Monty Alexander Jazz Festival Celebrates 10 Years

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival returns to Easton this Labor Day weekend bigger and better than ever!

Cyrus Chestnut

The energetic, ever-swingin’ festival features an exciting lineup, boasting some—if not the—best jazz musicians in the country, including guitarist/vocalist Allan Harris, pianist Matthew Whitaker, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, and the ever-phenomenal headliner, Monty Alexander.

The festival runs Friday, August 30th through Sunday, September 1st, with concerts at the Avalon Theatre in Easton, plus a Sunday morning brunch at Hunter’s Tavern, located at the Tidewater Inn.

Matthew Whitaker

Vocalist, guitarist, bandleader, and composer, Allan Harris kicks things off Friday at 8 p.m. with Nat King Cole at 100—a fitting tribute considering the Miami Herald referred to Harris as an artist blessed with “the warmth of Tony Bennett, the bite and rhythms sense of Sinatra, and the sly elegance of Nat ‘King’ Cole.”

“Jazz is a great expression of what we are,” Harris says, adding that he’s also a fan of the freedom within the genre. “Every night when we do a song, we do it differently. We keep the template of what it is, but try to stretch it a little bit.”

Saturday’s program begins with a free community concert, starring jazz guitarists Randy Napoleon and Dan Wilson.

Rooted in jazz tradition, Napoleon is widely-known as a forward-thinking musician and one of the most sought-after guitarists in New York. In addition to leading his own trios and other small combos, Napoleon tours with legendary singer/pianist Freddy Cole. Guitarist George Benson calls him “sensational.”

Dan Wilson

From a young age, Wilson knew he wanted to pursue a career in music. Though his style is jazz-focused, it certainly draws influence from a wide variety of genres. He’s been touring nationally and internationally with three-time Grammy nominated jazz organ legend, Joey DeFrancesco. He describes the human connection between the performer and audience that’s created during a live show as “second to none.”

The duo’s performance, titled Guitars, Without Compromise, begins at 11 a.m.

Matthew Whitaker, who made his debut on the Festival stage last year at the Young Artist Showcase, returns—this time around in the Saturday matinee spot!

Blind since birth, Whitaker began performing at the age of three, when his grandfather gave him a small Yamaha keyboard.

By 15, he was named a Yamaha Artist, becoming the youngest musician to join this group of notable musicians. Hastily making a name for himself in the jazz world, the now 18-year-old was recently named one of seven rising stars for 2018 by USA Today network’s 201 Magazine.

Catch Whitaker in An Exciting Debut, An Eagerly Awaited Return at 2 p.m.

The Festival’s eponymous headliner takes the Avalon stage at 8 p.m. for what will undoubtedly be a lively celebration of his 10 years at the helm of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival.

Considered one of the top five jazz pianists ever, Alexander’s musical expression combines elements of the blues, gospel, calypso, and reggae. He’s renowned for his vibrant personality, magnetic charisma, and breathtaking talent.

Tickets for Monty Alexander Celebrates the 10th Anniversary will sell out—and fast!

Unlike previous Festivals, this year’s Jazz Brunch will be held on a Sunday, which is great news for jazz enthusiasts as that means they won’t have to wait as long between Saturday’s showstopper and Sunday’s matinee for live music.

Allan Harris

From 10 a.m. to noon, attendees can indulge in impeccably crafted brunch dishes while listening to the musical offerings of Wilson and Napoleon—the jazz guitarists featured at Saturday’s free community concert. Reservations via Hunter’s Tavern are required.

Closing out the weekend is pianist Cyrus Chestnut, performing Where Gospel Meets Jazz at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 1st.

Born in Baltimore—his father the organist at his local church—the composer and producer says he’s always believed in the deep connection between jazz and God. His works unabashedly demonstrate this concept, seamlessly blending facets of jazz with elements of gospel, R&B, and classical genres.

Weekend passes for the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, along with individual show tickets, are on sale now.

Over the last decade, the Festival has grown from a modest venture—comprising two performances by saxophonist Grace Kelly on its opening night and Alexander the following evening—to a three-day jazz extravaganza, featuring outstanding, first-class talent from across the nation.

“The response has been exceedingly enthusiastic,” says Festival Producer, Al Sikes.

