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Category: RIJF

New episodes of The Jazz Session: Fly and Barbara Dennerlein


Jason Crane interviews the members of the trio Fly: bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Jeff Ballard and saxophonist Mark Turner. Fly is very much a collective effort — the group operates with a leaderless philosophy in which everyone contributes equally. As a result, the trio has come up with some fresh and exciting sounds as they try new combinations and new ways to balance their respective instruments. All three musicians are very much in demand as sidemen, too. A full transcript of this interview is available at



Jason Crane interviews organist Barbara Dennerlein about her pipe organ recording Spiritual Movement No. 2 (Bebab Records, 2008). The album was recorded at one of Germany’s most famous churches in front of a very appreciative audience. In this interview, recorded before a concert in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Dennerlein discusses jazz on the pipe organ; why organists should use their feet; and how she adapts to the challenge of seldom having her own instrument on stage.


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PAETEC Jazz Festival

Here’s the follow-up to this morning’s post about the new jazz festival being launched in Baltimore by John Nugent and Marc Iacona, producers of the RIJF:

PAETEC Jazz Festival to Premiere in Baltimore August 9-11, 2007
Baltimore-born Entrepreneur to Bring the Music Home!

Rochester, NY-January 31, 2007-Get ready Baltimore! The nation’s newest major jazz festival, PAETEC Jazz is coming your way, promising to heat up the music scene this summer for three music-packed days August 9-11.

Festival officials announced the new event at a news conference this morning at Baltimore’s City Hall hosted by newly elected Mayor Sheila Dixon.

“Considering the enduring history that jazz has in Baltimore, this is indeed a great day for the City,” said Mayor Sheila Dixon. “I’m proud to partner with the PAETEC Jazz Festival’s producers, John Nugent and Marc Iacona, and commend Arunas Chesonis of PAETEC, Inc. for helping showcase Baltimore through this great new event. We’re inviting jazz lovers from around the globe to experience a musical encounter unlike anything that’s ever happened in Baltimore. From Billie Holliday to Cab Calloway, jazz has set the musical tone for Baltimore for decades and the PAETEC Jazz Festival gives us yet another opportunity to highlight the offerings of our world class city.”

PAETEC Jazz Festival Baltimore, will be held in multiple indoor venues and outdoor stages set against the impressive backdrop of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and downtown area. A diverse program of more than 40 concerts will embrace all genres of creative improvised music and feature Grammy-winning headliners as well as some of the world’s finest emerging artists. Venues confirmed to date include Pier 6 and Power Plant Live! The complete artist lineup, schedule, and ticket sale information will be announced in May.

PAETEC Jazz Festival Baltimore was conceived by PAETEC Communications, Inc., Chairman and CEO Arunas A. Chesonis, the Baltimore-born entrepreneur whose telecommunications and information technology company has achieved remarkable growth since it was founded in 1998. PAETEC is headquartered in Rochester, NY, and has offices from coast to coast including in Baltimore and nearby Washington DC.

To produce PAETEC Jazz Festival Baltimore, Chesonis, 44, has tapped the rising star festival producer team of John Nugent and Marc Iacona, who have carefully nurtured two growing and highly successful festivals. The Rochester International Jazz Festival, now in its sixth year and attracting record audiences topping 80,000 in 2006, and the Stockholm Jazz Festival, now entering its 24th year, drawing more than 50,000 music fans, have brought significant positive recognition and economic impact to the host communities.

“Baltimore has always been an important market for PAETEC as well as being the home of one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the nation,” said Chesonis. “We’re honored to be a part of what should become an anticipated cultural event in Baltimore, and I personally look forward to hearing some amazing music while enjoying what this city has to offer.”

“We are very excited to bring PAETEC Jazz to the great city of Baltimore,” said Marc Iacona, Co-producer and Executive Director. “John and I are extremely impressed with Arunas’s vision and leadership in helping establish this important new event. Baltimore is a thriving urban center, alive with activity, and will be a spectacular setting for our diverse festival lineup. We look forward to delivering a top level event that will also have a positive economic impact on the region.”

Artistic Director John Nugent said, “Having produced festivals in different parts of the world, my focus and my joy is in putting together talent – creating a musical painting that meshes new musical ideas from emerging artists with music that is familiar and loved. That is what helps build a festival atmosphere that is electrifying. We have been fortunate to create that in Rochester and Stockholm, and now look forward to accomplishing the same high-level quality event for Baltimore. There is so much talent and so many broad creative styles of creative improvised music to choose from. When our new festival canvas comes together in Baltimore, it will be special.”

