I knew when I first met Andrew Neu that someday I’d be writing about him. I found him to be such an interesting and versatile musician. The first thing that struck me about him was the level of his skill in playing. Next was the very down to earth personality, those blond curls and that ready smile. With so many talented saxophone players already in my CD player, I wondered how I could fit yet another one into my mixed bag of musical favorites. I didn’t know how there could be anything truly new, because I’ve heard so, so many good players over so many years. And that’s only because I live in Reading, Pennsylvania, home of the Berks Jazz Festival; I’m blessed with the opportunity to get a close-up look and impression of the great players that come through our town. And that includes saxophonists like David Sanborn, Boney James, Richard Elliot, Kim Waters, Warren Hill, Euge Groove, Kenny Blake, Gerald Albright, David Mann, Kirk Whalum, Dave Koz, and the list could go on. But I didn’t need to worry. Just as with other artists who are true to themselves, I found that in Andrew Neu there was, indeed, something new.
I had heard Neu with other players, mostly as a sideman and recognized that he was very talented. I’d seen him lead a high school jazz band and knew he was not just a player, but an effective leader, conductor, composer and arranger and that his talents were many. But when I heard him do his own show back in 2011, I was more impressed than I ever could have imagined. I loved the tunes, I couldn’t believe how he kept going and going with one exceptional performance after another on each song. He had a passion I loved to watch, and while he’s aware of his audience, he was mostly lost in each moment of musical expression – totally engrossed in a perfect delivery of what he came here to do. I was, and still am, so impressed – after hearing him perform numerous times, now, I see the same signature of dedicated effort and perfection in performance.
What I have found in following his career is that there are new things to discover about him at every turn. His multi-genre abilities, his experiences with so many talented players and vocalists, his compositions and arrangements, his publishing work, the status he maintains as ready-willing-and-able to add so much to any project he’s asked to do -- all of this adds up to a remarkable journey for those of us who have become true fans. His life gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘There’s always something Neu.’
Neu has so many things going on I can hardly keep up. Here is an encapsulated view of just some major highlights of his career: he was chosen to play and tour with Bobby Caldwell and also with Diane Schuur in major US cities like Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, as well as Japan and China this past year; he has been regularly filling in with Smokey Robinson on his tours. He’s also played in England, France and Italy (the Italy trip involved taking a high school band there to perform). He plays with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, and has played with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He leads an all-star big band with trumpeter Anthony Bonsara in Los Angeles, and has shared the stage with Elton John, Patti LaBelle, Melissa Manchester, Mel Torme, along with many contemporary jazz artists, such as Pat Martino, Randy Brecker, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Gerald Albright, Kim Waters, Nick Colionne, David Benoit, Chieli Minucci, and Brian Simpson. He recorded with Bobby Caldwell and others, including Manhattan Transfer, David Sanborn, Jeff Lorber, Brian Culbertson, Sister Sledge and Buddy DeFranco.
One thing is certain about Neu. He is constantly changing from one location to another. You may find him in the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood, California or the Razz Room at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, playing with Bobby Caldwell or Diane Schuur, or you might find him in Pennsylvania for most of the ten days of music of the Berks Jazz Fest, which is where I’ve found him in recent years. I might add there are a few regulars who are always part of Berks -- people like Gerald Veasley, Chuck Loeb and a few others with a versatility and talent for orchestrating and arranging music for events involving many musicians. Andrew Neu is quickly becoming one of those who are valuable to Berks in that regard -- he simply has that much to offer. I’ve seen it first-hand and I’ve seen his fan base continue to grow, something that is exciting to watch.
I wanted to learn more about how Neu began playing the saxophone in his early years and get to know the visions that have provided him the energy to accomplish all that he does. What has and does life as a musician mean to him as a person?
Interestingly, Neu began his musical efforts with a clarinet. He loved trumpet, but an older brother was already busy learning to play it, flute was taken by a sister, and drums were too loud for the household, so he settled on the clarinet. Later, he realized this had been a good choice, because it was much easier to go from clarinet to saxophone than vice versa. And when he switched to the saxophone, he always had the clarinet to fall back on. Along the way he learned to play the flute, also, and he has never fallen out of love with the trumpet.
Seeing his brother play gigs made him realize this is something he also wanted to do some day. He got into the high school jazz band. He spent a lot of time listening to classical music in his earlier years and this gave him an enduring appreciation at a young age for the teamwork of more than one instrument – a ‘big band.’ He loved the idea, and it shows that in so many of his efforts; it’s leading or playing in a big band that seems to satisfies something deep within him.
Neu likes to play all kinds of music – he’s happy with a big band, a folk band, playing behind a vocalist, enjoying the quietness of an acoustic song, or a loud ‘kicking out all the stops’ type of song, in addition to Latin, funk, and classical. He writes and transcribes music for entire bands for Kendor Music, and for the individual music of particular artists.
Neu learned early in his career to always give his best effort, and that he won’t always know who might be listening and what they are looking for. Bringing your top game every time and appreciating all of the opportunities that come your way has been an important part of his vision of what being a musician is about. It’s also important to him to be emotionally open to music and where it takes him and where it takes others who are listening.
Neu is grateful to have played on the albums of three key players in the last year, being featured on Steve Oliver’s top 10 record, World Citizen, Bobby Caldwell’s new CD entitled, House of Cards, and playing sax and flute on every track of Peter White’s new CD, Here We Go.
Neu has released three well received CD’s of his own (Inspire, 2000, In Clear View in 2007 and Try Something Neu in 2009) and is now ready to launch his fourth and most exciting CD on June 4th of this year. The new CD title, Everything Happens for a Reason, was inspired by his recent experience of looking forward to a gig in Bermuda or the Bahamas. While planning the trip, Neu realized Berks Jazz Fest was at the exact same time, and felt he needed to choose Berks instead of going to an island. As hard as that was, it turned out to be a great choice because that year many got to know him, and many opportunities grew from that particular year being part of the Berks Jazz Scene. He knew afterwards there was a reason why he didn’t end up on an idyllic beach during that ten day period. Since that time, he’s been reminded so often that it’s true – things really do happen for a reason.
