This year, due to work commitments, I was only able to attend the second weekend, forcing me to miss several great shows, most notably the awesome tribute to the late guitar player Chuck Loeb called Remembering Chuck Loeb, who united tons of players to commemorate this great artist and his productive musical life. Chuck Loeb was one of the pillars of the festival and will be sorely missed.
I flew in on Thursday, met some friends and headed right to my first show, people's favourite, the Berks All-Star Jazz Jam who used to rest in the able hands of Chuck Loeb for many years, and now is led by bassist Gerald Veasley and trumpet player Rick Braun, both longstanding contributors to the festival.
The talent on stage was simply overwhelming with players like Randy Brecker on trumpet, Brian Bromberg on bass, Kirk Whalum, Maceo Parker, Gerald Albright, Everette Harp, Eric Marienthal, Andy Snitzer and Elan Trotman on saxes, Nestor Torres on flute, Bernie Williams, Nick Colionne, JJ Sansaverino and Paul Bollenback on guitars, Jay Rowe, Bobby Lyle and Chris "Big Dog" Davis on keyboards, Rayford Griffin on drums, Kevin Whalum and Selina Albright on vocals, plus the two hosts Gerald Veasley and Rick Braun.
They alternated between the full-line up doing songs like "Pick Up The Pieces" giving each one a solo spot and more intimate songs like "Manha De Carnaval" featuring the Caribbean Connection of Nestor Torres, Bernie Williams and Elan Trotman. With Maceo Parker and Nick Colionne on stage, their rendition of JB's "Sex Machine" was inevitable, and Maceo at age 75 still delivered a mean solo with some sharp, cutting horn stabs, his trademark playing. It was great to witness this living legend on stage.
While all the instrumentalists provided top notch work, I would like to single out the vocalists, Kevin Whalum, who is a great talent reminding me of Bobby McFerrin with his vocal dexterity, and Selina Albright, who gets better each time I see her, a confident woman with a beautiful voice building her career.
With the Berks All-Star Jazz Jam, the festival got off to a good start for me.