Sponsor Opportunities

A variety of sponsorship opportunities are available. For information visit or contact Marc Iacona at

News Alerts

Sign up to receive the latest PAETEC Jazz Baltimore news at

About PAETEC Communications

PAETEC Communications, Inc., is an innovative supplier of communications solutions to medium and large businesses and institutions. With the belief that every customer has unique needs, PAETEC offers personalized solutions that include a comprehensive suite of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services delivered over its Private-IP MPLS network. With more than 1,100,000 access line equivalents in service, PAETEC serves more than 15,000 core business customers across the U.S. by offering a full line of telecommunications and Internet services, enterprise communications management software, security solutions, and managed services. The company was the recipient of the 2005 American Business Ethics Award for a mid-size company, presented by the Society of Financial Services Professionals. PAETEC is headquartered in Fairport, N.Y.

About the Producers

PAETEC Jazz Festival Baltimore is Sponsored by PAETEC Communications Inc and produced by John Nugent, Artistic Director, and Marc Iacona, Executive Director, principals in RIJF, LLC, based in Rochester, NY. The team also produces the critically acclaimed and growing Rochester International Jazz Festival, which will feature more than 600 musicians and more than 120 concerts during the nine day event June 8-16, 2007.

Nugent also produces The Stockholm Jazz Festival, which this year celebrates its 24th year July 17-21. As a performer, Nugent, a noted tenor sax player, has traveled the world with many jazz artists including Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Clark Terry, The Woody Herman Orchestra and The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Iacona, a business and community leader, avid trumpeter and philanthropic supporter of the arts, is also President of Simcona Electronics Corporation, a leading electronics distributor based in Rochester New York with offices serving the eastern US, Canada and Asia.

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RIJF Producers Launch New Festival

This morning, my inbox contained this message from the producers of the Rochester International Jazz Festival:

Media Advisory

For release January 31, 2007

Rochester International Jazz Festival Producers and Baltimore Mayor to Announce Major New Jazz Festival at Press Conference in Baltimore Wednesday

Rochester Companies to Play Key Role


Announcement of a Jazz Festival in the Inner Harbor and areas of downtown Baltimore
in August 2007.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007 – 9:30 A.M.

Mayor Sheila Dixon will unveil the Festival’s official name and logo, introduce the
event’s two producers and corporate sponsor. The festival’s producers, as well as the CEO of the corporate presenting partner, will be available following the press conference for interviews.


Mayor’s Executive Conference Room – 2nd Floor of Baltimore’s City Hall, 100 N. Holliday Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202


  • Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon
  • John Nugent and Marc Iacona, Co-producers and Partners in the Rochester-based
    company, RIJF, LLC

  • Rochester-based Corporate Presenting Partner

As you may already know, John Nugent produces the Stockholm Jazz Festival in Sweden. Now it looks like he’s adding another U.S. festival to his growing production company. That’s exciting news for jazz fans, and exciting news for Baltimore.

I wrote yesterday about the benefits for Rochester of the jazz festival. It looks like Baltimore has already realized the potential of a major cultural event. I’m glad to see their mayor out in front. I was also glad to see Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy at the RIJF press conference last year. Our mantra should be: Remember Montreal!

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Supporting Rochester’s Jazz Festival

The Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester’s daily paper, weighed in this week in support of using the arts as a growth engine for Rochester:

A mix of activities: Jazz Festival’s growth should inspire Music Fest surge

(January 30, 2007) — As part of a larger plan to create a dynamic city, Rochester officials must provide entertainment on a large scale.

So news that the city is headed in that direction with the annual Rochester International Jazz Festival is encouraging.

With just $35,000 last year, the event managed to attract 80,000 people. Imagine what could be done with the $250,000 the city has asked for.

The idea is to expand the festival beyond the East End and hold events in other areas of the city such as High Falls and Corn Hill, creating a more appealing event.

This would be money well- spent. But the focus on the jazz festival creates a question. What about Music Fest?

The event was a product of the Johnson administration, and has primarily highlighted R&B and hip-hop acts. The event has seen some changes over the years — a reduction in the number of days it is held and a change of venue last year to Frontier Field. Charles Reaves, commissioner of recreation and youth services, said keeping the Music Fest going for years to come remains a priority of the city.

He said sponsorship for the event hasn’t grown to the level the city would like to see, but an audience is there.

Broadening the Music Fest to include other genres of music could be a smart way of appealing to more people and keeping the event fresh, though Reaves said variety can be achieved within the R&B and hip-hop genres by offering a mix of new, old and local acts.

He said it’s striking the right mix, as the jazz festival has done, will help to build the Music Fest’s appeal.

Officials will meet soon to determine the details of this year’s event, and the City Council will vote on whether to approve additional funding for the jazz festival. Nurturing both events should be on the top of the city’s to-do list.

That’s a song I’ve been singing for years. You’ll find that opinion and a lot more about the Rochester International Jazz Festival by looking through the RIJF category here at

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The Respect Sextet at RIJF

Here’s a little clip of the Respect Sextet playing “Time To Say Goodbye” at the 2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival. The clip runs about 2 minutes. Enjoy!

