in collaboration with Rick Braun, also reached No. 1 with the cover of “Grazin’ in the Grass” on the CD Shake It Up (2000). In 2003, Ride earned James his first Grammy nomination for best pop instrumental album. This year, Boney James' Pure (James’ first self-produced CD) is nominated for best pop instrumental album. Pieces of a Dream has defined the smooth jazz format for nearly three decades. In the 1970s, the group was discovered as teenagers by the late sax legend Grover Washington, Jr. After touring with Grover, Pieces of a Dream -- pianist James Lloyd, drummer Curtis Harmon, along with other musicians have become of the most popular touring groups in contemporary jazz. In 2001, Pieces of a Dream signed with Heads Up International and celebrated their 25th anniversary with the top CD, Acquainted with the Night. The next CD in 2002, Love's Silhouette also scored big on radio and in the top 10 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. Their 14th record is the current No Assembly Required (2004).
Jeff Golub is a favorite artist for many smooth jazz fans - one of the most talented, dynamic, diverse, creative, and funky smooth jazz guitarists around. Golub bring his unique style of contemporary jazz influenced by R&B, blues, latin and pop to the Fest on Thursday, March 17th. A much-anticipated new CD for Golub (his debut on Narada Jazz/Higher Octave) with award-winning producer/guitarist Paul Brown will be ready this summer. Golub brings amazing, sounds and high-energy performances to his live shows (like those on the “Guitars & Saxes” tours). Golub’s shows usually include crowd-pleasers such as the boisterous original tune “Boom Boom” (from the CD Soul Sessions 2003), and upbeat, funky, bluesy hit versions of Average White Band’s “Cut the Cake” (from Golub’s brilliant 2002 CD Do It Again of cover songs), and the classic “Pick Up the Pieces” (from the 1994 Avenue Blue featuring Jeff Golub CD). On the more sensitive side, Golub performs smoldering originals such as “Naked City” or “Stockholm” both of which show the incredible range and intensity of sounds that Golub can pull out of his musical bag of tricks (sort of like baby-boomer cartoon hero Felix the Cat). Golub fantastic song catalog also includes the #1 hit title track from the CD NightLife (1997). One of the songs from NightLife which would be great to hear live is the catchy, upbeat “Seventh Heaven;” other tunes on the live wish list include the funky radio hit “Cold Duck Time” and the sultry “On the Beach” (from the 2002 CD Do It Again), and the unexpected, fun version of Smash Mouth’s “Walking on the Sun” (from Dangerous Curves 2000) which had airplay with the Golub-Peter White duet “No Two Ways About It”). Golub’s music - often influenced by cool 1960’s tunes (like his Nightlife CD cover of Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd”) - should be recruited someday for a new Austin Powers movie! In 1997, Golub also toured with keyboardist Bob James and saxophonist Kirk Whalum on their Grammy-nominated CD Joined at the Hip. Before Golub launched his contemporary jazz career, he toured with Billy Squier and from 1988-1995 was Rod Stewart’s lead guitarist (alongside Rick Braun with whom he later collaborated with on various records). Recently, Golub was back on tour with Rod Stewart for the singer’s jazz standards tour. In January, Golub, along with many other smooth jazz stars (Warren Hill, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Euge Groove, etc.) also appeared on Warren Hill’s Smooth Jazz Cruise.
On March 17th later that night will be the much-anticipated Berks All-Star Jazz Jam – an exciting festival favorite. Getting everyone into the groove will be bassist Gerald Veasley, guitarists Jeff Golub and Chuck Loeb, trumpeter Rick Braun, pianists Joe McBride and Tom Grant, saxophonists Jeff Kashiwa and Kenny Blake, drummer Keith Carlock ...and more.
