Berks: How Sweet It Is


Berks-Pagoda-photo-no-snow.jpgIf looking at this picture causes some excitement for you, then you�ve probably visited Reading, Pennsylvania, during the Berks Jazz Fest held each year in March. By the time you see the familiar Pagoda, you know you�re in jazz territory and the entire city and surrounding area is awaiting your arrival.

When you do arrive, be on the lookout for the First Energy Berks Jazz Festival guide which will be displayed in all the venues, various hotels and restaurants in the area. This handy guide has been published by the Reading Eagle Company and was included in its March 12th edition of the daily newspaper. Available throughout the ten days of the festival, it contains feature stories on artists and special shows, bios on all performers, complete schedules, travel information and a lot more.

This year marks the 16th anniversary of the festival and promises to be as good as ever, with plenty of events for jazz lovers over the ten day festival. Visit the website and click on the schedule to see a listing of both �ticketed� and �non-ticketed� events. contributor Jonathan Widran has written the biographies for artists which appears on the Berks Jazz Fest site and as shown in the festival guide.

Some fantastic theme concerts are on docket this year. The Motown sound, the Brazilian sound, and the Wes Montgomery sound all promise to be great concerts with a lot of players in each. The Berks All Star Jazz Jam is always a highlight. And Grammy Award winner Dianne Reeves will kick off the ten days of music on Friday evening, along with the legendary Joe Sample.

If you�ve never been here before, then you may wonder what it�s really like to travel to this small city within easy traveling distance to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City. To satisfy your curiosity, here are some scenes from last year�s 15th anniversary festival. You�re probably familiar with many of the players in these photos � their shows were memorable examples of what happens when the lights go down and the focus is on the music that makes the festival worthwhile. So enjoy the photos, and get ready to capture your own special views, with either your camera or your mind�s eye. The best thing is, some of these artists will return for this year's celebration of jazz.

One of my favorite shows was Jeff Golub, shown here along with members of his band. This was a high energy show right from the start. There was an electric connection between the band members, and it wasn't long before Jeff told us this was the best band he's ever played with. They played so many of our favorite tunes, and so the audience encouragement was nonstop.

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PeterWhiteJaaredBevPeter200.jpgPeter White's show featuring Jaared was another memorable show. Starting out with 'Something 'Bout Love', from the CD Confidential, it wasn't long before Peter launched into a string of covers, including 'The Closer I Get To You,' 'Who's That Lady?', and 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone.' Keyboard player David Sparkman had the greatest smile, and I didn't realize until later in the show that he's an awesome singer with his own CD.

Peter makes his shows so fun. First of all , it's obvious he has his favorite toy with him -- his guitar! He dances with it, is willing to just let loose and have fun. He tells us it's just him 'living out his rock and roll fantasy.' By the end of the night, I concluded that there is a reason why Peter White is such a crowd pleaser -- it's because he's pleasing himself.

BerksAllStarJam7-2005.jpgTom Grant, shown here at the Wyndham Hotel, played during the dinner hour on four days of the festival. He was also part of the Berks All Star Jazz Jam.

ChuckLoebDavidMann1-2005.jpgChuck Loeb and David Mann played an awesome afternoon concert; Chuck Loeb also had a show with his wife, Carmen Cuesta, and he organized the Berks All Star Jazz Jam, as he does each year during the festival. Chuck mentioned that Berks is such a favorite festival, that it's very relaxed and happy here.

The Sax Pack was an awesome experience for jazz lovers. You sure can't beat the combination of Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters, and Steve Cole.

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Scenes from the Berks All Star Jazz Jam. There were about ten players on stage at once and it is always one of the most favorite shows during the Berks Jazz Festival.

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GroovinforGrover.jpgThe Groovin' for Grover show couldn't have been better. Featuring players like Gerald Albright, Paul Taylor, Jeff Lorber and Richard Eliott, who could ask for more? One of the highlights, of course, was when they launched into 'Soulful Strut.'

In the last days before the start of the festival, I caught up with Connie Leinbach, executive director of the Berks Arts Council, and here is what she had to say:

�The FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest is a tremendous event in which the entire community can be proud. During Jazz Fest, the hotels are full, the restaurants are full, the streets are filled with jazz patrons, all of whom spend an estimated $5 million in Berks County while they're here.

�Berks Arts Council produces and benefits from the success of the FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest. The proceeds from the event are used to develop and maintain arts programs in the Berks County area. It also provides workshops for young, aspiring jazz musicians to learn from and play with professional musicians.

�To help make this all happen, the Arts Council enlists help from sponsors and 340 dedicated volunteers who donate over 5,000 hours of volunteer time as backstage crew, ushers, ticket-takers and merchandise sellers.

BerksPic.jpg�We're thankful that Berks Countians support Jazz Fest by attending the concerts and volunteering their time, and that so many businesses support this event through their generous sponsorships. Arts events such as the FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest help put Berks County on the map as a vibrant place to live and have a business.�

One of the most special things about the festival is that fans and artists are so often in the same space -- not just the same venue as stage performers and audiences, but as artist and fan at the autograph table, getting to know each other perhaps for the first time at Meet the Artists, friend to friend as they enjoy time together that comes and goes all too quickly. It's not only media people or event organizers who get to rub shoulders with the artists, but you can, too, and that's sure to give you some of your best memories of the festival. It's a chance to renew acquaintances and develop lifelong friendships with other fans and the ever-growing group of artists that have been invited to play here for that always memorable month of March.

Media members will come from near and far. We're already planning get-togethers with each other and with artists. Peter Boehi, publisher of, has already arrived and Jonathan Widran will arrive mid-week. As always, please come to talk with us when you see us around town!

While you're here at Berks, or especially if you're unable to make it here this year, visit often to hear the music of this year's artists being played. Every day, we'll devote plenty of time to help you become more acquainted with the special music of Berks Jazz Fest 2006!!

Happy Jazzin'

BoneyBevMichael2005.jpgBeverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Photo Credits: Michael Packard