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2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival: The final word

Once again, it’s over. From the look of it, the 2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival has been a roaring success. We’ll have to wait for the facts until the annual post-festival press conference, but here are a few thoughts as we close out the year.

1. It was a great decision to close Jazz Street (Gibbs St.) for the whole festival. The East End felt like a party for the whole nine days, and that was fantastic. Toward the middle of the festival, as the weather improved, Jazz Street was packed every night with folks watching the free student shows, and the free shows by the pros, too. This is a what a festival atmosphere is supposed to feel like. My prediction? In another five years, we’ll see additional street closures — maybe even free East Ave shows every night of the festival.

2. Kudos to John Nugent for the diversity of the acts. This year’s festival had a great group of acts from overseas, plus a fair amount of adventurous music for those of us who like hanging out on the ragged edge. I’d like to see a venue devoted to “out” music in future fests.

3. Rochester’s jazz fans are a pretty classy bunch. With a few exceptions, most of the folks in most of the venues were polite and attentive, because they were there to hear the music. The Montage is probably the biggest offender in the loud crowd category, and Max and the tent had those tendencies, too, but by and large people were cool.

4. We have a wealth of student talent in the Rochester area. Alen Tirre and Bill Tiberio booked a great collection of student ensembles for the early sets at the Jazz Street Stage. That was great to see, and it’s always a cause for celebration to see young players diggin’ the music. I was particularly impressed by a young woman who played trombone from West Irondequoit High School.

5. It’s time to start booking acts in other venues at 8 p.m. For the first five years, the producers haven’t booked acts at the same start time as the Eastman shows. It’s probably time for that to stop. The festival is drawing a large enough crowd these days that there are enough people to buy Eastman tickets AND fill the club venues. Otherwise, there’s not much to do at 8 p.m. This year, by the time the 8:30 shows started, you really needed to be in line for a 10 p.m. show at one of the clubs. Which leads me to…

6. We need more venues. Club Passes were sold out on Day 1. Just about every show in the clubs had a 60-90 minute wait, and many people couldn’t get into ANY show during a particular time slot. There are additional venues downtown, and some just out of walking distance that an EZ-Rider-style shuttle could take people to. It’s time for an expansion! We’ll end on an up note:

7. The Bop Shop was back — yay! Two years ago, Tom Kohn and the boys set up shop at East and Jazz Street. This year, they had a tent on Jazz Street. It makes such a difference to have access to the records right there at the festival. I’d like to see the official autograph sessions return, too.

All in all, a brilliant festival, brimming with great music and good times for every jazzhead — and lover of good music — in the region. See you next year!

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2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival: Day 8 In Review

It’s always bittersweet as the festival winds down to the end. There are still great acts to see, but you know that in a few days Rochester will turn back into a pumpkin, and we’ll have to wait a year to fit into the glass slipper again.

Tonight in Kilbourn Hall, Sweden’s E.S.T. (the Esbjorn Svensson Trio) worked hard to push back the final moment and keep the festival energized. They succeeded, functioning as a three-man instrument to turn groove into gold and complex harmonic and melodic structures into the anthems that have sold more than 100,000 copies of their latest record. And before you read that number and say, “Wait a minute, doesn’t Britney sell millions of records?” remember that a smash jazz album tends to sell around 10,000 copies. That’s a big hit. So 100,000 is an insane number in the jazz world.

E.S.T. is Esbjorn Svensson on piano, Dan Berglund on bass, and Magnus Ostrom on drums. The band is touring the U.S. and Canada in support of their new CD, Viaticum. Tonight was the first show of the tour. The set opened with “Eighty-eight Days in My Veins” from the new album. Svensson is a wonder, playing left-hand bass lines that many pianists couldn’t play with their right hands, let alone solo over. He and Berglund were locked in at the low end, with Ostrom driving the group forward and adding very musical shadings with cymbals, bells and effects. In fact, the group used its effects skillfully, creating new textures and layers rather than using them to cover up poor or unimaginative playing. “Viaticum” featured a rivulet of rhythmic playing on the bass, but the rivulet quickly widened into a stream of of tubular industrial sounds from the upright bass and an arco solo that sounded like Ravi Shankar going through a Cuisinart. At one point, Svensson reached into the piano with what looked like an overturned shot glass, using it to bend pitches on the strings of the piano. The woman in front of me leaned far forward in her seat as if she were in the crowd at a magic show, trying to see behind the illusion.

