The 30th Annual Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest Moves to August

Even COVID-19 can't stop jazz musicians and fans from getting together!

  
             The 30th annual Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest was sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic for its big birthday celebration in April 2020, so the entire lineup was programmed for April of this year. 
  
            When Berks Arts, the festival's presenting organization, realized that even that might be too soon to hold this 10-day event that is all indoors, no one was daunted. According to executive director Meggan Kerber, "with much planning, shifting and flexibility amongst our artists and vendors," the decision was made to move fest to August 13-22
  
            Those who bought tickets for the 2020 lineup were advised to hold onto them, and that offer still stands for most of the concerts. But because of the second rescheduling, a few of the artists were unable to perform here in August because of previous commitments. 
  
            Ticketholders for Damien Escobar, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, the Peter Rogan Band, Felix Pastorius, Tab Benoit, and Incognito with Maysa, all of whom have scheduling conflicts, will receive refunds from Ticketmaster or from the Santander Arena Box Office â€" wherever the tickets were purchased. 
  
            In place of those artists, Berks Jazz Fest general manager John Ernesto has programmed some exciting concerts with an emphasis on blues:

  • Up-and-coming 22-year-old blues singer/guitarist Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, whose 2019 debut album, "Kingfish," was given Album of the Year and four other awards by the Blues Music Awards, will perform on Saturday, Aug. 14, along with award-winning blues saxophonist Vanessa Collier.
  • Blues/folk/roots legend David Bromberg and his band will perform with special guest King Solomon Hicks, a 25-year-old blues guitarist/singer/composer on Sunday, Aug. 15.
  • Austin-based powerhouse blues singer Marcia Ball (formerly of Freda and the Firedogs) will perform with blues/soul giant Tommy Castro and the James Supra/Sarah Ayers Band on Saturday, Aug. 21. Supra is an outstanding blues harmonica artist, and Ayers a classically trained vocalist who has switched to blues singing.
  • "An Incredible Night of Music" is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 21, with Chris "Big Dog" Davis & Friends. Davis is a Grammy-nominated jazz pianist/composer/producer with a long career performing and touring with Brian McKnight, Gerald Albright and others. Joining Davis will be Kim Waters, Marcus Anderson, Maysa, Eric Darius, Nick Collione, Lin Roundtree, Brian Lenair and Alyson Williams â€" all performing their hits.

  
            An additional major lineup update: Saxophonist and prolific recording artist David Sanborn will be featured as a special guest with bassist/composer Marcus Miller and his band on Saturday, Aug. 21. 
  
            Concerts previously scheduled to be held at the Inn at Reading will be held either outdoors at the tented Truck N Brew venue at Willow Glen Park in Sinking Spring, or indoors at a DoubleTree by Hilton Reading venue. 
  
            Otherwise, the Berks Jazz Fest's 30th birthday will be celebrated as planned and as usual: In style, with plenty of choices for every taste. 
  
            On Aug. 7, a week before opening night, singer Carol Riddick and bassist Gerald Veasley, with pianist Aaron Graves and drummer Tim Hutson, will perform "I Got Life:" The Music of Nina Simone at the WCR Center for the Arts, as a pre-festival appetizer. 
  
            The headliner for opening night, Aug. 13, will be trumpeter Chris Botti, always a favorite with festival audiences. The following day will be packed with events, Keiko Matsui and Kirk Whalum, to the Reading Pops Orchestra celebrating "The Spirit of Django Reinhardt," with accordionist extraordinaire Julien Labro and Hot Club of Reading musicians Chris Heslop, Josh Taylor and friends. That evening the 30th Anniversary All-Star Celebration will showcase more favorite artists from past festivals. 
  
            More headliners throughout the 10 days include singer Janis Siegel (of the Manhattan Transfer); saxophonist Boney James; Dean Brown's Summer of Love Evolution featuring trumpeter Randy Brecker and an all-star ensemble; The Brubeck Brothers celebrating Dave Brubeck's centennial; The Royal Scam (with the RS Horns) celebrating the music of Steely Dan; Brian Bromberg's Unapologetically Funky Big Bombastic Band; and for the finale, smooth jazz great Brian Culbertson. 
  