The Joyce Cooling Group performs Friday night, March 18th. Cooling is one of contemporary jazz's most dynamic guitarists. The songwriting duo of guitarist Joyce Cooling and keyboardist/producer Jay Wagner gives the group an exhilarating repertoire of original tunes and a uniquely innovative sound which combines smooth jazz, funky R & B, dance rhythms and Brazilian influences. The Group’s current CD is This Girl’s Got To Play (their Narada Jazz debut), has recently been at the top of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts. The first single “Expression” was in the top ten on the Radio & Records chart for over six months. In 2003, Cooling also had the hit “Mm, Mm Good” with guest Al Jarreau on scatting vocals from the Third Wish CD (GRP/Verve). Cooling’s first hit radio single “South of Market” was No. 1 on the Radio & Records airplay charts for five weeks in 1997 on her debut CD Playing It Cool (on Heads Up), Following in the popular tracks was Keeping Cool (Heads Up). Joyce Cooling’s very first CD Cameo from 1988 which originally garnered very positive feedback from the press is now available on her website. It’s great to see The Joyce Cooling Group back at the Berks Jazz Fest!
The Sax Pack featuring Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters and Steve Cole figures to be a great show on Saturday afternoon, March 19th. Kashiwa has been a popular solo artist since 1999, after a decade with The Rippingtons. Waters has a gift for composing and playing a catchy combination of jazz, R&B, funk and pop. Cole has had a bunch of hit singles on the radio and a busy touring schedule. Also on the bill with The Sax Pack is the Chuck Loeb Band.
The phenomenal Spyro Gyra performs a late night show on Saturday, March 19th. Spyro Gyra's charm is the band's incredible musicianship and exhilarating shows which make the group one of the most exciting, entertaining groups touring today. Spyro Gyra includes founder and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, longtime members guitarist Julio Fernandez, keyboardist Tom Schuman, bassist Scott Ambush, and newcomer drummer Ludwig Afonso. The group recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and has earned the devotion of fans with over 10 million albums sold. Spyro Gyra’s musical influences range from contemporary to traditional jazz, latin, and instrumental pop which brilliantly fuse together like a classic Ferrari in top speed. Since being signed to Heads Up in 2001, Spyro Gyra has recorded a number of exceptional CDs, including the current The Deep End (2004). Original Cinema (2003) (on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart for about a year) and In Modern Times (2001) (which was on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Album chart for 64 weeks and went to No. 2). Since the late 1970’s when the group was formed, Spyro Gyra has become a legendary force in the contemporary jazz scene. In 1979, Spyro Gyra had a huge Top 40 pop radio hit “Morning Dance” – the title track to their best-selling album (before there was a smooth jazz radio format and before there were compact discs)! That tune is still a fan favorite, and is part of the group’s classic trademark sound. Since then, the band continues to produce some of the most innovative music in contemporary jazz.
If you dig the soulful sounds of the B-3 hammond organ, and tasty jazz, blues, and Latin riffs, you’ll have a great time at The B-3 Summit. The show features B-3 masters Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Papa John DeFrancesco with guest saxophonist Tim Warfield on Saturday night, March 19th. Joey DeFrancesco is a B-3 jazz legend and his father Papa John, is the proud patriarch of the musical DeFrancesco family. The super-cool turbanator (he wears that trademark turban) Dr. Lonnie Smith, is an inspired representative of soul jazz. Smith has played on over 70 albums, with artists such as guitarist George Benson, saxophonists ‘Papa’ Lou Donaldson, Joe Lovano, David “Fathead” Newman and organist Jimmy Smith. Back in 1969, Smith was named Top Organist by Downbeat Magazine.
The Yellowjackets and the Bob Mintzer Big Band perform a late night show on Friday, March 11th. The Yellowjackets feature keyboardist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip, saxophonist Bob Mintzer and drummer Marcus Baylor. The group’s music has continued to progress while keeping their special sound. The group signed with Heads Up International in 2003, and released Time Squared, their first CD date in five years, which has a live vibe. In response to fans’ requests, the Yellowjackets released their first Christmas album, Peace Round in 2004. Mintzer, a talented composer/arranger brings a modern edge to the big band format. The Bob Mintzer Big Band received five Grammy Award nominations (and won a Grammy in 2002 for Homage to Count Basie). The latest CD is Bob Mintzer Big Band Live at MCG with special guest Kurt Elling (2004).