Later in the set, Ostrom took a drum solo that was processed through some ENIAC-era effects, the bloops and bleeps blending in with the toms and cymbals. He played the solo with brushes, which added a wonderful texture and sounded great through the effects unit, as did his yelping onto the snare head. And no, that isn’t a type-o. This is a good time to mention that the band came with its own sound engineer, which probably explains why it sounded so good in the tricky Kilbourn Hall.

The highest compliment I can pay is that when I tried to think of whom to compare EST to, I couldn’t come up with anyone. This highly original and entertaining trio is huge in Europe, and promises to have a similar effect here on this continent.

Soulive held court at the East Ave Stage, and thousands of people came out to enjoy the show. Unfortunately, the 9 p.m. start time meant that you could either watch Soulive or line up for a 10 p.m. club set. Maybe next year the festival can finally free itself from its five-year policy of not booking bands at the same start time as the Eastman Theatre shows at 8 p.m. For folks who don’t attend those shows, that means that you usually can only see a club set at 6 and 10, rather than also seeing a club set (or major outdoor act) at 8 p.m.

For me, there was no question about my destination: Asylum Street. No, that’s not an address in Rochester, it’s the home of the Spankers. The Asylum Street Spankers are a reviewing nightmare. The music is just about uncategorizable, many of the lyrics are unprintable, and a Spankers show is more or less indescribable. So take the next several sentences with a grain of salt.

Tonight, the Spankers were a six-piece band. At various times, the members played washboard, fiddle, guitar, ukilele, manolin, percussion, harmonica, upright bass, voice, and beer bottle. Everybody sings, everybody tells jokes, and everybody contributes to the hillbilly-bluegrass-improv-comedy-country-blues-fill-in-your-own-adjectiveness of the experience. Maybe it’s easiest to just give you a few choice concepts, words and phrases from some of tonight’s selections. WARNING: NOT SUITABLE FOR UNENLIGHTENED CHILDREN OR PARENTS!

  • “Fellatio. Cunnilingus. Pedaresty. Daddy, why do these words sound so nasty?”
  • “Winning The War On Drugs” — sung by Wammo (!) as he chugged a beer
  • “You Only Love Me For My Lunch Box”
  • “If you love me, you’ll sleep on the wet spot / Buy my tampons using your foodstamps / take out the garbage and clean out the cat box / If you love me, the wet spot is yours”
  • A brief interlude of musical saw
  • A hilarious tune about bestiality titled “I Want To F*** You Like An Animal” (“written for my grandma,” said Sick (!!), who sang the tune)
  • A hick-hop tune “about when cousins marry” combining country murder ballads and gangsta rap
  • The Star Wars Cantina Theme

Get the idea? Run, don’t walk, to the next Spankers show. They’ve been in Rochester before, and I’m sure they’ll be back. (Kudos to Tom Kohn from The Bop Shop for making it happen!)

A quick non-RIJF review: I stopped by the Bug Jar after the Spankers show and caught Filthy Funk and a bunch of hip hop MCs and singers gettiin’ it on for about 90 minutes. Hassan dropped the knowledge on the mic, and even saxman Jimmy Highsmith made a guest appearance. Where my funk at?

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2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival: Day 7 In Review

Rochester was filled with world-class musicians tonight, but the night belonged to one man named Wayne.

Tom Harrell kicked off the evening in Kilbourn Hall with a set of mostly original compositions. Harrell’s flugelhorn work was stunning throughout the evening as he dipped into the stream of chords and rhythms sprung from the hands of pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Rodney Green. For most of the set, it was the contemplative Harrell on stage, navigating circular melodies and intricate chord progressions. At the end of the set, though, traces of the old fire emerged, as Harrell — on trumpet this time — ripped through a masterful solo on “Caravan.” The crowd loved him, whistling and shouting and calling for multiple encores.

The Eastman Theatre was the center of the jazz universe tonight, as saxophonist Wayne Shorter and his quartet held court. Shorter brought his working band for the gig — pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. This is the band that backed Shorter on his three most recent albums: Footprints Live, Alegria and Beyond The Sound Barrier. Their telepathic communication was evident on stage, as was their sheer pleasure at being together. In recent months, Shorter has been ill, and several of his concerts have been glorified trio shows. Tonight, though, Wayne was in good form, particularly when playing the soprano saxophone. His probing lines cut through the complex interplay of the rhythm section, driving the band to greater heights.

The quartet opened the show with the long and meditative “She Moves Through The Fair” from Alegria. Shorter stuck to the tenor on this tune, and both his sound and approach were often tentative. On the second tune, though, Shorter gained command of the stage, soprano saxophone soaring as Brian Blade rocked — I said ROCKED — so hard that his drum stool fell over. The third tune opened with a lovely duet between Blade on bells and Patitucci on arco bass. The intensity heightened with another masterful soprano sax solo, and this time Blade launched a drumstick across the stage and onto the floor in the orchestra pit where the media sits. My good friend and fellow media guy paused for one beat, then leapt out of his seat to grab the stick as a souvenir. “Hey man,” he said, “it’s like a foul ball.” I waited in vain for Shorter to drop a saxophone into the orchestra pit. Alas, I went home empty-handed. The obligatory “spontaneous” encore featured more soprano and tenor, and ended the evening on a high note.

