For a decade, beginning in 2010, the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival was the centerpiece of the Avalon Foundation’s Labor Day weekend celebration, after which fashion custom decreed it no longer suitable to wear white in public. But since the festival played its last notes before the Monday holiday, it was OK for Alexander to take the stage wearing a white tuxedo jacket.
In 2021, Alexander ended his 10-year summer’s-end run in Easton. But the host team picked up the baton with the 2022 Avalon Jazz Experience, headlined by Marcus Roberts’ Modern Jazz Generation. The second Jazz Experience festival opens Friday night, Sept. 1, on the Avalon’s main stage with Sammy Miller and the Congregation, followed on Saturday night by a return engagement of Dominick Farinacci & Friends and Allan Harris in a Sunday matinee.
Sammy Miller and his seven-piece band have toured the world, more or less, with highlight stops at the jazz festivals at Monterey and Newport, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, the White House, and, before the invasion of Ukraine ordered by Vladimir Putin, the Prokofiev Concert Hall in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Trumpeter Farinacci, another globetrotter who’s played in Japan, Qatar, and the Eastern Shore – having opened the inaugural Jazz Experience festival last September – brings his Triad ensemble of pianist Jonathan Thomas, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Jerome Jennings to the Avalon along with vocalist Ekep Nkwelle and flamenco dancer Alice Blumenfeld for a multifaceted program ranging from jazz standards to improvisational riffs.
The festival finale shines the spotlight on versatile Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based guitarist/vocalist/bandleader/composer Harris, whose unique interpretation of the Great American Songbook has drawn comparisons to Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole. Contemporary jazz, including Harris originals from his “Kate’s Soulfood” album, add a finishing touch to this wide-ranging Jazz Experience playlist. avalonfoundation.org
For a theatrical cabaret experience, Centre Stage presents the 2014 Broadway musical “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” which captures the demons and dramatic allure of Baltimore native Billie Holiday months before her 1959 death. Her songs accompanied on piano – among them “God Bless the Child” and the lynch-protest anthem “Strange Fruit” – are, of course, integral to the show, running Sept. 14 to Oct. 8. But her life story, spilling out between numbers, slurring into intoxicated incoherence, reveal a subtext even more compelling than the dark lyrics. The play marks the directorial debut of Pulitzer-nominated actress/author Nikkole Salter.
An unprecedented National Gallery of Art group exhibition opening Sept. 22 along the Mall in D.C. features works by 50 living Native American artists across the United States. In mediums ranging from painting to performance art, from sculpture to sketches and beadwork to weaving, as well as video and film, “The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans” presents a collective visualization of indigenous reverence for and connection to land they inhabit or once inhabited.
Curated by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, an artist, and citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, the show, running through Jan. 15 in the National Gallery’s East Building, reflects thousands of years of spiritual concern for tribal land bases that have been invaded and annexed through serial treaty abrogations. The Flathead Indian Reservation, for instance, was home to three tribes in Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia, of which more than half a million acres slipped from their grasp through land re-allotments that began in 1904. The exhibit’s artistic statement calls for justice and recognition.
Meanwhile, an installation of indigenous art by Dakota-based Ogala-Sioux Marty Two Bulls Jr. puts a new face on Easton’s Academy Art Museum’s Atrium entranceway gallery, where “Hoesy Corona: Terrestrial Caravan” has been making its climate-change statement for a year.
Using the buffalo as a metaphor for overconsumption resulting in near-extinction, the artist critiques a culture that would lay waste to such iconic and powerful creatures. “Marty Two Bulls Jr.: Dominion” is an imagery wasteland of paper cutouts, soda cans, and assorted non-recyclables reflecting a disconnection from nature and a disregard for ancestral economy and wisdom. The installation opens on Sept. 15 and runs through next August. academyartmusuem.org
The Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, led by Grammy winner Michael Repper, launches its 2023-24 subscription season of Masterworks concerts featuring Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and living American composer, violinist, and educator Jessie Montgomery.
The season-opening concert, 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28, at Easton Church of God, introduces “Strum,” a song for string orchestra or chamber configurations by Montgomery, resident composer for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, whose “Soul Force” was among the recordings by African-American women on New York Youth Symphony Orchestra’s album that won the best-orchestral Grammy for the young musicians and music director Repper. Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings” follows on the program, anchored by Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. The three-concert series continues at beach venues: Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, Delaware, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, and 3 p.m. Oct. 1, Community Church, Ocean Pines.
Here is your chance to welcome autumn with a classical and contemporary salutation.
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts writer and editor now living in Easton.