The new CD is being produced by Brian Bromberg (who played on and helped engineer In Clear View) and Steve Oliver. Neu says, “It’s an adventurous project featuring Rick Braun, Bobby Caldwell, Jeff Lorber, Brian Bromberg, Steve Oliver, Tom Schuman, Alex Acuna and others. It’s embellished by a horn section and a full orchestra and takes you on a journey.” Andrew co-wrote a song with Bobby Caldwell for the CD and arranged a different take on the well-known jazz standard, ‘Take Five.’ Neu says it’s inspired by the soul jazz and Latin music of the 60’s. The CD will also feature more of Neu’s flute playing.
Neu continues to move forward with a keen desire to “be out in front of audiences, connecting to people on whatever level they are responding to the music.” As he puts it, “I can’t see having chosen any other career….my passion, my work, and my hobby are all the same thing: music.”
As an observer of his brilliant career, I can only say: it definitely shows. And becomes Neu every day.
Please keep up with the latest news on Andrew Neu at his website, andrewneu.com.
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
At 2pm, Maysa was headlining her own show tagged as Maysa & Her Jazz Funk Soul Symphony, the first time she actually appeared under how own name, until now she just has been guesting with other artists, so she took the opportunity to give us something really special. The stage was crammed with players, the band consisted of four string players, a three piece horn section, two keyboard players (one doubling on flute), percussion, drums, bass, guitar, plus two additional vocalists. They started with a nice latin track with some great flute playing, followed by "Hooked On Your Love", then her classic "Out Of The Blue" followed, a song she wrote when her son was prematurely born, then one of my favorites, the mesmerizing "Hypnotic Love", which was nicely grooving along, the groove picked up again with "Pressure" having almost an Incognito feeling. In general I had the impression that her songs owe a lot to Bluey and Incognito, that is the school she went through and an ongoing connection that is still very strong, even the instrumentation retains many ingredients of the Incognito sound, especially the strong horn section, which provided several great solos. Another nice one was "Honey Bee", slowing down the pace, allowing her voice to shine, the first set was ended with the introspective "Can We Change The World".
Part two of the show continued with Gil Scott-Heron's "The Bottle", then she did "Come Dance With Me" inspired by a broken up relationship, followed by Angela Bofill's "I Try" doing it justice, pulling all the stops, then some old school was due with a nice medley consisting among others of "Wishing On A Star" and "Zoom", which was well received, followed by a disco medley of songs like "Last Night A DJ Saved My Live", "Just A Touch Of Love" and more, recreating the spirit of that era nicely, before she went back to her own material with "Deep Waters", segueing into "I Will Always Love You", then "Love To Love You Baby", complete with a subtle rap part by Maysa, later culminating in shouting, moaning and scatting, which was a real musical journey and musical treat, this climax marked the end of a remarkable show by one of the best singers in the business.
Sunday morning, the was another Sunday morning brunch at the Inn at Reading featuring guitarist Marc Antoine, the room was packed and the show seemed to be sold out. After some healthy breakfast, we were ready for some music. Marc had a great band, on keys was Jay Rowe, on drums was Third Richardson and on bass was Tim George, they were nicely grooving along supporting the acoustic guitar playing of the leader. Among the songs played were his classically influenced "Dreamer", a nice rendition of a Mozart composition, his famous composition "Jaseco" which also was covered by George Benson, they played the gamut from latin to jazz to funk to classic having the time fly by, the encore given was Chick Corea's "Spain", bringing a very nice and well received concert to an end.
At 10pm, Jonathan Butler appeared at the Crowne Plaza ballroom with his own band, he had his daughter Jody as vocalist in the band. He opened with a nice instrumental on acoustic guitar, with lots of African flavors, followed by "Many Faces" featuring some killer bass. Next were the funky "Color Green" and the great cover of "If I Ever Lose This Heaven", other highlights were "Sarah, Sarah" and especially "No Woman, No Cry" which is one the staples of his show. Next was a cool instrumental on guitar, providing some solo spots for his band, before the show was finished with his hit song "Lies", that had people get on their feet and clap and sing along.
Additionally, he was promoting his safari in South Africa which provides an experience of a lifetime, offering a safari with Jonathan Butler and his family, more info can be found at http://www.jbutlersafari.com.
Saturday night, the much anticipated new show by Brian Culbertson was taking place, it was sold out. They started their current tour one week ago, so the new band was playing together not for very long. They entered the stage and hit us hard with some funk, playing some of his favorite in songs in quick succession. All that was left from his old band were drummer Chris Miskel and keyboardist Eddie Miller, everybody else was gone. New in were some young players, we got Maurice Ellis on bass and Adam Hawley on guitar, plus vocalists Selina Albright and Jason Morales. Brian Culbertson as usual was center stage with his keyboards, also playing his mean trombone. They were playing a few songs from the XII record, among them "It's Time", then things slowed down with some soulful trademark playing by Brian, creating magical moments. Despite all the nice vibes, I felt something to be missing, until it stuck me - there were no horn players! So getting used to a horn-less Brian Culbertson takes some time, the shift from a powerful horn section to vocalists will probably make some people feel uncomfortable at first. Nevertheless, especially Selina Albright was a great addition to the show, with her youthful energy and great vocals, she provided lots of joy and entertainment, while her fellow vocalist Jason Morales did a great job as well, especially on "Skies Wide Open" that featured him. They turned up the heat again with "You Got To Funkifize", then it was time for some solo piano with "Dreams", the tile cut of the CD of the same name, segueing into "Secret Garden", providing some sensuous playing of the highest order, having the audience cheer along. Next was his rendition of EWF's "Serpentine Fire" featuring his keyboards, followed by "Funk For My Fathers", before they wrapped up the show with another instrumental. Despite the new band needs some getting used to, the final impression was positive and the crowd seemed to have loved it. Brian Culbertson deserves credit for doing something new, take some chances and not play it safe by relying on the same old stuff.
Saturday afternoon at 2pm, there was the double bill of Marcus Johnson, followed by Kirk Whalum with special guest, brother Kevin on vocals.