For the final set of the evening, a packed-to-the-rafters Montage hosted trumpeter Terrell Stafford and his B-3 band, featuring organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Chris Somebody. OK, his last name wasn’t Somebody, but the Montage crowd was so loud — mostly in the bar, not in the music room — that it was impossible to understand about 80% of what Stafford was saying. He noted this problem from the stage, and played two very soft numbers in an attempt to quiet the conversations. Despite the annoyances from the crowd, the set was nicely swinging, with the band putting several jazz thoroughbreds through their paces, including “Skylark,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone But You).” Particularly moving were the two ballads: “Dear Rudy,” a tribute written by Stafford for his late grandmother, and the even quieter “Nearness of You,” both played on silky flugelhorn.

(UPDATE: It turns out the drummer’s name was Chris Beck. Thanks to the Woodstock Road desk for the tip.)

For complete information, including audio files, concert photos and more, visit

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2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival: Day 6 In Review

So how DO you see five acts in one night when four of them are playing at the same time? That was the question faced tonight, as the 6 and 10 p.m. sets featured Ben Allison, Jane Bunnet, the Tiberi/Garzone tenor duo, and the Joe Locke/Geoffrey Keezer group. All that plus Toots Thielemans and Kenny Werner at 8 p.m. opening for McCoy Tyner’s trio. Oy!

First it was off to Kilbourn Hall for a set by saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett. The effervescent Bunnett had an all-star band: Elio Villafranca on piano, Keiran Overs on bass and Francisco Mela on drums. The two Cubans were an inspired pairing, urging each other on from across the stage, and singing together on several songs.

Bunnett seemed visibly surprised by the size of the crowd and the enthusiastic response as she walked onstage. “That’s a really nice welcome,” she said. “Almost as nice the one we got at customs.” She took out her cell phone and said she felt safe in using it as a timer because “no one ever calls me.” She was saved from this precarious position by a good Samaritan with a watch he was willing to loan for the set.

Then it was down to business. Bunnett unleashed a long and flowing unaccompanied solo on the soprano saxophone, often lifting one knee in the crane stance known to fans of the Karate Kid movies. The solo became a rollicking quartet number, complete with call and response vocals. The second piece was “Ogere’s Cha,” a tune from Villafranca’s excellent debut album from 2003, Incantations. For this number, Bunnett switched to her wonderfully Rahsaan-esque flute, the raspy tone running through the hall like a broadcast from Cuban radio in the 1950’s. Villafranca’s solo climaxed with a two-handed trill that seemed to lift the stage a few inches higher, as the audience collectively willed the downbeat and accompanying cymbal crash.

Bunnett then dedicated “Joyful Noise” to the brilliant pianist Hilton Ruiz, who died on June 6 at age 54. Mela led the quartet with his wonderful voice and his exuberant drums, all the while with a look on his face as if he were debating an invisible partner. “Alma de Santiago” began with ruminations by Villafranca, then accelerated into a classic Cuban dance tune with vocals by Bunnett, Villafranca and Mela, and a soprano sax solo that had my companion exhorting the heavens for release. Cries of “Ultra, ultra!” brought the band back on stage for another wonderful Cuban dance number, and sent the crowd off to Jazz Street with a bounce in its collective step.

At the Eastman Theatre, pianist Kenny Werner and harmonica legend Toots Thielemans were alternately mellow and playful as they delighted the audience — and each other — with a set of standards, including “Summertime,” “Moon River/Days of Wine and Roses,” “In Your Own Sweet Way,” and more. Werner played both piano and keyboard, using a synthesized string section on several tunes. Thielemans regaled the crowd with stories of his nearly seven decades in the music business, dating back to his first record purchase — a Louis Armstrong album he bought in 1942 during the Nazi occupation of his Belgian homeland. “That was my first injection with jazz,” he said before playing a lovely version of “What A Wonderful World” to close the show. “And after seeing everybody and playing with everybody, Louis is still my main guru.”

Thielemans and Werner also paid tribute to John Coltrane, and by extension the night’s headliner, McCoy Tyner, with a medley of “Naima” and “Giant Steps”. The other tribute of the evening was to pianist Bill Evans, whom Thielemans referred to as “one of the traffic lights of my career,” by which he meant playing with Evans was a milestone for him. The duo sailed through “Blue In Green” and “Solar.” The 84-year-old Thielemans was a wonder to hear, and a true joy to see.

