The 7th Montclair Jazz Festival took place once again in Nishuane Park in Montclair, New Jersey on Saturday, August 13. The sweltering weather did not seem to dampen the spirits of the large crowd of jazz lovers, many of whom braved the nearly 100-degree heat from noon to almost 9 p.m. They were rewarded by a varied program of top performers-all for free! And unlike many events that bill themselves as jazz festivals, Montclair’s really is. Produced by the indefatigable Melissa Walker and her Jazz House Kids organization, with assistance from her husband and Festival Artistic Director (and bassist non-pareil) Christian McBride, the Festival also has an educational mission and the earlier sets highlighted some of the greatly talented student ensembles demonstrating their skills in a wide range of jazz styles. Younger kids had their own Family Jazz Discovery Zone tent where a series of events ranging from jazz story time to hands-on workshops introduced a future generation of musicians and fans to the music. It proved once again that, if exposed to jazz, youngsters find it irresistible.
By mid-afternoon, the pros took over the main stage, beginning with the Jazz House Faculty Collective-an all-star group that can teach and play. Pianist-vocalist Michele Rosewoman followed with her Latin jazz ensemble New Yor-Uba, featuring such luminaries as Alex Norris (trumpet), Bruce Williams (alto sax), Stacy Dillard (tenor sax), Chris Washburne (trombone), Yunior Terry (bass), Nina Rodriguez (vocals), and a powerful percussion section consisting of Robby Ameen, Roman Diaz, Mauricio Herrera and Rafael Monteagudo. Two excellent Jazz House Kids big bands followed: the Dynasty Big Band (directed by Mike Lee), and the award-winning Jazz House Kids Big Band (directed by Julius Tolentino). Both ensembles ably backed special guest vocalist Louis Prima Jr., who captured much of the indomitable spirit of his father, the legendary trumpeter-singer. A soulful set by the venerable George Coleman and his highly compatible group followed, with the leader (and NEA Jazz Master) on tenor sax, Yotam Silberstein on guitar, Mike LeDonne on piano, Yunior Terry on bass and George Coleman Jr. on drums. A Christian McBride Situation probed some of the fertile common ground between jazz and contemporary pop/soul music. The leader, who at age 22 recorded in a trio with bass icons Ray Brown and Milt Hinton, firmly anchored a different but equally infectious music with his electric bass. He was joined by his eclectic and committed ensemble: Rachel Z (keyboard), Adam Rogers (guitar), Antoinette Henry (vocals), DJ Logic (turntable) and the legendary Bernard Purdie (drums).
The only disappointment of the festival was the need to cut it short due to electrical storms in the area, so the final highly-anticipated set by Dee Dee Bridgewater never took place. Nonetheless, what did take place was nothing short of uplifting-especially the young talent so abundantly displayed at what has become a major cultural event.
Photographer Ed Berger braved the heat to capture the annual festival.
For more information, visit the official festival website.