A Fantastic Line-up for the First Energy Berks Jazz Fest March 12-21 2004

by Val Vaccaro

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This year�s 14th annual Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pennsylvania will be an incredibly fantastic musical experience - the biggest and brightest yet, with over 120 super shows featuring a range of musical styles that range across the spectrum of jazz, blues and R & B!

Legendary guitarist/R&B pop vocalist George Benson will be there to perform such hits as �Give Me the Night,� �Turn Your Love Around� and �Breezin.� In addition, two terrific smooth-jazz crowd-pleasers - the highly popular trumpeter Rick Braun and engaging tenor saxophonist Richard Elliot will perform an exciting show together. A slew of other top saxophonists will be there including the renowned Joe Lovano and a dynamic bunch of smooth-jazz horn players including Michael Lington, Jimmy Sommers, Jeff Kashiwa, Najee and saxophonist/vocalist Walter Beasley. Guitar greats such as the creative and funky smooth jazz guitarist Jeff Golub and the multi-talented contemporary jazz guitarist Doc Powell (who toured with Luther Vandross in the 80�s and 90�s) will also be there. Russell Malone, the tasteful, melodic, swinging guitarist, who has recorded and toured with Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr. is part of a dynamic duo with Protege Prize-winning pianist Benny Green, who has performed with Betty Carter, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

In addition, an impressive list of pianists/keyboardists will be performing at the Fest. Legendary pianist/composer Marian McPartland, who hosts NPR�s award-winning program Marian McPartland�s Piano Jazz will perform in concert. Also, 20-year old pianist, vocalist and composer Peter Cincotti, will demonstrate why he was dubbed by Vanity Fair magazine as �boy wonder�jazz wunderkind.� Smooth jazz darlings such as Brian Culbertson, and Bob Baldwin & Friends featuring vocalist Phil Perry will be there. Joe McBride, the super-talented pianist/vocalist who does everything from smooth to swing, and in-between, will perform during two acoustic dinner shows. Renowned pianist/vocalist Jim Brickman who crosses boundaries of jazz, new age and classical music will perform with the Reading Pops Orchestra (his CD �Peace� was nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Album).

A number of singers will be there including Jazz/R & B sensation Patti Austin whose show will pay tribute to American treasure Ella Fitzgerald in BeboperElla! Pop/R & B vocalist Roberta Flack will also perform (whose number one hits include �The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,� �Killing Me Softly with His Song� and �Feel Like Makin� Love.� Celebrated and beautiful jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton will be there with The Christian Jacob Trio featuring world-class pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker. Also gracing the stage will be the suave jazz vocalist Freddie Cole (brother of Nat �King� Cole). In addition, there will be a number of acclaimed blues singers and instrumentalists including: Mose Allison, Kenny Neal and band with Billy Branch, EG Kight, and Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women featuring Ann Rabson, Gaye Adegbalola and Andra Faye, as well as guitarist/vocalist John Mooney.

A diverse set of musical groups will be at the Fest. The Jaco Pastorius Big Band - a terrific tribute to the late bassist will perform which features a 14-piece band including special guests Gerald Veasley, Jeff Carswell and Victor Wooten. Another highlight of the Fest includes the annual Berks All-Star Jazz Jam, with this year�s musical director Chuck Loeb on guitar, Gerald Veasley on bass, Jimmy Sommers and Richard Elliot on saxophone, Rick Braun on trumpet, Rayford Griffin on drums, and Joe McBride and Freddie Ravel on piano. In another show, Joe McBride will also perform with guitarist Ed Hamilton and bassist Gerald Veasley. Gerald Veasley, recently named Best Electric Bassist in Jazziz magazine�s annual readers� poll, will also conduct his educational Bass Boot Camp and Jam during the Berks Jazz Fest for the third straight year.

Other exciting musical groups at the Fest include: Hiroshima, the unique and pleasing blend of Japanese and American smooth jazz music from Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto�s group, as well as Special EFX, featuring guitarist Chieli Minucci. Grammy Award-winning producer and keyboardist Jason Miles will perform with his new group Maximum Grooves featuring Andy Snitzer on saxophone, Sherrod Barnes on guitar, James Genus on bass, Gene Lake on drums and special guest Cassandra Reed on vocals. The Grammy-award-winning Carribbean Jazz Project with Dave Samuels on vibraphone and his band will also be there; so will well-known jazz-fusion guitar group Acoustic Alchemy. There will also be appearances by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, and The Dixie Power Trio. The United States Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble plus the Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band will perform two free community concerts.

The grand finale for this year�s Fest will feature the exciting world premiere of the East Coast All-Stars featuring musical director and guitarist Chuck Loeb, bassist Will Lee, saxophonists Kim Waters and Bill Evans, trumpeter Randy Brecker (who won a Grammy this year for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his CD 34th N Lex), keyboardist Alex Bugnon, drummer Omar Hakim, percussionist Ralph McDonald, and guest vocalist Patti Austin. Overall, the 2004 First Energy Berks Jazz Fest promises to be a wonderful experience for thousands of jazz, R & B and blues fans. The fest continues to grow in popularity and attracts over 40,000 people from over 30 states, as well as Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, England and Europe!

A detailed schedule, ticket, hotel and other visitor information for this exciting Fest, produced by the Berks Arts Council, can be found at www.berksjazzfest.com.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.berksjazzfest.com, or by fax by visiting www.berksjazzfest.com and downloading the official order form. Then, fax it back, completed, to 610-898-7297. Tickets can also be obtained by phone at 610-898-7298, calling Ticketmaster at 215-336-2000 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com. 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.

The Berks Jazz Fest has a superb management team, which includes Connie Leinbach - Executive Director, Katharine Marshall - 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: Kathy Aregood, 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, Kathy Aregood, Gary Spencer, Bob Coleman, Catherine Catanach, Brenda Hartman and David Edgar Guest. There are also hundreds o of volunteers for the Berks Arts Council and throughout the Berks County community and surrounding Philadelphia area that make the Berks Jazz Fest one of the most successful and enjoyable festivals in the world!