Friday, June 3, 2011

Burlington Discover Jazz Festival 2011

Thanks for following this blog the past 2 years. VPR staff will continue to share occasional photos and blogposts from the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, but this year we'll post them on the main VPR Blog.

Visit us at the VPR Blog - and enjoy the festival!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

'Til We Meet Again

We listened. We watched, danced, and learned. We applauded and cheered as Big Joe Burrell was memorialized forever with his own statue on Church Street.

This year's Burlington Discover Jazz Festival found a satisfying balance between the classics (Sonny Rollins, Jim Hall, Levon Helm); the funky (Allen Toussaint, Arturo Sandoval, Sharon Jones); the new (Jason Kao Hwang, Michael Zsoldos); and the delightfully unusual (Easy Star All-Stars, Stephan Wrembel).

JazzLab offered several days of intensive sessions with local artists, and the movies, Meet the Artist sessions, and listening panels infused the whole experience with meaningful layers of context.

One has to wonder what could be coming along next year that could possibly improve on the richness of this year's Festival. We'll look forward to finding out.

Glad you could join us here in our adventures on the VPR Jazz Fest Blog 2010, on behalf of our team (George, Asa, Jonathan and me) - thanks for sharing your thoughts! See you next year.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Photo Phinish To A Great Phestival

Thanks to Sonny Rollins and all the musicians working their magic & craft and all the volunteers & pros who pulled it together. I heard what I needed to hear.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Roots And Riffs

(Easy Star All-Stars)

Easy Star All-Stars, the Itals, and the Wailing Souls at the waterfront world tent last night. The only disappointment was having to leave the reggae fest to venture up the hill to the outstanding Sonny Rollins concert, at 8.

The feeling lasted all of about 20 minutes, washed away by Rollins' furious first blizzard of notes.

The following extended set included calypso (a nod to his parents, both native to the Virgin Islands) - including Russell Malone with guitar voicings that sounded like steel drums; straight-ahead bebop; blues (with Rollins' jaunty, tongue-in-cheek vocals on "Dirty Shame"); and finally two stunning show-closers with former recording partner Jim Hall. In A Sentimental Mood and If Ever I Should Leave You were simply breathtaking. An audible "ooh" rippled through the Flynn as the last notes still hung in the air.

Special note here on the ensemble, too: guitarist Russell Malone's classy, elegant lines wove a shimmering gossamer thread through each number - what a fine player. When his seat was filled by Jim Hall later in the show, it seemed fitting. Longtime partner bassist Bob Cranshaw also offered many tasteful moments, and percussionists Sammy Figueroa (congas) and Kobie Watkins (set) grounded the group with spirited solo work and solidly artful playing throughout.

One bone (not trombone, just bone) to pick here that I have to mention: the eternally temperamental sound system in the house was not on its best behaviour to host a night with the jazz legends. I was fortunate to have seats 8 rows back, dead center, and I strained to hear Rollins through the first several numbers when all of the other instruments were playing. What was the experience like for folks in the back, or on the balcony? He did come through loud and clear in the ballads, and by the end during his tradeoffs with Hall the mix sounded just fine. But no one should ever have to work that hard to hear Rollins. He certainly did his part.

After the first couple of tunes, the gentleman sitting next to me whispered to his partner, "He's got a lot of WIND!" That's a fact.

I came away from the night with my head spinning, a very happy jazz fan. A more musical evening I've seldom experienced.

Sonny Swings The Flynn

Sonny Rollins, 80 on September 7, says 'bye with band behind him.

My shot is as fuzzy as his beard but both are full of spirit, with circular breathing, slaps, leaning forward into the tenor sax and rocking it as it hangs by the neck strap and talks through the horn, comments and asides abound.

And then there was Jim Hall, 82, duetting on guitar with Sonny's tenor.

As if that wasn't way too much already, up pops Sonny on the front mike to sing blues and then wail that tenor. Kobie Watkins on drums never stopped, not even one second, and drove - mouth open - the band as hard as Sonny did.