            There will be Gerald Veasley's Midnight Jams at Club ECP in the DoubleTree both Fridays and Saturdays. Numerous other shows are set for Club ECP, including Veasley's "Unscripted at Berks" each Saturday. 
  
            The annual Chuck Loeb Memorial All-Stars Jam is set for Thursday, Aug. 19, in the DoubleTree grand ballroom. 
  
            For a complete schedule, artist bios, and detailed information on ticket refunds and ticket purchases, visit www.berksjazzfest.com
  
            "Berks Arts and Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest is looking forward to celebrating 30 years of the Fest with our community and patrons," Kerber said. "Being able to provide an opportunity to gather safely to enjoy live music helps our community to heal and provide hope, as we continue to manage the impact of the pandemic. Berks Arts is proud to be able to inspire, engage and unite our community through the arts."

Norman Brown - Heart To Heart

By Liz Goodwin

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On his third outing for Shanachie Records and 12th overall project, GRAMMY-award winning popular guitarist/composer/vocalist/producer Norman Brown shines ebulliently from start to finish.

Shining examples of Brown's musical glow illuminate the mid-tempo, laid back cd opener, "Heading Wes," an obvious nod to legendary guitar hero Wes Montgomery; the Latin-tinged title track, which features the nylon-string acoustic guitar work of Peter White; "Just Groovin," where he's joined by fellow guitarist, in-demand producer, and co-writer, Paul Brown; and the percolating "Unconditional," accented by the unflappable keyboard master,  Jeff Lorber, who co-wrote the tune with Brown.

Brown co-wrote all 12 selections and co-executive produced the project with Danny Weiss. His customary energetic performances, coupled with the smile he always wears when onstage, are unmistakably felt throughout the project. There's no doubt at all that the listener really feels that the 49-year-old artist truly enjoyed making this record of all instrumentals.

Of course, it wouldn't be a complete Norman Brown record without his heartfelt ballads: the touching and tenderly titled "Amen," on which he is accompanied by renowned keyboardist Chris "Big Dog" Davis (who co-wrote with Brown and Vassal Benford); and the beautiful and pensive "Brighter My Light Shines." The latter, co-composed by unheralded veteran keyboard ace Phil Davis, is reminiscent of the spiritual-themed songs that Brown prominently showcased on his previous stellar album, The Highest Act of Love. It's a lovely number that is quite the centerpiece of the album.

However, some "Normantics," as the Shreveport, Louisiana native and Kansas City, Missouri raised fretboard-man's fan base is affectionately called, might disagree with what the centerpiece go-to tune actually is.

The closing "Outside the Norm," also featuring Davis, shines just as brightly in another manner, as Brown's guitar takes off in a fiery, classic rock genre-bending scenario of what might be described as Brown meets Ernie Isley meets Jimi Hendrix--with a little dash of Jimmy Page thrown in the mix. It's a definite change of pace offering--hence, the title-- that is sure to delight fans.

Heart to Heart lives up to its name. It sounds like the record that he's always wanted to make. It's one of the best if not the best Norman Brown effort to date. Shine on, Norman Brown!

By Liz Goodwin

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When one thinks of The Brothers Johnson, the sounds of their classic vocal mega hits "Strawberry Letter #23," "Get The Funk Out Ma Face", "Stomp", and "I'll Be Good to You"- not to mention their and huge afros and hip, colorful outfits donned on stage - quickly spring to mind. 

However, another mind bender is the fact that interspersed with the aforementioned vocal powerhouse tunes, were more than half a dozen cleverly crafted instrumentals written by them (with the exception of one).

These songs, which sparked a combination of Jazz nuances, soulful, plaintive vocals, and fiery funk, were significant to their A&M Records catalog - a catalog which proudly earned them a GRAMMY award in 1978, and several albums that sold platinum and gold.

It would seem that the Brothers J. had struck musical gold in their nascent days. They would experience the rare honor of having two towering, influential artists aid in giving them an auspicious start in the music business.

That auspicious start was off and running quickly.