Not only has the amount of shows presented increased, but the audience continues to expand rapidly, too. An unwavering optimist, Sikes admits with a hearty laugh, that he imagined bringing great jazz to the area would excite the community. Still, he’s been pleasantly surprised with the Festival’s ever-growing success.

“I’m just delighted at where we are,” he adds.

The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

Joyful Jazz at the Oxford Community Center Set for May 25

The widely-popular Jazz on the Chesapeake concert series returns to Oxford Community Center on Saturday, May 25th, with Sammy Miller & The Congregation—a performance that promises to be lively, energetic, and oh-so much fun!

Rooted in swing, the group’s portfolio spans the American songbook with toe-tapping rhythms and an all-around feel-good vibe—fittingly self-described as “joyful jazz.”

“We take joy seriously,” says bandleader Miller. “There needs to be more of that in the world.”

Sammy Miller & The Congregation takes the OCC stage at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50. It’s sure to be a sell-out performance, so be sure to snag your seat before it’s too late!

A Grammy-award nominated musician, Miller—who’s also the band’s drummer—is as passionate about mastering the art form as he is entertaining his audiences. It stems, he thinks, from playing music with his family during his childhood. When he was five years old, he and his four siblings started a family band.

“I think I picked the drums. I certainly didn’t resist,” he adds, laughing.

Back then, music was a communal endeavor that not only encouraged camaraderie between its members, but provided equal enjoyment for both the young artists and their spectators. It’s evident this experience translated into how he approaches music as an adult. According to Miller, it should be used to build and inspire community, not as a tool for exclusivity.

“That’s one of the deepest things about the tradition [of American art]—it’s bridging the gap between different people,” he says.

He also just wants the audience to have fun.

“I’m very into standup comedy,” he says. “My goal as an adult is to figure out a way to put these things together.”

Miller formed The Congregation shortly after receiving his Master’s at The Juilliard School, with the intent of providing a live experience—an avenue in which he felt he could entertain, enrich, and uplift audiences across the country.

“It’s that ephemeral thing that’s only going to happen one time,” he says, referring to the fleeting beauty of a live show. “I want to give people an impact.”

He recalls his experience as a child attending a performance by Ray Charles, describing how the show—albeit a short, but sweet five-song performance—had a profound impact on him. He believes that those experiences lead to personal connections and internal impressions that go beyond what a video or even, to some extent, a recorded song could elicit.

That said, the group is extremely excited about their upcoming studio album, which Miller says will be out before the end of the year. And while he wasn’t able to share too many details, he’s thrilled with the final production, which was recorded at United Recording Studios in Los Angeles.

“It’s the studio that Frank Sinatra was basically responsible for building,” he says. “We got to be in this room and the spirits were with us that day. It’s the first time we’ve actually captured the elements of what we do on tape.”

For now though, why not check out the real thing? Whether you’re a jazz aficionado or not, one thing is certain when it comes to Sammy Miller & The Congregation: You’ll leave their performance feeling much better than when you got there. It’s jazz music that feels as good as it sounds.

“I’ve been to enough bad shows, I would never put someone through that,” Miller says, with a laugh. “It’s going to be a great time!”

Catch Sammy Miller & The Congregation on Saturday, May 25th at the Oxford Community Center. The performance is presented by Chesapeake Music’s Jazz on the Chesapeake in partnership with Oxford Community Center. Tickets are $50. Show at 8 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

Benny meets Artie: The Anderson Twins bring swing to Oxford Community Center

It was at the surprising age of eight when musicians Will and Peter Anderson fell in love with jazz music. The unlikely culprit of this adoration? A Chips Ahoy! TV commercial, which featured Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” in the background.

“That inspired us to pick up the clarinet,” says Will, with a chuckle.

The two began formal lessons the following year, when they joined their school’s band program. And while their studies focused more on classical training—including a six-year stint at The Juilliard School in New York—jazz was always their passion.

On Saturday, December 1st, the identical twins will perform a throwback to that serendipitous introduction to jazz when they take the stage at Oxford Community Center. Chesapeake Music and OCC have joined together in a harmonious partnership to present Benny meets Artie with Strings.