Marcus Johnson is a gifted keyboard player and successful entrepreneur, he not only has a string of solo albums under his belt, but also has been running his own label (Three Keys) and now promotes his own wine under the Flo brand, along with a string of matching CDs. Playing with him, he had saxophonists Philip Doc Martin and Brian Lenair, who were great additions to the show. He started the show with some hard hitting uptempo songs, before slowing things down, which allowed each player to show his sensuous side. In between, he was talking about his career, emphasizing to go your own way even if everybody says it wouldn't be possible. Further highlights of the show were his covers of Sergio Mendes' "Mas Que Nada" and Steve Miller's "Fly Like An Eagle", which brought his set to an end.
After an intermission, saxophonist Kirk Whalum appeared with his killer band, he was accompanied by drummer Marcus Finnie, bassist Braylon Lacey, guitarist Kevin Turner and his long time friend and collaborator John Stoddart on keyboards and vocals, they were kicking off the show with "The Wave", followed by "Desperately", a song written for his wife transferring a message of love. Then we got a southern flavor with brother Kevin Whalum joining the stage for "Do You Feel Me". For a change, we got a straight ahead jazz track with some scatting by Kevin Whalum, a thing he is particularly adept with, plus solos by each member of the band. Next was "Autumn Serenade", a song they did together on their Romance Language album, followed by "You Are Too Beautiful" from the same CD. Then it was back to well known territory with their famous rendition of Maxwell's "Ascension", after that they gave us a little teaser for the upcoming Gospel show that would take place Sunday night with the great "Ta Ta You Jesus", using the Johnny Guitar Watson classic to carry a spiritual message. The next segment was featuring John Stoddart on vocals and keyboards, an outstanding artist in his own right, doing the heartfelt "Angel", a song he did for his wife on his wedding day, then the pace picked up with the Stevie Wonder classic "Do I Do". During the introduction to his next song, he was talking about his time with Whitney Houston, veering off to some preaching, before he went on to play "I Will Always Love You", probably the biggest hit of Whitney Houston that featured the timeless saxophone solo of Kirk Whalum, ending another entertaining show by those consummate artists.
At 10pm, we got two of our favorite players, saxophonist Gerald Abright and guitarist Norman Brown, doing a show together to promote their current release 24/7 which they were finally able to realize after more than 30 years of friendship. Better late than never, one may argue, so those two players were warmly welcomed, they kicked off their show with both artists playing, before Norman Brown took over the spotlight with "West Coast Cooling" featuring his Wes- and Benson-inclined playing, before Gerald Albright came out to do his classic "Bermuda Nights", then they did their current single "In The Moment" featuring both players. Things slowed down with Gerald Albright playing some of his most revered covers in the form of "So Amazing" and "My, My, My", both done in the inimitable Albright style. Norman Brown came back to do the tiltle track from his After The Storm album, later they did "Bueno Amigos" from the 24/7 release, then Gerald Albright did his rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" complete with blues guitar from Norman Brown, after that they funked up things again with each band member getting a solo spot, plus gave an encore, finishing a great show.
Friday night at 7pm, another audience favorite with Jazz Attack was due, this all-star band features Jeff Lorber on keyboards, Peter White on guitar, Rick Braun on trumpet and Richard Elliot on saxophone, the backing band consisted of Nate Phillips on bass, Randy Jacobs on guitar, Third Richardson on drums and Ron Reinhardt on keys. They started the show with Rick Braun entering from the rear, playing his trumpet, with the band picking up the groove on the stage, having the audience clap along, thus bringing things up to speed quickly. Next was Peter White doing one his songs, with Richard Elliot supporting him on sax. Then Jeff Lorber joined the stage to play his "Tune 88" from his Water Sign album, amply supported by the horn players, before the groove got heavier with "Rock Steady" featuring Richard Elliot on sax, segueing into "Move On Up" with some nice trumpet playing by Rick Braun, then going into "Boom Town" from his current In The Zone album. Then Rick Braun stepped into the spotlight to do his big hit "Notorious" on the flugelhorn, slowing things down after that with "The Good Life", a song he recorded on his Sings With Strings album with full orchestra. Peter White came back to get real serious, he played his great rendition of the Isley Brothers' "Who's That Lady", segueing into the Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", taking off with an outstanding solo on his distorted sounding acoustic guitar. Then it was Jeff Lorber's turn again with the title track from his He Had A Hat album, followed by "Monserrat" from his Galaxy album, the grooving and complex fusion track had Rick and Richard play their horn parts, reading from sheets. To give the audience a bit of relief, Richard Elliot dug into his trademark song, "When A Man Loves A Woman". I guess he must have stopped counting how often he did this one, but he injects each time so much emotion into the song that it never sounds tired, consequently his great performance brought the house down. Peter White did "Costa Rica" from his current release, followed by another hard hitting fusion track by Jeff Lorber, followed by "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground", a song that will appear on the soon to be released BWB album called Human Nature. Then, as a little surprise, they threw in some straight ahead jazz with "A Night In Tunisia" that showed what outstanding jazz players both Rick Braun and Richard Elliot are, which contrasted nicely with the hard hitting funk of "Keep On Truckin'" that followed after that, the song featured a great guitar solo by Randy Jacobs and had Richard Elliot groove on the EWI. The show was closed with the Peter White classic "Bueno Funk" with some nice interplay between Peter and the horn players. Despite the fact the band had played for well over two hours, the audience demanded an encore, so they came back to wrap up this great show with "Grazing In The Grass". I have seen the Jazz Attack show many times, still I am well entertained by the awesome musicianship by each player on stage, in addition they change the program all the time, so this show always is a sure bet.