Russell Malone on guitar was a total pro handling the stance of one bandleader playing with another out of complete respect and love.

After a solid week of great jazz, one sated Festival-goer was heard to say - "cool".

Songs heard:

Why Was I Born
The Everywhere Calypso
*How Are Things In Glocca Mora?
If Ever I Should Leave You

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Flickr: Grace Potter, Gerald Clayton, Bearquarium, Sonny Rollins, and Jazz 'Round Town

Check out the recent photos on Flickr from the Burlington Discover Jazz Fest.

(Speaking of social media, if you're Twitter-inclined don't forget to follow the #BDJF hashtag, the official Jazz Fest Twitter @DiscoverJazzVT, or both).

Sonny Rollins & Bob Blumenthal

The 5:30 session at FlynnSpace on Friday was packed with tenor saxophonists, writers, photographers and jazz lovers. Friends for many years, a book of Bob's interviews & writings on Sonny Rollins with photographs by John Abbott will be published this September: Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait Of Sonny Rollins. Don't miss the show tonight at The Flynn.

Meet The Critic

There was a really nice moment at the end of yesterday's Meet the Artist session with Sonny Rollins.

Resident Festival critic Bob Blumenthal thanked the audience for their support of the series, and mentioned this has been his 10th year in the role(!)

Sonny Rollins and the rest of the house were already on their feet since the session was concluding, and the Saxophone Colossus joined the enthusiastic, grateful crowd in clapping at Bob's quiet announcement.

Right on cue with his hallmark quick wit, Bob popped off with:

"I never thought I'd see the day I'd be getting a standing ovation from Sonny Rollins!"

Thank you, Bob, for your ten years with Discover Jazz and for being one of the reasons the festival lives up to its name every year. We are much the richer for your expertise, your humor, and your gentle encouragement to share thoughts and learn more about the art.

Sol & Soul

Thursday evening, Bearaquarium with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the Waterfront tent. The closer I got, the prettier it became as the thunderstorms moved out and sunshine moved on in. (Meteorologically and musically!)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Jazz, With Gypsy Style

Gypsy Jazz. It swings. It lilts. It makes you feel good. With a single instrument - the guitar - it can encompass everything from nostalgia and playfulness, to fury, and outright joy.

And then...there are the shoes.


Burlington-based guitarist Jim Stout and I met for coffee on a recent afternoon and one of the first things I noticed was his classy wingtip Doc Martens. During the course of our conversation over the next hour or I so I discovered that's kind of a "thing" among gypsy jazzers. Well why not, those toes can sure get to tapping in the heat of a good swing. They might as well be dressed up for the occasion.

Jim brought to my attention in particular a video featuring some of today's top manouche guitarists. Sure enough, around 3:46 into the video, there are the shoes.

(Check out this still shot from the video---------->

... and then - below - check out the whole thing. It's great.)

He also also brought his guitar along that afternoon, and we spent some time outside enjoying a few tunes and taking in the sunshine.

I met Jim a year ago, when he and the Queen City Hot Club played at Leunig's during last year's Festival. I'd been hearing there was a new gypsy jazz group in town and I went to give it a listen, since I love that style music and I'm always looking to be turned on to players I haven't heard yet. I was immediately taken with the Club's strumming, singing, cheerfully free-spirited style.

A year later, Jim has settled nicely in to life in Vermont teaching and frequently playing around town. "Here, you can actually make a living making music,", he said during our talk, comparing Burlington to his previous life in New York City where an unrelated full-time job was necessary on top of occasional gigs with the band. "It's just a lot easier to play here."

We all benefit from that.

The Queen City Hot Club has two more Leunig's appearances coming up this weekend, tomorrow (Saturday) from 2-5pm, and on Sunday from 1-4pm.

Come on over and shake a leg. Just make sure you're wearing the right footwear for it.