The Miles to Miles Project on Sunday, March 13th, is a stirring account of legendary trumpeter/composer/bandleader Miles Davis - who garnered fame with modal improvisation rather than standard chord changes. Renowned producer/keyboardist Jason Miles’ body of work includes the classic Miles Davis album Tutu. Performing with Jason Miles (on keyboards), are Tom Harrell on trumpet, James Genus on bass, Gene Lake on drums, Dean Brown on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keys, DJ Logic on electronics/TT, and David Sanchez on saxophone (whose CD Coral recently received a Grammy nomination for best large jazz ensemble). This January, Narada Jazz, in collaboration with Rendezvous Entertainment, released the Jason Miles CD, Miles to Miles: Music in the Spirit of Miles Davis.
Percussion lovers will enjoy the show on Monday, March 14th, when Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies (the Buddy Rich alumni quintet) perform a dynamic percussion salute to drummer Buddy Rich. Smith gained his reputation as superstar drummer of the pop-rock group Journey. He then began leading his own jazz fusion band, Vital Information. Smith and Buddy's Buddies released two CDs in 2003 at the famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott's.
On Tuesday evening March 15th extraordinary master guitarist Stanley Jordan will perform. Jordan’s unparalleled musicianship and creativity includes his special "tapping" technique which brings a rich, orchestral sound that combines classical expertise and jazz sensibilities. Back in 1985, Jordan jump-started his career with the smooth jazz radio hit cover of “The Lady in My Life” on his Blue Note records debut Stanley Jordan (which also featured elegant versions of songs such as “Eleanor Rigby,” “Freddie Freeloader,” “Round Midnight”).
On Friday, March 18th there will also be a show with Victor Wooten, one of the most celebrated electric bassists with his outstanding technique and down-to-earth grooves. Wooten is an accomplished solo artist and his performances as a member Bela Fleck and The Flecktones have gained him global recognition.
The John Pizzarelli Trio and the Reading Pops Orchestra headline the sixth annual Skip Norcott Memorial Concert early Saturday evening March 19th. Pizzarelli is an accomplished guitarist and vocalist. Pizzarelli’s vocals and presence are reminiscent of a suave young Frank Sinatra (both are from New Jersey) with the coolness of contemporary Harry Connick Jr. Pizzarelli established an impressive reputation for interpreting jazz standards (ballad and uptempo swing) and the Great American Songbook. John Pizzarelli usually performs with brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass and Ray Kennedy on piano. John Pizzarelli began playing guitar at age 6, following in his father’s (guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli) footsteps. At 20, John went on the road with the elder statesman, before starting his solo career (father Bucky has sometimes played on his son’s records). John Pizzarelli’s debut CD was I'm Hip — Please Don't Tell My Father (1983). In 1999, Pizzarelli signed with Telarc and has since released Kisses in the Rain (1999), Let There Be Love (2000), The Rare Delight of You with veteran pianist George Shearing (2002), Live at Birdland (2003) to celebrate his trio’s 10th anniversary and the recent Bossa Nova (2004) bringing Brazilian sounds to a new generation. So far, Pizzarelli has recorded 19 albums. Some of his earlier CDS include: My Blue Heaven (1990 Chesky), All of Me (1991- RCA) Dear Mr. Cole (1994 RCA - a tribute to Nat “King” Cole), One Night With You (1996 Chesky), After Hours (1996), Our Love is Here to Stay (1997), Let's Share Christmas (1997) and John Pizzarelli Meets the Beatles (1998 RCA). In addition to his ‘regular’ gigs, back in 1993, Pizzarelli opened for Frank Sinatra and later performed at Sinatra’s 80th birthday at Carnegie Hall. Also, in 1997 Pizzarelli played a lead role in Dream, a Broadway show of Johnny Mercer songs. Pizzarelli and his trio also appeared in the 1999 Goldie Hawn/Steve Martin The Out of Towners, performing “That Old Black Magic.” In 2004, Pizzarelli led a 40-member live orchestra at Radio City Music Hall in “Sinatra: His Voice, His World, His Way.”
