The 33rd Annual Freihofer’s Jazz Festival featured 20 hours of live jazz on two stages over two days at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in Saratoga Springs, New York. It’s the most popular jazz festival in the area and one of the most anticipated events in Saratoga Springs each summer. The Festival offers food, vendors, or BYOB. Jazz fans can enjoy the SAPC amphitheatre seating or picnic on the lawn with friends. The SPAC main stage featured the headline performers while the Gazebo stage featured some unbelievably talented, up and coming jazz musicians.
Greg and Laura Scercy of New Jersey have attended the jazz festival for eight years. They enjoy relaxing on the lawn and also have reserved seats in the amphitheatre. “We enjoy being outside, the line-up is very good, there is never a rush to get into the park.” Laura said.
The artwork for the official festival t-shirt was created by Frankie Flores, a Saratoga Springs artist famous for his vividly colored racing scenes and jazz portraits. The t-shirt, is a part of the festival tradition and collector’s item for jazz aficionados, and always representative of music.
Saturday, June 26
Without any doubt, one of the brightest emerging musicians of the festival was New Orleans & Chicago trumpeter Mario Abney and his quintet. They kicked off the festival at the main stage then did a second performance at the gazebo stage. Abney was clean as a “nickel’s worth of neckbones”: decked out in a blue and white pinstriped suit, matching fedora, white sunglasses and shoes. He had the audience on their feet during his opening set in the amphitheater, and also had a very strong performance at the Gazebo stage.
The quintet which included Josh Atkin on saxophone, Jason Butler on piano, Kaliq Woods, on clarinet, and Jesse Morrow on bass marveled the audience with their powerfully funky jazz tunes. .Abney’ compositions included “The Cross,” “Spiritual Perception,” “Ora, Sweet Ora” and “Rollin’ where he led his band and the audience on a New Orleans second-line around the gazebo grounds area. During the press conference Abney shared that his uncle who played piano was a very strong personal influence in his life. Abney said that he moved to New Orleans to become more familiar with the New Orleans sound -the jazz riffs and the harmonies.
The JD Allen trio was the opening band on the Gazebo stage. Each of Allen’s compositions folded into the next with beautiful tempo changes and phrasing and tonality, that could be compared to John Coltrane.
Clarinetist Evan Christopher from New Orleans performed an array of material celebrating the New Orleans traditional style of music. His sound is reminiscent of Sidney Bechet.
Taj Mahal made his first time appearance at the Festival. Mahal is a composer, vocalist, Grammy award winner, and plays multiple instruments. Mahal performed several of his hits including “Corinna,” Fishin’ Blues,” and “Annie Mae” that were enjoyed and well received by the audience.
The team of legendary musicians Al Jarreau and the George Duke was “jazz bebop with a back beat.” Al and George started their careers together in San Francisco. Al performed some of his classics including” “We’re in this Love Together.” George and the trio got down on “Sweet Baby” where George pleaded on his solo moving from piano to acoustics without missing a note. They concluded the set with the crowd pleasing funk classic “Dukey Stick.”
The Sax for Stax band featured alto saxophonist Gerald Albright with his uniquely bluesy tones and “So Amazing” along with tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum’s “Do You Feel Me.” They paid tribute to Stax artists Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett, and Booker T & the MGs.
Ahmad Jamal, one of jazz’ s greatest pianists, made his first Saratoga festival appearance. Jamal’s band included bassist James Cammack, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manolo Badrena. His most identified work, “Ponciena” had the audience applauding for more.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Nineteen-year-old saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, was one of the most anticipated performers, and performed beyond expectations at the gazebo stage. She is currently attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Along with fellow band members and students Mark Whitfield, Jr. on drums, Takeshi Ohbayashi on piano, and Justin Richey on bass, the group ambitiously tackled tunes from Coltrane, Monk, Ornette Coleman, and several original compositions written by Niswanger including “Balance.” The audience received the group with great appreciation.
In the heat of the mid-day sun, drummer Kendrick Scott, and his all-star band quintet Oracle held down a set that was hotter than July. Featuring John Ellis on tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Taylor Eigsti, piano; Mike Moreno, guitar; Harish Ragavan, bass.
Vibraphonist-composer Stefon Harris and his band BLACKOUT were unbelievable. During his press conference. Harris described his band as diverse in their tastes for music, authentically honest and very spontaneous. Band included Sullivan Fortner, piano, Ben Williams, bass; Terreon Gully, drums; and Casey Benjamin, alto saxophone, vocoder.
Ramsey Lewis, pianist and composer, brought down the house with selections which reflect his early gospel playing and classical training along with his fondness of jazz, blues and R&B genre. Selections included “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” “Sun Goddess,” a medley of gospel including “Pass Me Not,” “Wade in the Water” and “The In Crowd.” With Larry Gray on bass, Leon Joyce on drums, the trio received several standing ovations. Ramsey and the trio returned for an encore, kicked off with the spiritual “Go Where I Send Thee”, segueing into “Amazing Grace”, and then smoothly moving into ‘”The Negro National Anthem”‘ for which the entire amphitheater audience stood in respect.
The thirteen members Afro-Cuban All Stars blended rhythms and vocals. Led by Juan De Marcos, their selections reflected a mix of all Cuban traditional music.
Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival continues to offer a jazz lineup of musicians from a variety of jazz traditions and styles. This well established event features two days of non-stop Jazz performances on two stages, by legendary and up and coming jazz musicians in a setting with a state of the art amphitheater, lawn seats and 60’s- style tent city behind. This festival draws people from all over and folks who have attended since its inception.
All photos are by Ben Johnson. More photos are available at Ben Johnson’s Photo Gallery.