The main act of the evening, the McCoy Tyner Trio, suffered from poor microphone placement on the same piano that sounded fine moments earlier for Werner. The piano was often muddy, individual notes and chords losing focus in a wash of sound. Despite that, the trio played a robust set of mostly Tyner originals, including the vivacious “Angelina” from Tyner’s 2004 album Illuminations. Charnett Moffet provided the energetic bass, and recently un-retired drummer Eric Kamau Gravat kept the music moving with his undeniable beat, one cymbal suspended high in the air like an offertory bell at the Temple of Tyner. (For the fairly amazing story of Gravat, check out this article.) Had the lights gone out in the theatre, we all could have found our way to the exits in the glow of the smiles exchanged throughout the set between an obviously overjoyed Moffet and an equally charmed Gravat. Being in the presence of Tyner was an honor, but the real meat of the session came from his sidemen.

The final act of the night was a late set at Milestones featuring bassist, bandleader, composer, and all-around good guy Ben Allison. Allison — along with guitarist Steve Cardenas, trumpeter Ron Horton, and drummer Gerald Cleaver — played tunes from his new album Cowboy Justice, along with a few selections from earlier records. Every song was fun and interesting, but the two tunes that will make SportsCenter were “Green Al” and the encore, a version of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” with spaces so wide you could have piloted a hot air balloon through them. Allison also played the beautiful and haunting “Ruby’s Roundabout,” written for (scaring?) his 2-year-old daughter. Horton played his ethereal trumpet to great effect on “Roundabout,” and the closing minutes saw the whole band swaying on stage as if in a mild breeze. A fun and adventurous set of music by one of the modern-day visionaries of jazz.

For complete information, including audio files, concert photos and more, visit

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2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival: Day 5 In Review

Tonight was a laid-back night at the Rochester International Jazz Festival, at least for me. While folks lined up to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band or to get into the Montage to hear Dawn Thompson, my friends and I decided to kick back in the tent for an evening of feel-good, in-the-pocket jazz that drove straight down the road with no surprising detours.

The evening began with the trumpet — and, as it turned out, voice — of Byron Stripling. Stripling played the evening before at the Eastman Theatre with the winners of the 2006 RIJF scholarships, but tonight he was in the company of pros: guitarist Bob Sneider, bassist Phil Flanigan, and drummer Mike Melito. If those names sound familiar, it’s because they belong to three of the busiest men at the festival. All are backing multiple artists, plus the trio is holding down the house band gig at the nightly jam sessions. To add insanity to frenzy, Melito is even teaching his regular lessons this week.

The trio has played together hundreds of times, and it shows. They provided solid, swinging and intelligent support to Stripling’s trumpet on a set that could have come out of a Jamey Aebersold play-along book: “Confirmation,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Strike Up The Band,” “Back Door Blues,” “A Night In Tunisia,” “East of the Sun,” and “Kidney Stew.” Three of the songs (“Kidney,” “East” and “Back Door”) featured Stripling singing in a serviceable style a la the late nonexistent great Nat King Rawls Williams. Highlights included Flanigan’s bass solo on “Honeysuckle,” Melito’s drum work on “Strike Up,” and Sneider’s burning guitar throughout. The sound was fairly good, better than the tent often sounds, although the vocal mic was too loud.

The only part of Stripling’s show I could have done without was the intro to “Strike Up The Band,” during which he made a fairly condescending speech about how all drummers wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and “see Buddy Rich.” He made a few more snarky comments about drummers and eternal solos, then gave the stage to Melito, the drummer who, in all of Rochester, least epitomizes the problem he was describing. Ha ha.

All in all, a fun show with no challenges but a lot of nice music.

The 8:30 set in the tent was a pick-up band filled with talent: drummer Ted Poor (who played the previous night in the Respect Sextet), bassist Ryan Cotler, guitarist Mark Whitfield, and saxophonist Gray Mayfield. The band burned through some standards, including “Straight No Chaser,” the rarely played Coltrane composition “Like Sonny,” and “Trinkle Tinkle.” Mayfield was particularly impressive on “Trinkle,” weaving the tricky melody into his solo, aided by the sharp ears and sharper reflexes of Poor. I enjoyed Whitfield’s comping more than his solos, although those had their moments. The original lineup was supposed to include trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, who had to cancel and was replaced by Whitfield.

Gray Mayfield was a good showman as well as musician. Recounting his conversation with Marsalis: “He called me and said ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?’ I said “Whichever, man.’ He said, ‘I can’t make the gig.’ I said ‘What’s the bad news?’ That’s how we joke down in New Orleans.” It’s always good to hear Mayfield. Kudos to producer John Nugent for bringing him back to the Flower City.

