The official opening of the Berks Jazz Festival was quite a night. It’s impossible for one person to attend every show that is going on, but I had a very full night attending Keiko Matsui's concert at the Miller Center for the Arts, Najee and special guest Alex Bugnon at the Reading Crowne Plaza, followed by hanging out at the Gerald Veasley Jazz Base for the Midnight Jam until 2:30 AM!
Keiko Matsui put on a phenomenal show, filled with the beauty and grace of her well known hits and some uptempo as well as Latin-influenced tunes. With her I keep noticing how perfect her delivery of notes, mood, and style are in every song. The endings to her songs were exquisite, to the point where it felt sacred to remain quiet-- I wanted to hear the last note evaporate into the air before that burst of applause. Her band members and featured saxophonist were outstanding as well and the entire evening has become a beautiful memory.
Najee’s show was filled with energy, of course his own (he's a multi-talented player of soprano, alto, tenor sax and flute!) but also the band members, especially the bass player, always moving and grooving and easy to see in his white slacks (a welcomed tribute to warmer weather on the way), and the guitarist, Chuck Johnson, who was a dynamo of heart and soul, most especially when he sang Freddie Jackson's 'All I Ever Ask.' Both Najee and Alex Bugnon thrilled the audience with their playing. It’s hard to imagine the complexity of what these artists can do until you see them in person.
The Midnight Jam was a gift, as usual. It's great when you get the chance to see the interaction between so many loved and talented musicians. Gerald Veasley always sets the stage so beautifully and then we’re off with every combination of all the multi-talented artists in the place. They come and go as if they’ve practiced all week, yet you know it’s only natural for them to enter and exit the stage on cue and know just what to do. Here are the musicians we saw at the first jam: Gerald Veasley, Nick Colionne, Andrew Neu, Brian Bromberg, Brian Hughes, Elan Trotman, Chris Farr, Richard Faller, Najee and his band, and more! A very exciting night!
The rest of the weekend has been a whirlwind, too. Shows were awesome and very well-attended. Our host Peter Boehi will continue to post pictures and information about individual concerts. As this first weekend comes to a close, remember that during this next week there will be more events to attend.
Monday evening, bassist Brian Bromberg will be the guest of the Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band at the Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom. This is a free concert. I’ve seen Brian play with a big band last year and he was phenomenal, so I’m sure Monday night will be a real treat.
Tuesday evening, Esperanza Spalding, bassist, vocalist, composer and Grammy Award winner for Best New Artist in 2011, will appear at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
Wednesday evening brings Chuck Loeb and his friends Rick Braun, Brian Bromberg, Gerald Albright, Eric Marienthal, Jeff Lorber, and Lionel Cordew to his Berks Bop-III. This show has become a tradition at Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base at Berks with its concept of straight-ahead, swinging and be-bop jazz.
Also Wednesday evening, the Dave Stahl Big Band will feature special guests Bobby Caldwell and Andrew Neu in the ballroom of the Crowne Plaza. Dave Stahl has played with many renowned bands and artists in his day, including Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Ella Fitzgerald. Bobby Caldwell is a very well-known vocalist who brings an unforgettable performance whenever he’s on stage. Andrew Neu, stellar saxophonist, has become a regular at the Berks Jazz Fest. His impressive background includes touring with Bobby Caldwell, playing with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, performing live with Diane Schuur and Smokey Robinson as well as with the Dave Stahl Big Band when time permits, and in addition to all this, he’s working on his 4th CD!
Stay tuned for more information on what’s coming up during the second weekend of Berks. And remember, for Jazz Fest, Thursdays are part of the weekend!
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council