A Musical Prelude to the Tenth Anniversary by Al Sikes


My wife and I were in a taxi in Paris; our driver was listening to “Come Fly With Me” being played by Monty Alexander. As the piece ended I said, “I know Monty Alexander.” He got very excited and a conversation began with a taxi driver who spoke little English and an American who spoke less French.

Along with a rich history of geopolitical collaboration, Americans and the French share a love of jazz. And, at the Avalon Theater last weekend people came from all over to listen to the theme song of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival—you guessed it, that very same melody I enjoyed once again in Paris.

The Festival opened with a small history lesson. Dominick Farinacci and his band and the amazing vocalist Shenel Johns performed a concert titled “Lady Sings the Blues.” Dominick noted from the stage that jazz is often a reflection of American history.

“Lady Sings the Blues” recalled a time beginning in the 1930s and extending into the early part of the 60s when segregation was often the informal or, in some cases, the formal law. The music was compelling and some of the lyrics jarring. If you are interested, Google Nina Simone’s “Mississippi God Damn”.

Saturday began with a free late morning concert headlined by the remarkable Matthew Whitaker. Matthew, blind from birth, brought us well into 21st century compositions and thrilled the children who were especially encouraged to join in. I couldn’t help but be emotionally pulled into the concert as the blind were helped to their seats and a little girl sitting just in front of me was using the arm on her chair as a keyboard.

That afternoon took the audience on a stroll along the beaches of Brazil as a band of Americans and Brazilians reprised that moment in history when jazz and samba were fused by Stan Getz and Antonio Jobim into Bossa Nova. One could not help but daydream about “A Girl from Ipanema.”

The jazz age began in the 1920s and was immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Tales of the Jazz Age.” But, while jazz might have commanded the heights of popular music in the ensuing decades, as an expressive style of music, it continues to enthrall audiences. Saturday night Monty

Alexander’s concert epitomized the expansive nature of the music as he often combines music from his American residence, Jamaican birth place and tunes he hears as he tours four continents. The sold out concert featured emotion, virtuosity and warmth as Monty and his band played for what he considers his home audience.

Sunday wrapped up the three days on the stage of the marvelous community asset, The Avalon Theater. The international casts of top tier performers love it, including Brianna Thomas who led her band and was joined in the finale by The Warrior Chorale of Easton High School which had opened the Sunday concert. Maybe, just maybe, the youth of our community will be inspired to take the next step in their musical ambitions.

Next year will be the 10th Anniversary of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival. Chesapeake Music promises you a very special time.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Letters to Editor

  1. Laurie Powers says

    Thank you for a wonderful jazz festival in our beautiful little historic venue. I was blown away by Matthew Whitaker and I listen to his CD in my car, constantly marveling that he is a mere 17. We glimpsed greatness on Saturday and are getting in on the ground floor of a rare and exceptional talent; I can’t wait to see where his budding career takes him. He reminded me of Stevie Wonder, of course (piano prodigy with the same condition that led to his blindness, I believe), but also of my brilliant hero, Prince (who not many know was a virtuoso jazz pianist), and I could barely contain myself in my seat from the sheer joy and energy he transmitted. Multiple standing ovations, shouts and whistles…more than I’ve ever witnessed; we hated to leave and we sincerely hope you’ll be able to bring him back again next year!

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