In 1972 George, the band's lead singing and left-handed guitar playing brother, and younger brother, Louis, the slap bass guitar playing bro, were members of keyboard prodigy Billy Preston's band. They co-wrote several of Preston's tunes from his albums Music Is My Life and The Kids & Me. The instrumental, "Struttin'," from The Kids & Me, was co-written by George and Preston. 

They left Preston's band in 1973. Shortly thereafter, however, the iconic Quincy Jones invited them to contribute four tunes to Jones' classic Mellow Madness album in 1975. The Los Angeles native brothers scribed the infectious instrumental "Tryin' To Find Out About You", "Listen (What it is)" and two popular hits, "Just a Little Taste of Me" and the slinky, rhythmic "Is it Love That We're Missin.'"

By 1976 The Brothers had inked a solo record deal with A&M, a label with which they would remain throughout their recording career. Their debut was aptly entitled Look out for #1.

And along came their own albums' instrumentals.

From the Look Out For #1 debut came the euphoric "Tomorrow" (which later would be underscored on their mentor Jones' stellar Back on the Block album (with lyrics penned by the prolific Siedah Garrett and sung by the talented Tevin Campbell). "Tomorrow" was punctuated by the irrepressible harmonica and whistle work of special guest Toots Thielemans, a tasteful addition that gave the tune a gentle, childlike innocence.

On the same album, George and Louis traded turns on slick lead guitar and walking bass guitar solos on the propulsive "Thunder Thumbs and Lightin' Licks" (the pair's respective nicknames: Louis is the former and George's sobriquet is the latter).

 Even though the brothers received GRAMMY nominations for several singles, it was the ebullient and mellifluous "Q," (named for Jones) from their sophomore release Right on Time, that earned them their sole Grammy Award in 1978 for Best R&B Instrumental Performance, a shining moment indeed.

Subsequent albums highlighted the moody groove of "Streetwave," and the cheerful "Smilin' on Ya," (the only instrumental tune not written by the pair but by renowned trumpeter Jerry Hey, who appeared frequently on their albums).

There was something almost flirtatious about the brothers peppering an album with one or two instrumentals. It was as if they were saying and winking to fans: 'We know that you like these tunes but we won't give you too many of them at once. We'll just keep you clamoring for more."

And more is exactly what they delivered - well, almost.

On their fifth outing, the triumphantly titled Winners, the brothers were left to their own production devices as Jones began producing Michael Jackson's two phenomenal albums Off the Wall and Thriller (both on which Louis contributed his signature brazen bass chops). 

There were no instrumentals on Winners, unfortunately.

But the instrumentals returned in 1984.

Out of Control, their sixth album and only their second without Jones' production gifts (Leon Sylvers of The Sylvers fame served as producer), found the Brothers idyllic, lush composition "Tokyo". Four years later, they treated listeners to the roaring, upbeat funk of "P.O. Box 2000" from their album Kickin'.

Alas, after 1988, the Brothers Johnson weren't kicking out any more albums as a team. They began to record and work separately.

George had begun working with the versatile and drummer/vocalist/engineer/composer Steve Arrington, lead singer of R&B famed Slave. He was featured prominently on Arrington's 1985 solo debut, Dancin' in the Key of Life, on which George played both lead guitar and bass guitar. EarlierGeorge contributed his inimitable baritone, along with Donnie Gerrard, to Jeff Lorber's "Think Back and Remember" from Lorber's 1981 smash effort Galaxian. He further released the EP Back Against the Wall for Jones' label, Qwest Records. Unsurprisingly, an instrumental version of the song was produced.

Louis was renowned for his extraordinary slapping electric bass work on Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and "Beat It," and additionally appeared on albums by Herbie HancockGeorge BensonStanley Clarke, Earl Klugh, George DukeGrover Washington, Jr., The TemptationsDonna SummerMichael McDonald, among countless other luminaries. He released a single for Capitol Records named "Kinky" and recorded a solo album called Evolution.

He switched genre gears to form a group Passage that focused primarily on Christian-based themes. In addition to Louis, Passage consisted of his then-wife Valerie Johnson, and former The Brothers Johnson percussionist and vocalist Richard Heath.