The show will celebrate the music of legendary big band leaders, Goodman and his widely perceived competitor, Artie Shaw. The acclaimed clarinet prodigies were renowned for pushing the boundaries of jazz, encompassing elements of other genres while maintaining impeccable technique. A feat it seems the Andersons, who the New York Times calls “virtuosos on clarinet and saxophone,” are on track to obtain—albeit without any rivalry!

“We’re showcasing how special Benny and Artie were to American music,” says Will, explaining how their popularity as jazz musicians was unprecedented and their musical proficiency, uncharted. “They were the pop stars of their day.”

The Andersons, playing reeds, will be joined on stage by 15 string players, along with a pianist, bassist, and drummer for an exquisite evening of imaginative renditions of old favorites.

Conducting the performance, and playing vibraphones, will be Kyle Athayde, who also wrote all the arrangements.

“He has a good sense for all this music and what we’re going for,” explains Will. “We’ve hand-picked musicians who we really know are going to knock this out of the park; who have familiarity with both jazz and classical music.”

While the performance will certainly pay homage to the original recordings, the twins will be putting their own spin on the setlist, which includes classics, like Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine” and Goodman’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy”—and, without question, the one that started it all: “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

“Their repertoire is so vast, it’s difficult to choose only some of them,” says Will, before teasing one of the more unexpected selections, Shaw’s “Concerto for Clarinet.”

“It’s not as often played as some of his other hits, but it’s very epic,” he adds. “That’s going to be a highlight, I think.”

Intentionally steering away from simply recreating the songbooks of Goodman and Shaw enables the ensemble to engage in longer improvisations, particularly when it comes to shedding spotlight on the strings.

“This is brand new, never-before-heard versions of what Artie and Benny played,” Will adds, excitedly. “We can’t wait!”

In addition to Goodman and Shaw, Will says he and his brother were heavily influenced by musicians like Duke Ellington, who broke barriers by incorporating more modern elements into his music.

“We love Benny and Artie, but it’s not all we love,” he says. “And at this concert, we’re definitely going to be bringing more into it.”

It’s that element of improvisation and inclusivity of other styles in jazz that the twins find so fascinating. To them, the genre is more about the way a melody is played, than the notes themselves.

“The defining quality of jazz is the rhythm, the syncopation,” Will says.

Coincidentally, it’s those two notions of performance—the soul versus the intellect—that seemingly shaped the riff between Goodman, known as the “King of Swing,” and Shaw, the “King of Clarinet.” And the Anderson twins’ interpretation of those differing styles is something the duo, along with the entire ensemble, look forward to capturing and communicating to the audience.

“[Jazz music] allows for so much molding and shaping,” says Will. “This show is going to be exciting for us. We’re trying to express ourselves in a different way.”

Catch Benny meets Artie with Strings on Saturday, December 1st at the Oxford Community Center. The performance is presented by Chesapeake Music’s Jazz on the Chesapeake in partnership with Oxford Community Center. Tickets are $50. Doors open at 7 p.m.; show at 7:30 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

Upcoming Jazz Festival Spotlights Easton High School Chorale

It’d be a dream for any high schooler in a choir to share a stage with a professional jazz vocalist. For members of the Easton High School Warrior Chorale, it’s soon to be a reality.

The 20 or so singers will perform an opening set on Sunday, September 2nd, at Brianna Thomas’ matinee performance during the last day of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival.

“They’re wonderful chorally and they sing four-part harmonies really well. Their timing is really tight and they’re really very professional,” says John Malin, recalling his first time seeing the Warrior Chorale. “I was very impressed with them.”

Brianna Thomas

Over the last few years, Malin and Festival Founder Al Sikes have discussed expanding the Festival beyond its professional bill and extending its community outreach efforts. Each year, MAJF offers a “community concert” —a free performance that was originally established to provide an introduction to jazz, familiarizing concert-goers with the incredibly diverse and somewhat misunderstood genre.

And while that program continues to blossom with exciting performances, like this year’s Saturday morning concert featuring piano prodigy Matthew Whitaker, there was a local element that was missing. That led Malin and Sikes to discuss incorporating a high school choir into the program. When Malin attended a choir competition hosted by Easton High School last fall, he knew he’d found something special.