Thursday night, another long time audience favorite took place with the star-studded Berks All-Star Jazz Jam, which took place at the Crowne Plaza Ballroom, the event was sold out. This show is unique to the Berks Jazz Fest with its concept of bringing together many different artists to do their renditions of a selection of well known songs, taken care of by guitarist Chuck Loeb who usually is responsible for the program and leads through the evening. With each one on stage, they kicked off the show with a shuffling blues number, giving each player a short solo spot. Players on stage were Jeff Lorber on keyboards, Chuck Loeb, Norman Brown, Peter White and Marc Antoine on guitar, Eric Marienthal, Andrew Neu and Gerald Albright on saxophones, Rick Braun on trumpet, Gerald Veasley and Brian Bromberg on bass, Dave Samuels on vibes and Lionel Cordew on drums. After this first mass attack on your eardrums, the following songs are done by smaller combinations of players, featuring different artists during each song. Next was a version of "On Broadway" that owed a lot to George Benson, it featured all the guitar players and gave each one some solo time to shine, followed by Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" featuring Peter White and Rick Braun, who always amazes me with his flawless trumpet playing, plus some nice sax playing by Gerald Albright, during the song, singer Bobby Caldwell joined in and brought the song to the next level. Then they did Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island", which was covered by Brian Bromberg on his Downright Upright album and featured the bassist, vibraphonist Dave Samuels played some great vibes during this one, while Gerald Albright and Rick Braun added some cool solos as well. Singer Bobby Caldwell came back to do Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy", followed by a subdued and jazzy version of "Bye, Bye, Blackbird" having drummer Lionel Cordew moving to the front of the stage just with a snare drum and brushes, showing his jazz sensibilities, and while the man was on stage, he had to do his signature song "What I Won't Do For Love", which concluded the first half of the show.
After the intermission, they went into part two of the show with Chuck Loeb on wah wah guitar leading into a funky version of Miles Davis' "So What" with plenty of horns courtesy of Rick Braun and Gerald Albright, then Eric Marienthal and Marc Antoine joined the stage again to do Chick Corea's "Spain", both players were smoking with their great solos. Then things slowed down with Peter White and Marc Antoine doing a duet, the song "Cafe Mystique" they recorded in the nineties, but hadn't done ever since, which provided a memorable moment of the concert. Norman Brown came back to do the Crusaders classic "Put It Where You Want It", followed by the introspective "My Funny Valentine" featuring Rick Braun on vocals and trumpet. Next was Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" featuring Andrew Neu on sax and Dave Samuels on vibes, before things were funked up again with "The Chicken", which concluded the show. The audience demanded an encore which was given with everybody on stage doing Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar", Rick Braun even bringing his valve trombone for this one, which ended a show that lasted three hours (intermission included) and featured some of the very best players of the business in a loose, fun setting that left the capacity crowed satisfied.
Wednesday night at the Jazz Base, guitarist Chuck Loeb was leading a bunch of daring musicians through his Berks Bop III night, a concert which was dedicated to the art of bebop, taking place for the third time and always drawing a big crowd. The club was packed and not a single seat was empy. They kicked off the show with "Billy's Bounce", originally done by Charlie Parker, featuring the horn section, saxophonist Eric Marienthal did the first solo, followed by Rick Braun on trumpet, then it was Gerald Albright's turn, each player having a distinct sound on his instrument, before Chuck Loeb took the chance to shine on guitar, then Jeff Lorber did a smoking solo on the keys, next was bassist Brian Bromberg on acoustic bass soloing, the band was supported by the excellent Lionel Cordew on drums, who seemed to have a lot of fun playing this kind of music. After this one, they did "Night In Tunisia", originally done by Dizzy Gillespie, slowing things down a bit, before the pace decidedly picked up with Miles Davis' "Donna Lee" who really was the ultimate challenge for the horn section, Jeff Lorber on acoustic piano and Chuck Loeb on guitar played like hell as well, it was great to see those world class players to master this complex tune. After that, they did Charlie Parker's "My Little Suede Shoes", followed by Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight" featuring Gerald Albright to relax a bit, before after one more uptempo track we had a short intermission.
The second part of the concert was started with "All The Things You Are", followed by Charlie Parker's "Ornithology" that featured the two saxophonists, then Rick Braun brought his valve trombone for "St. Thomas", a song made famous by Sonny Rollins. Next was John Coltrane's "Giant Steps", before Rick Braun sang "Body & Soul", a song he covered previously on his shows, just accompanied by Chuck Loeb on guitar, additionally featuring his trumpet playing. One more uptempo track and the show was over, but they returned for an encore and did Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar", which brought a great show to an end. Experiencing those great players in an intimate club setting playing from their hearts is always a joy, I am glad that the Berks Jazz Fest offers this opportunity, and the packed house made it look very likely that we will get Berks Bop IV next year.
Tuesday evening, we got the opportunity to witness two times Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding on bass and vocals at the Scottish Rite Cathedral doing her Radio Music Society show, she appeared with her band (keyboards, guitar and drums) plus a mini big band consisting of seven reed players, one of them doubling on vocals, plus a dedicated singer. Esperanza Spalding is not only a great bassist - acoustic and electric - but also a gifted vocalist and a beauty to look at. She was extensively talking between songs sharing her views on various things, their talks were segueing into the next song, each time featuring her on bass and vocals, with several horn solos thrown in for good measure. Her horn players were an integral part of her music, we got lots of great trombone, alto and tenor sax playing, plus the occasional keyboard and guitar solo. Her music has a certain quirkiness and is therefore a bit of an acquired taste, but is at the same time innovative and intriguing, thus providing excellent entertainment. Her show lasted two hours which flew by, they finished with the title track of their current release, which had the audience sing along. The encore was just a duet done by her female singer and her on bass and vocals, which brought things nicely to an end.
At 7pm Sunday night at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center, it was time to witness the beauty and perfection of super group Fourplay, featuring Bob James on piano, Nathan East on bass & vocals, Chuck Loeb on guitar and Harvey Mason on drums, plus special guest Lalah Hathaway on vocals. Despite their lengthy careers, they still kept the sparkle, they opened their show with "December Dream" that featured the voice of Nathan East and some nice piano playing by Bob James, this song was written by newest member Chuck Loeb and garnered them a Grammy nomination, followed by the groovy "Max-O-Man" that had Chuck Loeb smoking on the guitar, then "Chant" written by Bob James. They did their tribute to Hank Jones called "Gentle Giant" featuring some trademark Bob James piano playing, followed by their current single from the Esprit De Four album called "Sunnymoon". Then it was time to have special guest Lalah Hathaway enter the stage, she sang a jazzy version of the Gershwin classic "Summertime" in her inimitable style, then "For All We Know" - a tribute to her father Donny Hathaway - before a highlight from the Fourplay catalog in the form of "Between The Sheets" was due, featuring the vocals of both Nathan East and Lalah Hathaway. The pace picked up with another funky song, showing the virtuosity of all players, before the signature song "101 Eastbound" was done. They finished their show with Lalah Hathaway back, doing the Marvin Gaye classic "After The Dance", they came back for an encore, the much revered "Westchester Lady" that gave each member of the band an opportunity to shine. This was another flawless show by those great players, it was nice to see that Chuck Loeb now firmly has become a Fourplay member, having earned his rank in this super group with his excellent contributions as a composer and instrumentalist.