Today George runs his own production company. His son, Troy "R8DIO" Johnson, won a 2016 GRAMMY Award as Associate Producer & Engineer for singer Solange's GRAMMY-award winning song "Cranes in The Sky."

Sadly, Louis passed away at age 60 in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 21, 2015. Reports listed his cause of death as gastrointestinal bleeding of the esophagus. 

While they were performing as a team, The Brothers Johnson were unparalleled. Their music, both instrumental tunes and vocal ones, has left an undeniable, indelible imprint on the carefree music of the Seventies and Eighties as well as having influenced a new generation of musicians and vocalists alike. They forever will be an instrumental, integral part of music that remains close to our hearts.

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By Liz Goodwin

Despite the trumpet's prominent historic role in Jazz music, the instrument didn't showcase many of its practitioners in the contemporary jazz genre after the mid-Seventies. Queens, New York native Tom Browne, however, changed that notion.

Browne's blistering solos and flair for melodicism and lyricism were on full display on Browne Sugar, his 1979 debut. From the album's opener, "Throw Down," composed by Browne, a bold, up tempo number that highlighted the trumpeter's facility to play smooth, fluid lines, to the closer "Antoinette Like," a contemplative ballad, penned by keyboard wunderkind Bernard Wright, Browne demonstrated that he is a focused, original artist, destined to be on the scene for the long run.

The long run began its race for Browne on this record with the aid of Wright; the incomparable pianist/composer/producer Dave Grusin (who co-produced); first-rate-bassists Francisco Centeno and the illustrious Marcus Miller (the latter of whom wrote the alternately mellow and funky "Herbal Scent"); acclaimed saxophonist Michael Brecker, versatile vocalist Patti Austin, and underrated drummer Buddy Williams, just to name a few stellar names on the eight-tunes project.

Because of its mix of ballads and mid-tempo funk, "Browne Sugar" was definitely a record that established the trumpet ace's (also a flugelhornist) own musical identity. It placed Browne front and center as a leader and not as a bystander on his own record.

Speaking of his own musical identity, Browne's composition, "Promises for Spring," is another tune that possessed that gentle, late-night aura that would be heard on Quiet Storm radio. It's just the kind of record that would become the template for contemporary jazz--radio-friendly, breezy tunes laced with R&B overtones with jazz inflections. The album had great flow without any selections that would prompt listeners to skip to the next track.

Even in the present musical soundscape, there are few trumpet-led projects that embrace the distinctive sound of Browne's. It's a classy, stylish debut that sounds just as rich and melodic in 2020 as it did in 1979. Cheers to Tom Browne and to the musicians who have made Browne Sugar a sonic gem!

Sunday night, the grande finale took place at the Església Nova, Son Servera, an unfinished church that only had most of its walls, but no roof, a great venue with a special vibe. People were transferred by bus from the hotel. The stage was set for Pieces Of A Dream featuring James Lloyd on keyboards and Curtis Harmon on drums, they were supported by Martin Feske on guitar, Marius Goldhammer on bass and Oli Silk on keyboards. They kicked off their show with the energetic "Wakeup Call", "Right Back Atcha" and "Night Vision", before the delved into their classics like "Fo-Fi-Fo" and "Mt. Airy Groove". They gave us a premiere of the title track of their soon to be released new album On Another Note, before they slowed it down with "For You" which was dedicated to the people running this festival. The whole band was in a fine playing mood, and James Lloyd was killing it on the keys. At the end of the concert, he strapped on his keytar to play "Come Together" walking around in the audience, bringing a great show and the festival as a whole to a close.

  

This was another great issue of the Mallorca Smooth Jazz Festival with great music, lots of fun, meeting friends from all across the world and sharing a common passion. Next year's Mallorca Smooth Jazz Festival will take place May 11-17, 2020.

Thanks also to Hap Carpenter for providing his notes to help write these reviews!