“They did a sort of gospel number and I thought ‘Wow! They are fabulous,” he says, explaining how he immediately approached director Andrea Davis after the performance about the choir’s participation in the Festival. “It all just flowed from there.”

Comprising high schoolers—from 14- to 18-year-olds—the group will perform about a handful of numbers, Malin says. The setlist includes some relatively traditional jazz numbers, along with a gospel song.

“The kids are really excited,” he adds.

After what is sure to be an incredible set by the Warrior Chorale, Thomas will take the stage. With a soulfully strong voice—often likened to Mahalia Jackson, a comparison only accomplished by the most gifted singers—Thomas has played clubs and festivals for over a decade.

The singer-songwriter made her initial entrance into the professional jazz world with ‘30s-style swing, but later focused her musical finesse on ballad standards, scatting, and blues.

In 2014, Thomas released her debut album “You Must Believe in Love”. Critics alike raved how the album wonderfully demonstrated her impressive vocal range, envy-inducing scat skills, and emotional depth.

“[She] may be the best young straight-ahead jazz singer of her generation,” wrote Will Friedwald in a review for the Wall Street Journal.

Like the Warrior Chorale’s musical selections, Thomas’ performance will blend two genres, gospel and jazz. Titled “Traces of Mahalia and Ella,” it’ll be the perfect accompaniment for a Sunday afternoon.

Catch the Easton High School Warrior Chorale and Brianna Thomas at 2 p.m. Sunday, September 2nd, at the Avalon Theatre. Tickets are $25. To purchase, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.

The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music.

A Salute to Getz: Saxophonist Harry Allen Celebrates Bossa Nova Jazz by Becca Newell

Infectious melodies, understated rhythms, and harmoniously rich tunes—the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is adding a little samba to its Saturday lineup.

The matinee show, on September 1st, will highlight an extraordinary range of American and Brazilian musicians, featuring tenor/alto saxophonist Harry Allen.

Harry Allen

For those unfamiliar with bossa nova jazz, think of the 1965 Grammy Award-winning Record of the Year “The Girl from Ipanema”. The worldwide hit by American saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto perfectly encapsulates the fusion of American jazz and Brazilian samba, which it inevitably popularized across the globe after its release.

Maucha Adnet

“[Getz] was one of the greatest jazz saxophonists ever and probably the greatest technical saxophonist ever,” says tenor/alto saxophonist Harry Allen. “He had an incredible sound and melodicism and that’s why he was chosen to record with some of the best Brazilian artists at the time.”

Allen refers to Getz as one of his heroes, so it’s only fitting that his performance at the Avalon be a tribute to this pioneer of modern jazz. He’ll be joined on stage by vocalist Maucha Adnet, drummer Duduka da Fonseca, and vibraphonist Chuck Redd. More specially, their “Salute to Stan Getz” will be an homage to the Getz/Gilberto collaboration of which “The Girl from Ipanema” was the first track on the 1964 album.

With more than thirty recordings to his name, Allen has been called the “Frank Sinatra of the tenor Saxophone,” renowned for his inventive, lyrical tone that’s rooted in tradition.

“From the 1930s through the 1950s, saxophonists strived to get a beautiful mellow sound,” he says. “And so, in a way, I’m a throwback because there aren’t many saxophone players today who prefer that older approach to sound.”

Allen’s admiration of jazz’ early sound even extends into the instruments he uses—a saxophone and mouthpiece that were made in the 1930s. According to Allen, his goal isn’t to recreate the sound of that era, but rather incorporate that subtle, more melodic approach in his own playing.

Similarly, vocalist Adnet, drummer da Fonseca, and vibraphonist Redd are deeply familiar with the origins of bossa nova jazz, each having a strong connection to the origins of this music. Both Adnet and da Fonseca worked with iconic composer, Antônio Carlos Jobim, who played piano on the Getz/Gilberto album. And Redd played drums for Charlie Byrd, who was one of the key jazz musicians, along with Stan Getz, to bring Brazilian music to the United States in ‘60s.

A native of Brazil, Adnet spent spent 10 years performing and recording with Jobim before he passed away in 1994. While touring with him, she visited America for the first time, eventually moving to New York City in 1987.