The hot ticket at 10 p.m. was Blue Note pianist Robert Glasper. Glasper was born in Rochester, although he moved away before turning 1. Many of his cousins live here, though, and a big family contingent filled several tables in the back of the atrium at Max of Eastman Place. Bassist Vicente Archer (who was with Karrin Allyson earlier this week) and drummer Damion Reid joined Glasper for a 70-minute set that felt like nothing so much as a John Coltrane recording. Not that it was at all derivative. It was more of a feeling, a polyrhythmic pulse supporting searching piano improvisations that explored the full depth of each piece.

Glasper began the set with a new tune that received the spur-of-the-moment title “Might As Well.” Reid used his tight snare (which sounded like a snare Amir Thompson from The Roots would use) to drive the music forward with quick jabs and longer rolls. The ballad “Of Dreams To Come” was gorgeously heavy, like a glacier glistening in the midnight sun. But the moment of truth was the half hour medley of Glasper’s own “Enoch’s Meditation,” coupled with a reharmonized “Maiden Voyage” laid over the changes of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place.” The middle 15 minutes found Glasper playing by himself, eyes closed, head rocking as he found more to do with two chords than seemed possible. After so much quiet meditation, it was as if the ceiling fell in when Archer and Reid jumped back in for “Maiden Voyage,” and then the rest of the room fell into the basement as Reid wailed through a solo over a static figure from Glasper and Archer. The crowd was on its feet before the song was even finished. A bright moment, and a bright future.

For complete information, including audio files, concert photos and more, visit

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The D&C goes digital with jazz fest coverage

The Democrat & Chronicle has a fun multimedia slideshow of photos and audio from each day of the Rochester International Jazz Festival. And I’m not just linking to it because I’m in the first photo. Kudos to photographer Will Yurman for his excellent work.

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2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival: Day 4 In Review

Billy Bang. Period. (See details several paragraphs below.)

Tonight I saw something straight out of the past. Mose Allison played more than 20 songs in 70 minutes with no written set list, calling each tune from his book of music by its number so the bass player, Rich Syracuse, would know which song to play. Allison remembered all the lyrics, played 20+ interesting solos, and kept the audience charmed and smiling for the whole set.

Mose Allison is a quiet institution. He’s been around so long that he’s part of America’s musical fabric, and he still has such a following that the line was halfway around the block 90 minutes before showtime. It was worth the wait, as Mose played one great song after another: “Look What You Made Me Do,” “Your Molecular Structure,” “What’s Your Movie?” “Ever Since The World Ended,” and many more. He also threw in some songs by other writers, including “Fool’s Paradise” by Johnny Fuller and a very reharmonized “You Are My Sunshine,” by former Louisiana governor Jimmy Davis.

One strange element of the sound was a bass rasp on the low string that jumped out every time Syracuse plucked it, but otherwise the sound was fairly good in the sometimes cavernous Kilbourn Hall. A friend of mine once described watching jazz there as watching “jazz in a diorama.” While it often has that feel, the best performers can transcend the limitations of the space (see Allyson, Karrin and Allison, Mose).

NOTE: Three paragraphs until Billy Bang.

Outside on the free Jazz Street Stage, the reunited Respect Sextet wowed the crowd and kept them laughing. As a matter fact, Mose Allison into the Respect Sextet was a great segue, as both shows showed the value of a sense of humor in music. It was the classic Respect lineup: Josh Rutner on sax, Eli Asher on trumpet, James Hirschfeld on trombone, Red Wierenga on piano, Ted Poor on drums, and Malcolm Kirby on bass, who missed the Respect show this year at the Bop Shop because he was on tour with the Campbell Brothers. As usual at a Respect show, original compositions — in the best sense of the word “original” — held sway, including Herschfeld’s “latin surf anthem” opener, a Balkan tune by Rutner, and the wonderfully titled “Beer” by Wierenga. The band members now make their home in New York City (all but Asher, who lives in the D.C. area), but they still remember their roots here in Rochester.

NOTE: Two paragraphs until Billy Bang.

The official Next Big Thing of the 2006 festival, Sonya Kitchell, filled the big tent and caused a line down Main Street outside. Back in its inaugural year, the Rochester International Jazz Festival booked a then-unknown singer/pianist named Norah Jones. Eight Grammy awards later, producer John Nugent hoped to prove his instincts again with 17-year-old phenom Kitchell. She’s good, but she struggled to overcome the big tent’s sound-swallowing atmosphere, and her airy vocals were often lost completely in the muddy mix of sound. That said, Kitchell’s songwriting was often impressive, and if she wins eight Grammies this year, you’ll know how to rate my skills as a talent scout.

NOTE: Up next is the good bit, featuring Billy Bang.

Every year at the festival, there’s one artist who transcends the ordinary and sends writers scrambling for adjectives. This year, no matter what happens next, that artist was Billy Bang.