After an intermission, Lee Ritenour appeared with his excellent band. On drums was Sonny Emory, on bass the awesome Melvin Davis, and on keys Phil Davis, who had been added to the band very recently and did a great job. The show was opened by special guest Michael Lington on sax, who did a couple of his numbers first, one of them being "Pacifica" from his Stay With Me album, before Lee Ritenour came to the stage to do "Roadtrip", a song from Michael Lington's current album Pure they both did together, followed by Lee's classic "Night Rhythms" from his Festival album, featuring acoustic guitar. After that, Lee took over and played the title track from Wes Bound, keeping things jazzy with "Stolen Moments" after that, during this song, bass player Melvin Davis was featured on 7-string bass and vocals, showing considerable vocal prowess and improvisational skills. Next was a song from his current release Rhythms Sessions called "The Village", that brought more classic Lee guitar playing. Michael Lington came back to join the band for the last song, an extended version of the inevitable "Rio Funk" which was done in a very open and improvisational spirit, yielding exciting results. They came for one encore and did Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up", having the audience sing along. This was a very enjoyable concert by one of my musical heroes, supported by a killer band.
Sunday afternoon, it was the double bill of trumpet player Joey Sommerville, followed by Lee Ritenour with special guest Michael Lington on sax, both playing full-length shows
Trumpet player Joey Sommerville appeared for the first time at the Berks Jazz Festival, which certainly was long overdue. He opened his show with a killer jazz-funk track that had the bass slapping and gave the drummer some, he was definitely in the mood to play! The energy level was kept high with a groover from his Ride To This album, followed by AWB's "School Boy Crush", a song he did with the late Wayman Tisdale. After that, things were slowed down with his cover of Floetry's "Say Yes", featuring Alex Smith on keyboards. As a special guest, saxophonist Elan Trotman was invited to the stage to do a funked up version of Duke Ellington's jazz classic "Caravan", both players stretched out and delighted the crowd with their extended solos. Next, Joey sat at the piano to start his "Moonshadows", later switching back to his trumpet to play this heartfelt, slow number, showing lots of sensibilities. After that one, the pace picked up again with a blues number that gave Joey an opportunity to sing, having the audience clap along, followed by "On And On", his tribute to the late Grover Washington, Jr., a cool track that offered some smoking trumpet playing over a rhythm that owed a lot to "Mr. Magic". Elan Trotman was reinvited for the last song, they finished their show with "Like You Mean It", a latin party track that brought a great concert to an end.
Sunday morning, we had to get up early again to be at the Sunday Jazz Brunch at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel Ballroom, where rising star Elan Trotman on saxophone was playing. As he later remarked during the show, three years ago, he came to the festival as a spectator, the year after that he sat in at the Midnight Jam, the next year he officially participated in the All-Star Jazz Jam, and this year he got his own show. He started it by entering the ballroom from the rear and wandering through his audience, playing his sax. He brought us in the right mood with the sultry "Rain" from his Love And Sax album, he totally blew me away with his soulful and smooth playing, this artist has the art of smooth jazz completely mastered, this song was simply outstanding and had people cry and shout of excitement, a nice extended guitar solo by Tyrone Chase was another highlight during this one. Hailing from Barbados, Elan Trotman paid homage to his heritage with "Tropicality", the title track of his new album, providing a laid back island vibe, followed by his rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster Jamming", that grooved along nicely. "Tradewinds" featured him on soprano sax, showing his versatility. Then his guest artist, bassist Gerald Veasley was invited to the stage, a musician he heard playing with Grover Washington, Jr. when he was 16 at the Barbados Jazz Festival, an experience that influenced him deeply, and now he had Gerald play with him - dreams come true after all! They did Grover's "Winelight" and Elan Trotman proved that had the Grover vibe down for sure, his smooth and sensual playing was simply mesmerizing, and Gerald's bass playing did the rest to make this a very memorable performance. The next song featured his trumpet player Eric Bloom on Chick Corea's "Spain", jazzing things up, during this one, each band member got a short solo spot. After that, a really great Earth, Wind & Fire medley followed, starting with "That's The Way Of The World", segueing into "Reasons" which featured some nice flugelhorn, then "Sun Goddess" which really evoked a classic EWF feeling and had the audience sing along, then "Can't Hide Love" and "Getaway", providing another highlight of the show. He did one encore and used this opportunity to get out into the audience once more and play close to his fans. This concert was really outstanding, I knew that Elan Trotman was good, but during this show, I learned that he is an absolute top-class artist, and with his humble and nice personality, there should nothing stand in his way to make it to the very top of the genre.
PLAYBOY JAZZ FESTIVAL PRESENTS THE NEW JUMP BLUES BAND
IN FREE COMMUNITY CONCERT SUNDAY, MAY 5TH, AT BEVERLY HILLS CIVIC CENTER.BEVERLY HILLS HIGH SCHOOL JAZZ BAND WILL OPEN SHOW
Get ready to jump, jive and swing when The New Jump Blues, one of the most exuberant foot-stomping musical groups to jump off the national stage, swings into Beverly Hills for a free community concert presented by the Playboy Jazz Festival, Sunday, May 5th. The event which begins at 3:30p.m. will be held at the Beverly Hills Civic Center Plaza located at 450 North Rexford Drive, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Burton Way. The Beverly Hills High School Jazz Band, under the direction of Bill Bradbury will open the show.
