The First Energy Berks Jazz Fest All Star Jazz Jam lived up to its reputation once again this year. Arranger and producer of the event is the multi-talented guitarist Chuck Loeb, a regular at Berks who can be counted on to take the all star jam to the limit of every jazz fan's wildest imaginations. This year he had nothing less than the most outstanding musicians on stage. And as usual, the blending of the musicianship and personality of each player translated into total captivation for fans. The way the songs flowed seamlessly one into the other was quite impressive. It seemed this group of players have been playing together every week, but the ability to come together for a short period of time and put on such a great performance as this one is simply a testimony to the talent of each player invited to join the All Star Jam.
Many of the performers are seen each year at this show along with Chuck Loeb -- people like keyboardist Joe McBride, saxophonist Kenny Blake, bassist Gerald Veasley, trumper player Rick Braun. The rest of the players are drawn from others who are in town for their own shows, and this year we were fortunate to have well known talent Richard Elliot and rising star Eric Darius on saxophone, the very talented Nelson Rangell on flute (absolutely awesome on piccolo) as well as saxophone, favorites Chieli Minucci and Ken Navarro on guitar, keyboard great Tom Koster along with Vital Information-mate Steve Smith, widely acclaimed as one of the top drummers in the world. Talented Special EFX keyboard player Jay Rowe also sat in for part of the evening. Singer Kurt Elling joined the group for a great rendition of Bye Bye Blackbird. Of course, Joe McBride always sings at least one song, and this time it was My Funny Valentine.
There were so many highlights the show. Artists were paired together out front, soon joined by others, for familiar songs and always there were those opportunities to get everyone involved in improvisational playing which took the songs over the top. It's truly amazing to watch what each artist is going to do when it is his turn to solo. There were no disappointments!
There were great renditions of Tequila, which was a lot of fun with the audience participating by shouting out 'Tequila' at the appropriate times. Other favorites played were Sugar, Chameleon, Grover Washington, Jr.'s beloved Mr. Magic, Sonny, ending with Now's The Time.
What a great night of music and how thrilling to see the favorites of so many of us all on stage together. It's a memory that will linger for a long time to come, no doubt until the next Berks All Star Jazz Jam 2007 memory takes its place.
If you've never been to the All Star Jam, don't miss it next year. It's always on Thursday evening of the Berks Jazz Fest, and you can get a combined ticket to cover the Jam, a Meet the Artists event, as well the earlier show of the evening which always features great headliners, such as this year's show with Chieli Minucci and Special EFX, featuring Ken Navarro and Nelson Rangell.
The latest CDs of all the artists are:
Chuck Loeb, When I'm With You
Kenny Blake, Tom's Diner
Rick Braun, Yours Truly
Eric Darius, Just Getting Started
Richard Elliot, Metro Blue
Kurt Elling, Live in Chicago Out Takes
Tom Koster, Vital Information
Joe McBride, Texas Hold 'Em
Chieli Minucci, Got It Goin' On
Ken Navarro, Love Colored Soul
Nelson Rangell, Soul to Souls (not yet released)
Jay Rowe, Red Hot & Smooth
Steve Smith, Vital Information
Gerald Veasley, At the Jazz Base
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo Credits: Michael Packard