With her plush, soulful tone, it’s unsurprising that Adnet has performed with a plethora of prominent figures in both worlds of jazz and Brazilian music, including Claudio Roditi, Herbie Mann, the late Oscar Castro Neves, and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. Critics continually praise the alto for her ability to sing with seemingly effortless intensity.

“A Salute to Getz” is sure to provide the ideal showcase for Allen’s trademark tone and Adnet’s rich and sultry voice. Add to that da Fonseca and Redd, and you’ve got a delightfully rhythmic, sweetly swingin’ treat.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380. The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music.

 

Mark Your Calendar: Monty Alexander Jazz Festival Set for 9th Year

Jazz enthusiasts rejoice! The energetic, ever-swingin’ Monty Alexander returns to Easton this Labor Day weekend for his eponymous festival, featuring an exciting lineup that boasts some—
if not the—best jazz musicians in the country.

The Ninth Annual Monty Alexander Jazz Festival will be held Friday, August 31st to Sunday, September 2nd, at the Avalon Theatre.

Dominick Farinacci

The festival kicks off Friday with a favorite, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, who the NY Times calls a “trumpeter of abundant poise”. His most recent Avalon appearance was last November in the theatrical music experience, Modern Warrior Live. The masterpiece wonderfully demonstrated Farinacci’s versatile horn stylings and mix of international rhythms, as well as his mastery of composition and knack for re-imagining familiar songs.

Joining Farinacci is his Modern Warrior Live co-star Shenel Johns. With powerful, yet graceful vocals, Johns is known for her distinctive, eclectic style that sways effortlessly from jazz to R&B to gospel. The duo’s performance, aptly named “Lady Sings the Blues,” will celebrate the music of Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.

Shenel Johns

Saturday’s packed program begins with a community concert—a free performance that was originally established to provide an introduction to jazz, familiarizing concert-goers with the incredibly diverse and somewhat misunderstood genre.

Harry Allen

This year, the stage will welcome a young musician hastily making a name for himself in the jazz world, pianist Matthew Whitaker. Blind since birth, the 17-year-old was recently named one of seven rising stars for 2018 by USA Today network’s 201 Magazine. Adding to the long list of accolades, Whitaker’s debut album Outta the Box, which was released last year, was named “one of the best debut albums of 2017” by New York City Jazz Record. This show starts at 11 a.m.

Saturday’s matinee show highlights an extraordinary range of American and Brazilian musicians, featuring tenor/alto saxophonist Harry Allen. With more than thirty recordings to his name, Allen has been called the “Frank Sinatra of the tenor Saxophone,” renowned for his inventive tone that’s rooted in tradition.

It’s only appropriate, then, that his 2 p.m. performance be a salute to Stan Getz and the Getz/Gilberto collaboration with Antonino Carlos Jobim, which resulted in an album by the same name—it’s the first jazz album to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album’s single “The Girl from Ipanema” won the Record of the Year.

Monty Alexander

Later that evening, Monty Alexander takes the stage. Considered one of the top five jazz pianists ever, Alexander’s musical expression combines elements of the blues, gospel, calypso, and reggae. Known for his vibrant personality, magnetic charisma, and breathtaking talent, Alexander’s performance is not to be missed.

Unsurprisingly, tickets for this show continue to sell out faster each year, so heed this warning if you want to see this dynamo in action—and believe us, you do.

Brianna Thomas

Wrapping up the festival weekend on Sunday is Brianna Thomas, whose soulful voice is often likened to Mahalia Jackson—a comparison only accomplished by the most gifted singers. The performance will blend two genres, jazz and gospel—a rather fitting theme for a Sunday afternoon.

The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

Vibraphonist Chuck Redd brings his “New York All-Stars” to Easton

At just 23 years old, Bebop darling Veronica Swift is rapidly gaining recognition as one of today’s best young jazz singers.

And she’s got the accolades (and awards!) to prove it, including a second-place win at the prestigious 2015 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition and stage credits, like a solo performance at NYC’s Tribeca Performing Arts Center in 2016, followed by a headlining spot at the Telluride Jazz Festival.

Catch Swift

“She’s really taken off,” says Al Sikes, Chesapeake Music’s Jazz Committee Chairman (and producer of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival).