Violinist Bang was joined by trumpeter James Zollar, bassist Todd Nicholson, drummer Newman Taylor Baker, and pianist Andrew Bemkey. Listening to them was like someone reaching inside your rib cage and squeezing your heart. From the first note (Bang’s “Reconciliation”) to the last (“Rainbow Gladiator”), Billy commanded the room in a way few performers ever do. And the audience loved him for it. In recent years, thanks to the work of Bop Shop owner Tom Kohn, Bang has appeared in Rochester several times, both at the jazz festival and at the Bop Shop atrium. Rochester’s music lovers have embraced him, and one of the city’s leading cultural figures, choreographer Garth Fagan, has championed Bang’s music by using it as the basis for a dance piece. Bang was effusive in his praise of Rochester all night long, and he seemed genuinely moved by the intense emotion of the crowd.

The set featured one highlight reel solo after another. Nicholson’s root-to-fruit bass solo on “Reconciliation.” Zollar’s ride on Rocket #9 during the Sun Ra tribute “Jupiter’s Future.” Bemkey destroying and rebuilding the piano with a consciousness-altering two-fisted display on the same tune. Bang getting his sabroso on during the Cuban-inflected closer, which had the crowd on its feet screaming as the band tightened the screws one notch, then another, then another, leaving the audience so enraptured that the band was literally prevented from leaving the stage until they played an encore, the lovely “Rainbow Gladiator.”

With the week ahead including names like Tyner and Shorter, it may seem ridiculous to say this, but my prediction is that no individual set of music will top Billy Bang. Not this week, and not for a long time to come.

For complete information, including audio files, concert photos and more, visit

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2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival: Day 3 In Review

Any festival is about making choices. There are more acts to see than time to see them, and musical triage is the order of the day. With that in mind, it’s tempting to do the easy thing and cross artists off the list if you’ve seen them before. I’ve seen Karrin Allyson a half dozen times, so I did the sensible thing … and lined up an hour and a half early to see her again. She’s that good.

Allyson’s new album is called Footprints. It features a number of tunes not normally associated with singers, decked out with new lyrics by Rochester native Chris Caswell. The program offered a mix of tunes from the new record — “Lazy Bird,” “Never Say Yes,” “Con Alma” — with some old friends from previous albums. Allyson was joined by a top-flight band: Bruce Barth on piano, Vicente Archer on bass, and Todd Strait on drums.

“Con Alma” was a grabber. They played it slow. The kind of slow that makes you lean forward in your chair to try to get closer to the sound. The kind of slow that the band holds together by an act of collective will. Exquisite.

As at any Karrin Allyson gig, there was a beautiful bossa nova number, sung in Allyson’s gorgeous Portuguese. During the latin numbers, Karrin played what appeared to be two egg shakers. In her hands, the egg shakers had a sensuality that they seem to lack when wielded by, say, a class of kindergartners.

Karrin also played piano on several tunes, including Jimmy Webb’s 70’s ballad “The Moon Is Harsh Mistress.” Bruce Barth added a second keyboard instrument — the Fender Rhodes — for Oscar Brown Jr.’s uplifting “As Long As You’re Living,” Hank Mobley’s “Turnaround,” and Blossom Dearie’s “Bye Bye Country Boy.”

The encore was once through the haunting “Say It (Over And Over Again)” from her Ballads album. When it ended, you could have heard a jaw drop. From start to end, a perfect set of music.

From the Not-An-Early-Enough-Bird Department: Apparently, Brazilian sensation Baji Assad is not just big in Brazil. A line four across and about thirty deep was waiting to get into the sold-out show in the big tent, so this review will be rather short. In fact, it’s over right now.

The late set at Milestones featured guitarist Joel Harrison playing the music of George Harrison. For those in the crowd expecting BeatleJazz, it was probably a shock to hear the searing explorations of Harrison and saxophonist Dave Binney, bassist Dave Ambrosio and drummer Dan Weiss. Harrison’s inventive and exciting arrangements used George’s music as a springboard, rather than an anchor. Binney was the perfect foil for Harrison, adding his sharp-edged tone and intelligent but accessible improvisations to Harrison’s fluid and free-ranging chord structures. The band played George Harrison’s “Within You Without You,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Isn’t It A Pity,” and “My Sweet Lord,” along with Joel Harrison’s own compositions “My Father’s House” and “You Bring The Rain.”

Binney lifted “Beware Of Darkness” higher and higher with each phrase, wiping his left hand on his jeans between each line like a safecracker sandpapering his fingers before the next turn of the dial. Binney wasn’t afraid to explore one repeated pitch, mining it of every ounce of meaning before moving on to the next note.

This show was a left turn from most of the fare at the festival, and it was a welcome exploration of less-charted territory.

For complete information, including audio files, concert photos and more, visit

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