The concert is the first of Playboy’s free community events being held in conjunction with the upcoming 35th anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival June 15th and 16th, at the landmark Hollywood Bowl. The ‘jump blues’ is an offshoot of the big-band swing era, featuring smaller ensembles with bright horns and irresistible rhythms that “defy standing still,” as described by Billboard Magazine. Lead by dynamic front man Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas, the tight combo of veteran musicians are known for their rousing performances and lead singers who blend up tempo elements of blues, jazz and calypso with dazzling choreography in a lively revue-style show. The band’s set will also include a special salute to Cinco de Mayo.
Under the direction of Bill Bradbury, the Beverly Hills High School Jazz Band will perform a selection of music representing various styles of jazz, including blues, swing, rock and Latin.
“Our Beverly Hills concert has become a popular kick-off for the annual Playboy Jazz Festival season, and this year’s roster of talent promises a lively afternoon of upbeat jazz entertainment at the Civic Center’s attractive outdoor performing arts venue in celebration of our 35thAnniversary Festival,” stated Richard Rosenzweig, president emeritus of the Playboy Jazz Festival.
Food and refreshments will be available for purchase to the public. Glass containers, alcoholic beverages and audio/video recorders are not permitted. Two free hours of parking is available at the Civic Center parking structure, adjacent to the Beverly Hills Public Library. For more information regarding the community concert series or the Playboy Jazz Festival, go to http://www.playboyjazzfestival.com
Saturday at midnight, it was time for another Midnight Jam led by bassist Gerald Veasley, the place to be for people looking for unexpected moments and unpredictable moves from our favorite players, who happen to hang around at the club during this night. The core band were Gerald Veasley on bass, Richard Waller III on drums, Donald Robinson on keyboards, Andrew Neu on saxophone and Brian Hughes on guitar, they started the proceedings with the easy grooving "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" by Joe Zawinul, saxophonist Elan Trotman joined the band, to give us some awesome saxophone playing, continuing the song, then another saxophonist, Michael Lington, joined in to do his part of this song. After that Forrest Robinson sat at the drums and Allen Smith at the keyboards to support Kim Waters on sax who did an uptempo and very straight ahead jazz track showing his prowess on the sax. Next was trumpet player Joey Sommerville doing Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower". Other players that showed up later that night were Nick Colionne on guitar and the outstanding Eric Bloom on trumpet. They wrapped it up with Richard Tucker on guitar and Andrew Neu on sax doing a moving rendition of the Beatles classic "Let It Be". It was another memorable and entertaining jam that lasted until 2am. There will two more this week on Friday and Saturday.
At 10pm, I opted to skip the big star event at the Crowne Plaza and check out bassist Brian Bromberg who played in the Jazz Base, presenting his Compared To That album with a five piece horn section. I always admired his artistry on the bass and experiencing him play in the intimate setting of a club seemed rather enticing. He was supported by Joel Taylor on drums, Randy Brecker on trumpet, Chris Farr on tenor sax, Tom Zink on piano and keyboards, plus the Berks Jazz Fest Horns who appeared in their extended version. They kicked off the show with "Compared To That", a groovy uptempo number that featured several solos by the band members, followed by "I'm Just Sayin'", a song with a cool walking bass line that had many heads bopping along. Featuring his more introverted, darker side, he did "The Eclipse" and evoked a variety of sounds from his acoustic bass. Another favorite was "Rory Lowery, Private Eye" with its no holds barred, go for it feel having the band groove like hell. For the song "A Little Old School", he switched to his electric bass and funked things up considerably, the horn section was burning on this one. They continued the set with the swinging "It Is What It Is", the title track from the album of the same name, before they returned to the Compared To That album with Brian's cover of the Chicago classic "Doesn Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" played on a higher tuned bass guitar, sounding close to a guitar, before they wrapped up the show with "Give It To Me Baby", originally done by Rick James, but his jazzed up version sounded definitively different. This was a really great straight ahead concert that tremendously benefitted from the Berks Jazz Fest Horns, who elevated the music to another level.
At 7pm, Incognito performed at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center, a great historic venue that provided the appropriate setting for this great band from Britain, led by Bluey Maunick who celebrates his 34th year in the music industry. They kicked off the show with an uptempo instrumental featuring the three piece horn section and a keyboard solo by Matt Cooper. Remember that Incognito entered the scene back in 1979 with an instrumental album called Jazz Funk, vocalists were later added during their career, and Bluey still loves to do some smoking instrumentals during his shows. Next was one of my favorites from their catalog, the funky "Roots (Back To A Way Of Life)" featuring the lovely Vanessa Haynes on vocals. Next being introduced was singer Natalie Williams, followed by the only male singer, Tony Momrelle, who just returned from a tour with Sade and had been sorely missed by the band during that time. Then it was time for the best singer this band ever nurtured, Maysa, who spent some important time during the early stages of her career with Incognito and will always be connected with them, she sang "Don't Turn My Love Away" in her own inimitable style. followed by "Step Into My Life" from the Positivity album.
In between songs, Bluey shared stories from his career, before more jazz-funk inclined songs featuring one of those world-class singers followed, with "Just A Friend Of Mine" being another highlight. Another fun part during the show was when everybody switched instruments and Bluey had an excuse to feature his vocals. They turned up the heat with "Parisienne Girl" from 1979 that featured the sax player who really brought the house down with his smoking sax playing that didn't want to end, people were cheering while he took the song higher and higher, it was just awesome. Then we got a great percussion and drums solo, where both players really pulled all the stops and showed their virtuosity. In the middle of the concert, Bluey paid tribute to songwriters Leon Ware and Stevie Wonder, who both are close to his heart, with Natalie Williams doing an awesome rendition of Minnie Riperton's "Inside My Love" that gave me goose bumps. Maysa did her signature song "Deep Waters", complete with some vocal improvisation, before they did their own Philly tribute with "Nights Over Egypt". At the end, Bluey did his "peace & love" speech, before we were dismissed to the sound of Bob Marley's "One Love" after over two hours of music. Time flew during this firework of music.
