Berks Jazz Fest 2007: Berks All-Star Jazz Jam

Berks07_AllStarJazzJam.jpgThe traditional Berks All-Star Jazz Jam was held at the Sheraton late Friday evening and was a star-studded event of the highest order. Sometimes the stage was almost a little overcrowded making one wonder if less might be more. But anyway, the pairing of these artists in this impromptu setting made way for some great moments of music. The evening was put together by guitar player Chuck Loeb who led this bunch of artists through a selection of mainly standards. On stage were at times 6 sax players, 4 guitarists, 2 bassists, 1 violinist, 1 trumpet player, 1 keyboardist and 1 drummer, giving some of the artists a hard time to be heard, the sound man at the mixing console seemed not always being able to keep up with the proceedings on stage. This quibbles aside those involved put all their hearts into their performances, we had sax players Jackiem Joyner, Warren Hill, Richard Elliot, Keith McKelley, Andrew Neu and Mindi Abair, guitar players Pat Martino, Nick Colionne, Chuck Loeb and Steve Oliver, bass players Brian Bromberg and Gerald Veasley, violinist John Blake, trumpet player Rick Braun, keyboardist Joe McBride and drummer Rayford Griffin. With the exception of the first and last songs the artists played together in various smaller combinations, the songs played ranged from "Caravan" giving Rick Braun a chance to show his tremendous improvisational skills and chops on trumpet, the slower "All Blues" featuring a great Mindi Abair (backed by the legendary Pat Martino) to "Summertime", which marked the highlight of the concert for me. This song featured Mindi Abair on sax and Steve Oliver on vocals and guitar giving both artists ample room to play this great tune, Steve Oliver's vocal artistry was outstanding, reminding me of Bobby McFerrin and Al Jarreau, complemented by his first rate guitar playing. This guy is a huge talent who gets better and better each time I see him. Newcomers like the great Jackiem Joyner, Andrew Neu or Keith McKelley (member of Joe McBride's band) were welcome additions to the roster of seasoned stars having one to look forward to the future of the format. The show was concluded with the Crusaders classic "Put It Where You Want It" reuniting all artists of the evening giving Richard Elliot one more opportunity to dazzle the crowd with his gutsy saxophone playing. I always like the All-Star Jam, because it is full of surprises with artists willing to take a few risks, yielding some magical moments, and this Jam was no exception.