Next was Steve Oliver, a musician that helped to shape the smooth jazz genre, giving us his blend of smooth jazz, world, latin, new age and even rock. He was accompanied by Martin Feske on guitar, Marcus Finnie on drums, Marius Goldhammer on bass and Lutz Deterra on keyboards. He impressed us with his great acoustic guitar playing and vocal artistry, doing songs like "We Are", "Global Kiss", "High Noon", "Illuminate" which started out acoustically, before the band kicked in, "World Citizen" and more. He was raising the bar with "Chips & Salsa", having people dance in front of the stage. Other highlights was when Lutz Deterra played the accordion, showing an unexpected side of his talents, plus trumpet player Matthias Beckmann guesting on one song. To expand his musical palette, he incorporated synth sounds to his guitar, mimicking a whole orchestra at one point. Later, he wandered into the audience, doing a Spanish solo piece on the acoustic guitar. Towards the end of the show, he even incorporated some rock into his music, having many people on their feet. His show was varied and entertaining.

Sunday morning keyboardist Greg Manning and rising sax player Jeff Ryan did their show, thanks to the nice weather, it was held outside. Their band consisted of David Ital on guitar, Westley Joseph on drums and Orefo Orakwue on bass. Greg Manning had collaborated with Jeff Ryan in the past, so playing with each other was a natural thing for them, both were in a fine playing mood alternating between material from their own catalogs and complementing each other just fine. They opened with "Groove Me" and "Sweet Spot", bringing things nicely up to speed. Highlights of the show were Greg Manning's "The Calling" which had a great west coast vibe, while Jeff Ryan killed it with the intense "Embrace" boasting his gutsy tenor sound with lots of soul and feeling, it was pure bliss. Both players were a breath of fresh air to the genre and discoveries of the festival, I am sure we will hear a lot more from them in the future. They were asked for an encore and did their cover of Pharrell Williams' "Happy", having a happy crowd of people dancing in front of the stage.

  

Due to health reasons, the scheduled Richard Elliot and his band had to cancel their European tour, filling in was his friend and festival favourite Peter White, who was an appropriate replacement. He appeared with the same band that played before, plus saxophone player Jeff Ryan, who repeatedly joined him not only for the sax parts, but also provided some smoking solos, ironically reminding me a lot of Richard Elliot. Despite the fact that his shows have become a little predictable, he played with finesse and seemed to have a ball, we got the usual selection of songs like "Groovin'", "Who's That Lady", "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", "Bueno Funk", "Bright" (dedicated to the late Wayman Tisdale), "San Diego" and more, the moving "My Prayer" played solo was a nice breath of fresh air. He gave his fellow players ample room to play, Matthias Beckmann joined in to deliver some great trumpet playing during "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", providing another highlight. His show was very entertaining, he is a consummate artist that delivers smooth jazz on the highest level, possibly the best the genre has to offer.

Ragan Whiteside opened Saturday night, her band consisted of Oli Silk on keyboards, David Ital on guitar, Orefo Orakwue on bass, Westley Joseph on drums, plus Jeff Ryan on sax and Rob Zinn on trumpet. She went through a few of her own songs, like "Early Arrival" and others, before she gave us her rendition of the Ohio Players' classic "Sweet Sticky Thing", delivered in style. She slowed it down with "In Love", a beautiful track dedicated to her husband who was present in the audience. The groove picked up with Patrice Rushen's "Remind Me", showing also her vocal skills. Things got even funkier with "Funktuation", which required some participation from the audience providing the vocal part and offered several band members some solo space. Her great flute playing and funky vibe went down very well with the crowd, she was asked for one encore and left a satisfied crowd.

Next were Canadian duo Four80East featuring Rob DeBoer on keys and Tony Grace on percussion, they were accompanied by Martin Feske on guitar, Marcus Finnie on drums, Marius Goldhammer on bass and Miguel Ramon on sax, working nicely together as a group. They started out slowly and built it up, ultimately falling into their trademark groove with excellent percussion and smooth keys, caressing the audience with their melodies and hooks, providing a very enjoyable musical experience. The band contributed great solos, most notably Martin Feske on guitar and Miguel Ramon on sax. Among the songs played were "Sandbar", "Easy Come, Easy Go", "Eegee Beegge" and "Cinco Cinco Seis" from their current Four On The Floor EP, among others. Their show was very well received.