Saturday afternoon at 2pm, we were in for a treat with Gerald Veasley’s Sounds of Philly featuring a string of guest artists, celebrating the music of Philly created by Gamble and Huff on their seminal PIR label during the 70ies and 80ies. Bassist Gerald Veasley not only hails from Philadelphia, he played for several years with the late saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. who was from Philly as well, so he was well entitled to do this tribute show to this golden music era.
The show was opened with "T.S.O.P" originally done by M.F.S.B., it featured saxophonist Chris Farr and the Berks Jazz Fest Horns. Next was Teddy Pendergrass' "Love T.K.O." featuring guitarist Nick Colionne who looked awesome in his pink suit with tails, confirming his status as best dressed man in show business, he did the song justice with his soulful, Wes inclined playing. Things were speeded up a bit with "I'll Be There", also played by Nick Colionne, who took the opportunity to fool around with Gerald Veasley with some crazy interplay during one segment of the song. Things slowed down when songstress extraordinaire Carol Riddick came to the stage to do her heartfelt renditions of Phyllis Hyman's "Old Friend", followed by "Don't Let It Go To Your Head", originally done Jean Carn. After that, it was time to cover Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Let If Flow" which featured Chris Farr on tenor sax, giving also Gerald Veasley some solo space on the bass, he took the opportunity to throw in the bass line of "For The Love Of Money", after that things slowed down with Phil Perry, who tore up Patti LaBelle's "If Only You Knew". They closed their first half of the show with "Wake Up Everybody", featuring husband and wife duo Kindred The Family Soul.
After the intermission, the show was continued with Grover's "Winelight" featuring Chris Farr, a cherished classic of this artist, before we continued to dig deeper into the PIR catalog. Nick Colionne and Phil Perry were summoned onto the stage to do "Say It", before Phil Perry and Carol Riddick did "You Are Everything" as an emotional duet, showing their vocal prowess. This intense moment inspired Gerald Veasley to do a song off the set list, his own "Forever" featuring his bass, which always is a highlight of his show. Kindred The Family Soul came back to raise the soul factor, doing some of their own songs, before Phil Perry did one of the ultimate PIR classics in the form of "Love Don't Love Nobody", bringing the house down. The show was brought to an end with Kindred The Family Soul doing "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" bringing the crowd to their feet. An encore was demanded and given, it was the grande finale with everyone on stage doing "Love Train", which brought a great show lasting over two hours to an end.
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
At midnight it was time for Gerald Veasley's Midnight Jam at the Jazz Base, my favorite event that always provides musical surprises and unexpected moments, yielding the best jazz entertainment one can wish for. Gerald Veasley was leading the event, he was supported by Richard Waller III on drums, Donald Robinson on keyboards, Andrew Neu on saxophone and Brian Hughes on guitar who started the proceedings with Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar". Then Elan Trotman joined the stage to play a very jazzy rendition of "St. Thomas", before a slow blues featured the gutsy tenor sax of Chris Farr, plus the guitars of David P. Stevens and Nick Colionne, who was killing it once again with his bluesy guitar playing and singing, his wicked humor is a treasure to behold. For "Footprints", Brian Bromberg funked thinks up on the bass, then Najee's band took over to play the Gap Band's "Ourstanding" supported by Najee on flute, providing a highlight of the night. Then the core band came back and wrapped up a great night of improvised music.
At 10pm saxophonist Najee with special guest Alex Bugnon on piano appeared at the Crowne Plaza Hotel ballroom, the set was opened with an explosive version of "Can't Hide Love", his young and tight band was kicking ass and Najee soared like an eagle with his soprano saxophone above it all. Like Keiko Matsui, Najee is celebrating 25 years as a solo artist, still going strong. After the first few ultra groovy tracks, Alex Bugnon joined the band with some funky playing on the piano, having the crowd cheer along. Later he played a couple of tracks from an upcoming album, one of them being "Night In Tunisia".
Alex Bugnon and Najee go back a long way, Alex Bugnon was the keyboard player in Najee's band when he toured after the release of his first album, with Alex Bugnon later being signed by Capitol as well. So the bond between those two is strong, which was clearly felt during the concert. Najee is one of my favorite flute players, his sound and technique are just perfect, he did Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet" on the flute having the audience sing along. Then they did "All I Ever Ask" which originally featured Freddie Jackson, soulfully sung by guitarist Chuck Johnson who put all his heart into the song. Later Alex Bugnon did "Harlem On My Mind", his tribute to Isaac Hayes, delivering some massive keyboard playing. Najee did "Noah's Ark", one of his classic songs, then Alex Bugnon came back to the stage, doing "A House Is Not A Home", he pulled all the stops and provided one of the highlights of the show. Then they funked it up for the rest of the show, leaving a satisfied crowd after over two hours of great playing.
The festival was officially kicked of for me with the sold out Keiko Matsui concert at Miller Center for the Arts, an intimate venue that was just perfect for this kind of music. Keiko Matsui is celebrating her 25th year in the music industry, having released a total of 23 CDs in the US and having toured the world several times. She still looks gorgeous and her personality is just lovable. She opened her show with "Whisper From The Mirror", followed by "Doll", the title track of the album of the same name, featuring Jackiem Joyner on saxophone, who played in her band in previous years as well. Next were a few songs from her current release The Road… She emphasized those dots after the tile because the road would go on and be created by ourselves thus the dots, leaving the future course of the road open. She switched from the keyboards to the Steinway grand piano, it is a joy to witness this petite woman to immerse herself so deeply into her music, creating those beautiful melodies and emotions. Another highlight was the solo piano piece "Forever, Forever", while the heat later was turned up with the groovy "Across The Sun", which was one of her radio hits. Her band supported her well, they provided funky grooves when needed and provided subtle grooves during quieter moments, especially Jackiem Joyner blends well with Keiko's music and is a good choice for her band. She gave two encores, closing the show with a moving solo piano rendition of "Deep Blue". This was a totally enjoyable and memorable concert by this world class artist.