Superstar vocalist, Harlem-born Shemekia Copeland (daughter of the late blues legend Johnny Clyde Copeland) performs on Saturday night, March 19th. Copeland's alto exudes powerful energy and emotions. Since 1997, her recording debut at age 18, Copeland has established an impressive reputation earning W.C. Handy Awards and Living Blues Awards, as well as a Grammy nomination. Copeland has received national TV exposure on Austin City Limits, Late Night With Conan O’Brien (twice), the CBS Saturday Early Show, and National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and has been featured in many magazine and newspaper articles and reviews. Rock legend Robert Plant described Copeland as “the next Tina Turner.” In recent years, Copeland released CDs such Wicked (which received a Grammy nomination) and Talking To Strangers, a blues-soul-rock combination produced by Dr. John.
From one teenage sensation to another, The Eric Steckel Band will open for Copeland. Steckel is originally from Allentown, PA (also hometown to trumpeter Rick Braun). Last year, Steckl’s spirited and soulful guitar playing made him the youngest person to perform on stage with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, when Steckl appeared in Sweden, Norway and Denmark as a special guest of Mayall and his band during their Scandinavian Tour. The Eric Steckel Band's debut CD, A Few Degrees Warmer, was recorded live in April 2002 when Eric was only 11 years old! Steckl delivers a Freddy-BB-Albert King influenced performance with an intensity and skill of someone decades older than his current tender age of 14. Steckel’s band includes the multi-talented Wayne Smith on drums and "The Bassplayer," Nick Franclik, often with Steve Patterson on B-3 Hammond organ. In November 2003, Steckel was presented with The Lehigh Valley Music Award for Outstanding Electric Guitar. In 2004, The Band released its first full studio CD High Action.
The Tim Warfield Sextet performs a traditional jazz Saturday afternoon, March 19th with Tim Warfield on saxophone and an all-star band with Stefon Harris on vibes, Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Clarence Penn on drums and Rodney Whitaker on bass. Opening for them will be teenage singer Sonya Kitchell, known for her warm vocals and songwriting.
Chicago blues explosion Magic Slim & The Teardrops plus opening act Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials perform a late night jam on Friday, March 18th. Magic Slim is considered one of the greatest living proponents of the intense, electrified Mississippi-to-Chicago blues style that created modern blues. Magic Slim & The Teardrops is one of the busiest and best-loved blues bands on the road today. From smokin’ slide guitar riffs to duck walking to flying leaps to raw-boned Chicago shuffles to the deepest blues, the 5-foot, 1-inch Lil' Ed Williams and The Blues Imperials perform a wild and crazy show.
On Wednesday, March 16th, the Ladies of Jazz featuring Sharon Bailey, Suzie Ernesto, Toni Lynne will bring their wonderful vocal finesse to traditional jazz standards, including ballads, swing, Bossa Nova, Latin and blues. Also, there will be a show with Michael Manring & David Cullen on March 14th. In 2001, Berks County guitarist David Cullen teamed up with California-based electric bass legend Michael Manring to produce the CD Equilibré. Cullen also tours the U.S. with Windham Hill’s Winter Solstice tour. He also recently was nominated for a Grammy Award for his role in a Henry Mancini tribute CD that’s been nominated for best instrumental pop record. Manring was Bass Player Magazine's 1994 "Bassist of the Year", a Bammy and Grammy-nominee, and recipient of Berklee College of Music's "Distinguished Alumni Award." Another concert includes John Doughten with the Brooks Tegler Trio. On Thursday, March 17th, listeners can hear Jazz French horn with the Erwin Chandler Band.
