Coming Attractions in Jazz: Autumn Festivals

By J. R. Carroll.

[Updated] The Beantown Jazz Festival kicks off this Friday evening, but the main event fills the afternoon of Saturday, October 24. Check out our recommendations below.

This year, for the first time, the Tanglewood Jazz Festival has been selected as a participant in the NEA Jazz Masters Live program, and, accordingly, they’ve built a weekend around the residencies of two great Miles Davis sidemen, drummer Jimmy Cobb and composer/conductor/scholar/hornist Gunther Schuller. (Cobb played on Kind of Blue, Schuller on the Birth of the Cool sessions, and they both appeared on Porgy and Bess.)

Bassist Charles Mingus

Jazz Lion Charles MingusPhoto by Tom Marcello

Cobb will lead a master class at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 3 and perform with his Coast to Coast Septet (with guest vocalist Mary Stallings) at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 4. Schuller will introduce a screening of the film of his 1990 Tanglewood performance of Charles Mingus’ Epitaph, also at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, and conduct a program of rarely-heard Mingus compositions in Schuller’s own arrangements during the second half of Sunday’s 2 p.m. concert. Jazz journalist Bob Blumenthal will interview both musicians at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday.

The evening performances at 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday are also of considerable interest. Saturday night features a tribute (by the sextets of San Francisco percussionist John Santos and Uruguayan violinist Federico Britos) to the groundbreaking Cuban bassist and composer, Israel “Cachao” López. Sunday’s closing concert brings to together three outstanding vocalists, Angélique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves, and Lizz Wright, in a program of songs by women who have performed at Tanglewood over the years.

Connecticut’s Easton Jazz Festival, rescheduled due to the unwelcome arrival of Hurricane Irene, takes place on Sunday, September 4, from 11:40 a.m. to 7 p.m. The diverse array of performers includes Canadian vibraphonist Warren Chiasson, vocalist Maydie Myles, and Roxbury-born pianist Tuffus Zimbabwe.

Given the events of the past year, the Labor Day Bread and Roses Festival in Lawrence, MA, which honors the legacy of the historic textile workers’ strike in 1912, seems more relevant than ever. Music is only a portion of the day’s events, which run from 11:45 a.m. to 6 p.m., but the festival includes such noteworthy performers as Zili Misik, Ten Tumbao, and fado singer Ana Vinagre.

Unlike last year’s Beantown Jazz Festival, which sprawled over a nominal week, the 2011 festival is more tightly focused around the main outdoor event on Saturday, September 24. (No slight intended to the evening performers: James Farm at the Berklee Performance Center the preceding evening, Danilo Pérez at Scullers on Saturday night, and the New Gary Burton Quartet at the BPC on Sunday.) You may just decide to spend noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday strolling and taking in the atmosphere, but if you prefer to stay in one place for a while, here’s a suggestion for a sequence of performances to catch:

  • 12 p.m.
  • Pablo Ablanedo Octet
    BeanTown Stage

    I have some trepidation about how the delicate and intricate textures of Ablanedo’s music will fare in a boisterous, open-air venue, but the careful listener will be well rewarded.

  • 1 p.m.
  • Louis Hayes Cannonball Legacy Band
    Subaru of New England Stage

    Detroit-born drummer Louis Hayes has been on the scene for over half a century. He brings his impeccable hard bop credentials to this celebration of the great Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.

  • 1:45 p.m.
  • Bernie Worrell and SociaLybrium
    Natixis Global Asset Management Stage

    Keyboardist Worrell’s discography is a thing to behold, as are some of his strongest associations, from P-Funk and Bootsy Collins to the Talking Heads to Jack Bruce to Gov’t Mule. His funk/fusion quartet SociaLybrium will, without a doubt, be heard.

  • 2:15 p.m.
  • The Cello/Piano Project with Eugene Friesen and Tim Ray
    Subaru of New England Stage

    If the decibels are a little too much for you, ease on over to the intimate chamber jazz of these long-time collaborators, whose repertoire may prove as surprising as what they do with it.

  • 3:30 p.m.
  • Rafael Zaldivar
    Subaru of New England Stage

    Building on the tradition of Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and others, Cuban-born pianist Zaldivar has become a firmly established figure on the Montreal jazz scene.

  • 4:45 p.m.
  • Neal Smith Quintet
    Subaru of New England Stage

    Fresh off a return trip to Smalls Jazz Club in New York, where he recorded a beauty of a live album in 2009, drummer Smith brings with him a formidable band (Eric Alexander, Steve Nelson, Eric Reed and David Williams).

  • 5 p.m.
  • Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project
    BeanTown Stage

    Vibraphonist Samuels’ Caribbean Jazz Project is into its second decade and still exploring the riches of that diverse body of water to our south.

Also on September 24, from noon to 5 p.m. at the historic Jackson Homestead, the music is free (but the wine isn’t) at the Newton Jazz and Wine Festival, featuring the Rusty Scott Organ Group with special guest saxophonist Bill Pierce, Patrice Williamson and her vocal trio ESP, the Latin jazz of guitarist Leo Colon, and pianist Nathan Aronow and his Nextet.

JazzFest Falmouth runs from September 20 through October 2, but the centerpiece of the festival is, as always, the evening of free performances on Friday, September 30, at the Jazz Stroll along Main Street.

On October 1, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Farmington, CT takes on a Latin tinge at its second annual New England Autumn Fest with the quartet of pianist Zaccai Curtis and vibraphonist/percussionist Ed Fast’s Conga-Bop.

In Falmouth they stroll, but in Pittsfield they go for a “jazz crawl” on the opening weekend (October 7–9) of their Pittsfield CityJazz Festival. On Friday, October 14, the festival welcomes pianist/composer Armen Donelian, like Gunther Schuller a fearless spanner of musical idioms; perhaps not coincidentally, Donelian’s trio includes drummer George Schuller, along with bassist Dave Clark. Saturday, October 15 marks the conclusion of a year-long tour by saxophonists Phil Woods and Grace Kelly (joined by drummer Gregory Caputo), perhaps finally giving the horn master time to buy a new hat! The festival wraps up on October 20 with a jazz-focused edition of Pittsfield’s Third Thursday festival, the last before the snow flies in 2011.

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