Coming Attractions in Jazz: Late Summer Festivals 2012

By J. R. Carroll.

The tents and stages have come down in Newport (after a very impressive festival—check out NPR Music for videos of many of the performances), and now the action shifts west to Connecticut, home of the superb Litchfield Jazz Festival. Later in the month, it’s party time in Salem, MA with Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

The long-running Litchfield Jazz Festival in Goshen, CT, wisely chose not to compete with Newport this year, so jazz lovers can get the best of both. After an opening night fundraiser that seems to be aimed at the over-70 set, Litchfield gets down to business on Saturday, August 11:

  • Houston-born pianist Helen Sung opens the day with a noon performance by her trio.
  • Bassist Avery Sharpe has created a musical portrait of the remarkable nineteenth-century abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth; Sharpe and his group will present this program, entitled Ain’t I a Woman, at 1:45 p.m.
  • Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, fresh from a well-received performance at Newport, performs with his quintet at 3:30 p.m.
  • Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan returns to Litchfield at 5:15 p.m. with a tribute to George Coleman, using the veteran tenor man’s own arrangements and featuring Coleman’s protege, saxophonist Eric Alexander.
  • At 7 p.m. pianist Benny Green and his quartet carry the festival into the evening.
  • The day comes to a rousing conclusion when the NOLA’s Dirty Dozen Brass Band performs at 8:45 p.m. (an after party and open jam follows)

Sunday’s lineup is equally impressive:

  • Harmonica virtuoso Grégoire Maret and his quartet lead off at noon.
  • At 1:30 p.m., tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his group bring a little edge to the proceedings.
  • Elder statesman of the flute, Hubert Laws, follows at 3:30 p.m. with his quartet.
  • There’s another echo of Newport at 5:15 p.m. when alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón performs, this time with a different quartet and a focus on his recordings based on traditional and popular music of Puerto Rico.
  • Finally, at 7 p.m. vocalist Kevin Mahogany and alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo join with guitarist Dave Stryker’s Organ Trio to bring the festival to a close with some Kansas City Swing.

Also on Saturday, August 11, there’s jazz in a more urban setting at the free New Haven Jazz Festival, starting at 4:30 p.m. Be sure to catch percussionist Annette Aguilar and her Stringbeans Sextet at 7 p.m., followed by the great T. S. Monk Sextet at 8 p.m.

Further north on Saturday, the locally-focused Merrimack Valley Jazz Festival starts at 4 p.m. in Lowell, MA. The evening gets a strong finish with the trumpeter/arranger Greg Hopkins’s Jazz Orchestra at 8 p.m. and Henri Smith with his Friends and Flavours band.

On Cape Cod, the Provincetown Jazz Festival is a strangely bifurcated affair. On Saturday, August 11, at 8 p.m. at the Provincetown Town Hall, the focus is on artists based in the Washington, D.C. area: vocalist Sharón Clark, saxophonist Paul Carr, pianist Chris Grasso, and drummer Joe McCarthy, plus Boston’s Will Slater on bass. (Boston-trained, New York-based pianist Alex Brown opens the evening, with assists from Slater and McCarthy.)

Skipping Sunday, the festival continues on Monday, August 13, at 8 p.m. at the Cotuit Center for the Arts. Providence-based vocalist/pianist Debra Mann opens the concert then hands the evening over to trumpeter/flutist Steve Ahern, saxophonist/flutist Bruce Abbott, pianist Fred Boyle, bassist Ron Ormsby, drummer Bart Weisman, and guest vocalist Tedi Marsh.

The beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center is reason enough for a visit to Cape Ann, but this year there’s something new: the Rockport Jazz Festival, running from Wednesday, August 15 through Sunday, August 19. Although the Thursday, Saturday and Sunday performances apparently are sold out, there are still two outstanding evenings open: Vocalist Tierney Sutton and her exceptional band on Wednesday at 8 p.m. and ageless drum dynamo Roy Haynes and his Fountain Youth Band on Friday, also at 8 p.m.

Similarly, the attractions of Maine’s Mount Desert Island are myriad, but from Thursday, August 15 though Sunday, August 19, you can add the Bar Harbor Jazz Festival. On Thursday, August 15, MDI-born (but Copenhagen-based) saxophonist Ned Ferm opens the festival at 4:30 p.m. at the Great Harbor Maritime Museum, followed by Boston drummer Brooke Sofferman at 6 p.m. on the Village Green. Friday evening kicks off at 6 p.m. on the Village Green with Rhode Island saxophonist Greg Abate. Saturday’s festivities feature a variety of mostly local artists playing at assorted area venues, starting at 6 p.m. The festival concludes on Sunday starting at 2 p.m., with highlights including a reprise of Ned Ferm and his quartet on the Village Green at 6 p.m. and the delightfully ambiguous Brian (which one?) and Friends (trumpeter Brian Nadeau, pianist Brian Catell, bassist Don Knowles, and drummer Andrew Clifford) performing at 8 p.m. at the delightfully named Carmen Verandah.

Forget the damn witches—Salem, MA is a town that knows how to throw a good party. On Saturday and Sunday, August 18 and 19, the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival runs. Saturday’s high point should be the performance by Allman Bros. drummer Jaimoe’s terrific Jasssz Band (with trumpeter Reggie Pittman, saxophonist Kris Jensen, saxophonist/flutist Paul Lieberman, guitarist Junior Mack, keyboardist Bruce Katz, and bassist Dave Stoltz).

Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Dirty Dozen Brass Band

On Sunday, don’t miss the Afro-Cuban sounds of pianist Joel LaRue Smith and the New Orleans groove of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

The Tanglewood Jazz Festival is a washout this year, so we’ll pick up in September with a preview of autumn jazz festivals in New England—stay tuned!

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