From Wednesday, March 16th through Saturday, March 19th, smooth jazz pianist/vocalist/composer Tom Grant will perform four dinner shows at the Wyndham Reading Hotel. Grant released his debut album in 1976, and has since recorded twenty CDs for a number of labels (e.g., Verve, Shanachie and Windham Hill). Grant’s most recent CDs are on his own label, nu-wrinkle, and include a traditional jazz CD Nice Work If You Can Get It (2004) and Solo Piano (2003). Before embarking on his solo career, Grant worked with jazz greats Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Charles Lloyd and Tony Williams (1979-81). In 1997, Grant was named a Steinway pianist, the only non-classical pianist in the U.S. to receive that honorary title in the Pacific Northwest. Grant’s had numerous hits at the top of the Smooth Jazz charts. Radio-friendly favorites by Grant include beautiful original tunes from the CD Lip Service (Shanachie 1997) such as the title track and “Love and Desire” and great covers of songs like Earth Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy” from Grant’s Instinct CD (Shanachie 1996). Grant brings catchy, upbeat melodies, R & B grooves, and his trademark gorgeously lush sophisticated, uplifting improvisations to the acoustic piano. Grant will also participate at the Berks Jazz Fest Jam.
Every year, Berks Jazz Fest also offers community concerts. This year's special event offers the U.S. Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble featuring trumpet master Terell Stafford on Tuesday, March 15th, and Wednesday, March 16th. Stafford trumpet-playing combines lyricism and melody with a vibrant excitement. He has performed with Jon Faddis' Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band and the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Also, on Wednesday, March 16th, talented young local musicians will perform in the Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band and the University of the Arts Jazz Singers.
This year’s Fest also has three different brunch shows. The Blues Brunch & Jam happens on Saturday, March 19th. Mike Guldin and Rollin' & Tumblin' will host and perform at the jam with players from all over the region. Guldin, a guitarist and singer, has been influenced by blues legends Muddy Waters and B.B. King; bluesy rockers Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughn and the Rolling Stones; R&B/soul icons Sam and Dave, and Booker T. and the MGs; and southern-rock’s Lynyrd Skynyrd. Guldin’s stinging guitar and soulful vocals are backed by the raucous sounds of Rollin' & Tumblin.' The WJJZ Smooth Jazz Brunch is an annual festival highlight, and this year's morning and early afternoon shows on Sunday, March 20th will be a culinary delight and musical treat with smooth jazz saxophonist Michael Lington. Lington will bring his trademark soulful, romantic music in celebration of life and love. There is also the Sunday Jazz Brunch on March 20th which showcases the lush alto of Amy Banks and the Steve Rudolph Trio. Banks melds jazz, folk pop and mellow gospel influences in a silky, sultry way. Steve Rudolph, from nearby Harrisburg, PA is a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator who has helped establish the thriving jazz scene in central Pennsylvania.
The festival’s grand finale An Evening with Fourplay takes place in the early evening on Sunday, March 20th. Fourplay includes four of the world's most revered and accomplished individual recording and performing artists: keyboardist Bob James, drummer Harvey Mason, bassist Nathan East and guitarist Larry Carlton. The group will bring their popular brand of contemporary jazz which combines R&B, pop, rock, blues, classical and jazz. This year, Fourplay's CD Journey received a Grammy nomination for best contemporary jazz album. Also, the song "Speak Like A Child" from Mason's All My Heart CD received a Grammy nomination for best jazz instrumental solo.
Hope to see you and your friends in March at the 2005 Berks Jazz Fest – one of the best contemporary jazz festivals in the world! It may be cold outside, but inside, the shows will be hot!
Detailed information on concert schedules, tickets, hotel and other visitor information for this year’s festival is available at www.berksjazzfest.com. Tickets can be purchased online at the website, or by phone: 1-610-898-7298. Ticket orders can also be placed by fax by downloading the official order form from the website and faxing back the completed form to 1-610-898-7297. Tickets can also be obtained by calling Ticketmaster at 1-215-336-2000 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com. Also when you arrive, read through the excellent free Reading Eagle Berks Jazz Fest newspaper supplement for details on all of the artists, shows and visitor information.