From swingin’ to soulful, Swift’s flawless vocals naturally demonstrate her passion for, and innate understanding of, jazz standards—a talent that translates into mesmerizing performances.

Catch Swift on her rise to the top, when she shares the stage with renowned jazz vibraphonist Chuck Redd on Saturday, May 12th. The show, Jazz Impressions of Wonderful Melodies, takes place at 8 p.m. at the Academy Art Museum in Easton.

The performance promises to be one of Jazz on the Chesapeake’s most interesting and lively shows yet. In addition to Swift’s guest appearance, Jazz Impressions will feature some of New York’s best talent—aptly dubbed for this performance the “New York All-Stars”—pianist Larry Fuller, saxophonist Will Anderson, and bassist David Wong.

A familiar face to fans of the annual Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, Redd is a seasoned performer on the vibraphone and drums. In addition to his musical finesse, Redd is the mastermind behind many of the makeshift ensembles that grace Easton’s jazz scene, often at the behest of Sikes.

Chuck Redd

According to Sikes, Redd’s ability to seamlessly integrate musicians, who sometimes have little experience playing together, is impressive.

“I tell him I’ve got an open date, we’ll discuss themes, and he’ll pull it together,” he says. “Chuck’s never failed.”

Yet, how do a handful of musicians who’ve barely met produce such a wonderful and seemingly well-rehearsed performance?

“They have a language they share that transcends the technical explanation,” says Sikes, adding that familiarity with the Great American Songbook is key.

Along with jazz fundamentals, another essential element that provides these musicians the ability to perform together with little practice time is jazz’ improvisational nature, explains Sikes.

Still, it remains a marvel to witness on any occasion.

Unlike other Jazz on the Chesapeake concerts, Sikes approached Redd with the suggestion of adding Swift to his “All-Star” lineup.

Sikes first saw Swift perform more than a decade ago, when the then 10-year-old joined her parents—her father, the late bebop pianist Hod O’Brien, and mother, vocalist Stephanie Nakasian—on stage in Western Maryland.

Last summer, he caught a performance of hers in New York, which demonstrated Swift’s mastery of traditional swing and left Sikes determined to bring her to Easton.

And while Redd and Swift have yet to share the stage, Sikes isn’t nervous. If anything, he knows it’ll give to a more exciting, fiery performance.

“The band will swing and the vocalist will soar,” he says. “What a wonderful combination.”

Presented by Jazz on the Chesapeake, a program of Chesapeake Music, Jazz Impressions of Wonderful Melodies will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 12th, at the Academy Arts Museum in Easton. General admission tickets are $40. To purchase, call 410-819-0380 or visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com.

Mark the Date: Monty Alexander Jazz Festival Returns this September

For some, Labor Day weekend can be a bittersweet occasion, symbolizing the unofficial end of summer, but for jazz enthusiasts across Maryland and beyond, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival.

In its eighth year, the Easton-based festival, returns with the sensational and eponymous Monty Alexander, along with his hand-picked selection of musical companions—all newcomers, save for past festival favorite René Marie.

The festivities kick off in the evening of Friday, September 1st with trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, described by The Wall Street Journal as one of the “most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation.” The Canadian songwriter’s musicianship frequently draws comparisons to the legendary Louis Armstrong.

The fun continues with Saturday’s jam-packed schedule, starting with a free community concert at 11 a.m., featuring the United States Navy Band Commodores. The 18-member group, recognized as the Navy’s premier jazz ensemble, will perform an eclectic mix of traditional big band music and exciting jazz vocal arrangements.

Trumpeter Sean Jones and his band will delight festival goers during a Saturday afternoon performance. Since childhood, Jones’ musical vision—influenced by Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis—has been intertwined with spirituality. In addition to mastering the art form, Jones is heavily involved in education. Most recently, he was named Chair of the Brass Department at Berklee College of Music.

The day concludes with an 8 p.m. performance by jazz vocalist René Marie. With a style that borrows elements from folk, R&B, classical, and country genres, Marie’s body of work explores the human experience. Through her creative lyricism and sensual vocal delivery, Marie offers an enlightening experience for audience members.

Considered one of the top five jazz pianists ever, Monty Alexander closes out the festival weekend on Sunday, September 3rd. The Jamaican-born musician is renowned for his vibrant personality and musical expression that combines elements of the blues, gospel, calypso, and reggae into an energetic, swingin’ performance that’s not to be missed.

Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

Easton: Home of America’s ‘Best Small Jazz Festival’

The “best small jazz festival in America”—otherwise known as the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival—is held annually in Easton. This year celebrates the festival’s seventh year from September 2nd to September 4th.

Yet despite its continuing success and ever-increasing caliber of performances, the festival was initially spurred by a simple dinner conversation between festival producer Al Sikes and Rush Moody, the past-president of Chesapeake Chamber Music (since renamed Chesapeake Music to reflect the wide variety of music presented annually).

Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander

“He said they’d talked a little bit in the past about diversifying Chesapeake Chamber Music by putting in a jazz program,” says Sikes. “And a few weeks later, he said ‘would you do it?’”

Although he was eager to see more live jazz music in Easton, Sikes initially suggested a single concert to gauge the community’s interest. Jazz pianist Monty Alexander was suggested to Sikes by a friend and the rest, as they say, is history.

The first concert, held in 2010, featured two shows: saxophonist Grace Kelly on its opening night and Monty’s headlining performance the following evening. During that Saturday afternoon, the two musicians fielded questions from audience members.

Since then, the number of performances throughout the weekend-long program has continued to increase.

“The response has been exceedingly enthusiastic,” says Sikes.

This year’s festival kicks off with “The Magic of Gershwin,” featuring pianist Ted Rosenthal and vibraphonist Chuck Redd. Bassist Max Murray and his band will perform during a Saturday morning brunch at the Tidewater Inn, and trumpeter Dominick Farinacci returns for a Saturday afternoon concert. The weekend closes with a Sunday afternoon concert by pianist Cyrus Chestnut who will be joined by Howard University’s premier vocal jazz ensemble, Afro Blue.

Headliner Monty Alexander presents “Remembering Jazz at the Philharmonic” on Saturday evening, a recreation of Norman Granz’ eponymous series.

“Circa 2016,” Sikes adds, laughing.

For those unfamiliar with Granz’ performance series that ran between 1944 and 1983, “Jazz at the Philharmonic” featured a variety of the era’s gifted musicians, including Roy Eldridge, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole. Similarly, Alexander’s program will showcase some of today’s predominant jazz entertainers: saxophonists Sharel Cassity and Ron Blake, bassist Hassan Shakur, and drummer Jason Brown—to name a few!

Not only has the amount of shows presented by the festival increased, but the audience continues to expand rapidly, too.

“I’m just delighted at where we are,” he adds.

Three years ago, the festival added a free community concert—this year brings in the Big Band sounds of the 23-piece Jazz Ambassadors of the United States Army Field Band—in an effort to introduce people to a genre of music they might otherwise dismiss.

“I have regarded jazz as a misunderstood music,” Sikes says, explaining that the genre crosses a wide spectrum of music. “So by opening jazz up as widely as we possibly can, I think we’re … showing [the community] what the music is about.”

Perhaps one of the most unexpected ways in which the festival has grown is its success. As an unwavering optimist, Sikes admits with a hearty laugh, that he believed bringing great jazz to the area would excite the community.

“I was surprised with the number of people and the wide variety of responses,” he says. “If you’d have asked me in 2010 if we would be where we are today, I would not have imagined that.”

And if this year’s already fast-moving ticket sales are any indication, the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

“We’d like to add more concerts. We certainly don’t want to crowd the festival weekend … so last year we moved jazz outside of the Labor Day weekend,” Sikes says, explaining the additional concert series that brought jazz to Easton earlier this year.

While the festival undoubtedly brings an economic boost to Easton, Sikes’ focus remains on the music. As such, his hope for the next few years is to bring even more great jazz to the Eastern Shore. And he’ll happily do so one year at a time.

“As for now, I look forward to the downbeat of the concert on Friday night,” he says. “Jazz is America’s gift to the world and the raison d’etre of The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival. The festival … celebrates tradition as well as new expressions that draw on the extraordinary legacy left by earlier generations.”

×
×
We're glad you're enjoying The Talbot Spy.

Sign up for the the free email blast to see what's new in the Spy. It's delivered right to your inbox at 3PM sharp.

Sign up here.