It is that special time of the year again: The Boscov's Berks Jazz Festival 2013 is taking place now, it was unofficially kicked off Thursday night with guitarist Brian Hughes at the Neag Planetarium at the Reading Public Museum, a suitable venue for such a concert with an additional catering area that was welcome as well. I had just flown in from Europe that afternoon, checked in with my hosts Michael & Beverly - who generously let me live at their place during the festival each year - grabbed some food and headed to the venue, where I was greeted by several friends and warmly welcomed, so I was in the festival mood right away. Despite having all of his CDs and having followed his career since day one, I had never seen Brian Hughes before, so this opportunity was really welcome. This concert was in part privately sponsored by Brentwood Industries, a music fan who learned about this artist one day by chatting with Brian's wife while sitting next to her on a plane, which I found remarkable. Brian was accompanied by a killer band, among them Ron Powell on percussion and Tom Brechtlein on drums, he played several songs from his current CD Fast Train To A Quiet Place, beginning with "Fast Train", followed by the latin groover "Would You Like Fries with That My Dear?" that kept Ron Powell busy. Another nice one was "Blanket Of Stars", a song which was made to be played at a planetarium like Brian jokingly remarked, featuring acoustic guitar. During the evening, he alternated on guitars, mostly playing his hollow body electric guitar, but also acoustic and other electric guitars. His guitar playing is clearly influenced by Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny, and his songs all feature catchy melodies and head-bopping grooves. His concert was broken up into two sets, it was well received, thus providing a great start to this year's Berks Jazz Fest. Watch this space for more concert reviews!
The 23rd Annual Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest has begun! The festival runs from Friday, April 5th through Sunday, April 14th. Although I live in Berks and have attended the event for many years, I’m amazed at how much talent and how many shows and venues are involved in this year’s festival. It seems like yesterday I wrote about Berks being a full ten years old and then in a flash Berks turned ‘Sweet Sixteen.’ Now, at the more mature age of 23, the festival has truly come into its own. With an identity and style that is easily recognized, it can be said that Berks has learned how to make these ten days count to provide memories that jazz fans want to relive year after year.
For me, there is one sure way to know the festival is ready to begin, and that is the arrival of my good friend Peter Boehi, administrator of this site, SmoothVibes.com. Peter has now traveled to the United States from Switzerland for the ninth year to bask for ten days in the music he loves. My husband and I enjoyed dinner with Peter earlier this evening and then he was off to one of the pre-festival shows at the Reading Public Museum Neag Planetarium, featuring Brian Hughes, the guitarist. Peter has been a wonderful support to our festival. In the early days I wrote about shows and posted photos here, but as time went on, Peter has made it his priority while here to cover the shows he attends and share brilliant photos he captures of the artists.
Along with Peter, many other media friends, musician friends and friends around Berks make the festival so enjoyable for me. As I looked over the festival plans for the year, I was again struck by the enormous task it is to produce and promote a festival of this magnitude.
I counted the approximate number of people directly involved in making Berks the festival that it is. The number reflects those who work in festival management, sponsor development (title sponsor, major sponsors, promotional/media sponsors, community and hotel sponsors), festival production (house, stage, production managers and crews), technical support, as well as support for transportation, hospitality, ticketing, merchandise, website, and workshop/youth activities, plus marketing/publicity, logo design, ticketing and merchandise, photography, security. Many of these positions are filled by those who give of their time, and so volunteer coordination is a significant part of the planning. The festival always has a title sponsor, and the title sponsor again this year is Boscov’s, which may mean little to you until you learn that Boscov’s is a department store that originated in the city of Reading by Solomon Boscov. His son Albert Boscov is a household name in Reading and Berks County. He has done so much good for the city in his initiative, creativity and support of so many successful projects (too many to name here, but The Goggle Works, one of the best art communities of its kind is just one example). He recently received a most prestigious award from the state of Pennsylvania, and people came from so many places and so many walks of life to celebrate with this very humble man who is so well loved and respected. I know the people involved in the Berks Jazz Fest couldn’t be more proud than to have Boscov’s as the title sponsor. But back to the number of people directly involved, are you ready for this? The number is somewhere around 250 people/organizations to do what’s mentioned above, and that doesn’t include the list of volunteers who will provide support out front and behind the scenes in each of the venues during each concert.
To give you the scope of this festival, there have been jazz events at local restaurants and all kinds of venues (anywhere that someone can set up an instrument or a band or a stool to provide music/singing) for at least a month leading up to the official start of the Jazz Fest. There have been at least six preview shows and there is a post-Jazz Fest show. During the ten days of the festival, there are 67 listed local events and many more that are not formally advertised but occur all during this time. As for major events, there are 45 of them listed. Most of these occur on the two weekends of the festival, (weekends is a loose term during Jazz Fest as it often includes Thursday night as well as Friday through Sunday.)
Here’s a taste of the talent that is appearing this first weekend, again beginning with tonight, Thursday: Brian Hughes, Babatunde Lea, John Scofield’s Hollowbody Band, Keiko Matsui, Dianne Reeves and the Reading Symphony Orchestra, The Music of Amy Winehouse featuring Jenifer Kinder and the Amy Flies in Paradise Band, Najee with special guest Alex Bugnon, Gerald Veasley’s Sounds of Philly, featuring Phil Perry, Nick Colionne, Carol Riddick and Kindred the Family Soul, Brian Bromberg Band featuring Randy Becker and the Berks Jazz Fest Horns, Incognito featuring Maysa, Kurt Elling, Eric Clapton Retrospective featuring Craig Thatcher Band, Kim Waters with special guests Chante Moore and Phil Perry, Elan Trotman and Friends, Lee Ritenour with Michael Lington and Joey Sommerville, Fourplay with special guest Lalah Hathaway, and Arturo Sandoval.
It’s quite a sight to see fans scurrying in all directions, from show to show, taking in all they possibly can of all this talent gathered in one place. What also draws people to Berks is that in addition to hearing great music, you get to meet and rub shoulders with many musicians. They are generally approachable and truly appreciate their fans. It makes the whole experience of being here that much more memorable. Fans return year after year because they have found kindred spirits and friends within this entire musical community known as the Berks Jazz Fest.
Tickets are still available and we would love to have you join us for any part of these ten days in Reading, Pennsylvania!!
Stay tuned here to read about many of the shows coming up and the ones we have attended.
Beverly J. Packard
Berks Jazz Fest Jazz Circle Member