In addition to all of the great ticketed events, Berks Jazz Fest always includes a number of entertaining free non-ticketed shows. This year, the town is once again brimming over with lots of talented musicians who will perform at brunch, lunch, dinner and after-dinner, and late-night events, from jazz, to blues, to rock and Sunday jazz worship services at various venues. Check the website www.berksjazzfest.com for details on times and places of non-ticketed events.
Here is a list of the artists who will perform at the non-ticketed events: Gerald Veasley & Friends (Base Boot Camp Jam II); Tom Grant; Sax Summit featuring Larry McKenna, Tim Price, Chris Heslop and Tom Strohman; The Groovemasters; Sharon Bailey Quartet; Neil Wright; Bill Bower & Ray Allen; Chuck Cahoe; Relatively Speaking; Sharon Bailey & Mike Moran; Josh Taylor Trio; VIH Band featuring Smokin’ Charlie Paplosky and Slim Tim Risbon; John King's Dance Band; Burning House; Dave Mell Blues Band; Steve Katzenmoyer Trio featuring Cathy Williamson; Ken Gehret & Steve Rudolph; Erwin Chandler Trio; Tony Sands; Bluebone; Rob Diener & Anomaly; Robbi K & Friends; The Duo; Ken Gehret & Al Seifarth plus special guest Andy Roberts; Bill Bower & Peter Valencia; Pretzel City Dixieland Jazz Band; David Cullen; Acoustic Roadshow hosted by Butch Imhoff; the Kutztown University Alumni Jazz Band; Alligator Zydeco; Bones of Contention featuring Doc Mulligan; Chuck Dressler; Jim Smale; Jennifer Kinder & Erich Cawala; Berks Jazz Project with Gerry Werner, Gary Wentzel, and others; Cabana Boys; Third Stream; Frank Guido; Duck Soup & The Fowl Mouth Horns; Bunchafunk; Groove Dawgs; D3 & Company; Burning House; Royal Scam; Ken Brader; The Crosswinds Trio; and Rhett Tyler.
If the abundance of great music is not enough, Berks County is also known for its shopping. Reading, Pennsylvania is center for many shopping outlet stores. There will also be a Humane Society of Berks County Local Artists Art Auction.
The Berks Jazz Fest has a terrific management team, which includes Connie Leinbach - Executive Director; Chuck Koch - President of the board and Chairperson of the event; John Ernesto – Festival General Manager & Talent coordination/booking manager; Gary Spencer – Production Manager; Mike Anderson – Marketing Director; Mike Zielinski – Publicity Director; Catharine Catanach and Jim Connors – Sponsorship Development; Transportation Coordinator – John Graff; Merchandise: BAC Staff; Workshops/Youth Activities team: Tom Brown, Mike Eben, Doc Mulligan, Al Seifarth, John Rozum and Carl Zeplin; and Ticketing by SMG.
The Berks Arts Council includes: Connie Leinbach, Gary Spencer, Bob Coleman, Brenda Hartman and David Edgar Guest. There are also hundreds of dedicated volunteers for the Berks Arts Council and throughout the Berks County community and surrounding Philadelphia area. The Berks Arts Council is the premier arts organization in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Its mission is to encourage and promote all the arts, to develop an appreciation of the arts and to enrich and enhance the quality of life in Berks County. Formally organized as a nonprofit organization in 1971, the Berks Arts Council’s offices are located in the Pagoda, Reading’s most visible landmark and tourist attraction.
NOTE: The author, Val Vaccaro, would like to thank Mike Zielinski - Publicity Director for the Berks Jazz Fest, and Peter Boehi - SmoothVibes.com Publisher for their valuable assistance in making this article possible.Posted by Peter Böhi at January 22, 2005 10:17 AM