It was another spectacular jazz weekend at Saratoga Springs, NY as the Freihofer's Jazz Festival rumbled into town June 29-30. Coming hot on the heels of the JVC Jazz Festival in Manhattan, this sister event is a perennial favorite.
Every year I try to treat myself to the upstate New York annual trek. The two-day celebration is a rejuvenating spell, therapy for the soul. You end up making lots of friends, with their blankets and picnic baskets and umbrellas for shade from the hot summer sun. It's perfect.
The sleepy little town of Saratoga Springs is perhaps best known for its horse racing, spas and mineral baths. But the population of 26,000 swells in late June as jazzoids from around the country converge on the area for the big jazz fest'.
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) is a two-tiered amphitheater that opens to a sprawling hillside for the audience to lay out on. There is also a separate gazebo stage for other outstanding acts to perform simultaneously with the main stage. Non-stop music from noon 'til whenever...WAR, the last act to go on Saturday, hit the stage at 10:45 p.m.
Saturday's lineup kicked off with funky bass man Gerald Veasley. Soulive, then vocalist Kurt Elling soon followed. Things kicked up a notch as The Dave Holland Quintet made their presence known. Swingin'! Regina Carter wowed the crowd with her magic violin, while Manhattan Transfer proved they still had the right stuff.
It was about 8:00 p.m. Saturday when "Directions In Music" hit the stage. This is what I'd been waiting for. It's a celebration of the music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. The representatives of this spiritual evening included Roy Hargrove on trumpet, Michael Brecker on tenor sax and Herbie Hancock at the piano. Nice. Seeing these three onstage together, performing music by the masters, is a moving experience.
The Dave Koz Summer Jam frolicked in, then the funky low riders took over as WAR brought the day to an end. Rest up and back tomorrow.
This is where I take a minute to thank George Wein, Charles Bourgeois and all the rest of the folks at Festival Productions for hooking me up with front row seats! They sure take care of the press and run a class operation. Hats off to Festival Productions and JVC Jazz!
Sunday mornin'...another beautiful sunny day. A quick breakfast, then a fast run downtown for the best cup of coffee I've ever had (a place called Uncommon Grounds) and back to SPAC.
This day promises to be the best day of music in a long time. Better than yesterday? A funky, brash bunch named the Moutin Reunion Quartet surprised everybody to kick off the day. Then Steve Turre amazed me by playing Miles' "All Blues" on a conch shell! But the show stopper of the two-day event...was about to take the stage.
Angelique Kidjo, a beautiful singer/dancer from West Africa pounced from behind the curtains and took control! Happy, packed with energy and soulful good vibes...Angelique Kidjo won everybody over. Before long, she had the stage overrun with people from the audience, up and dancing. She's a little dynamo! It was what sunny summer jazz festivals are all about: forgetting about everything else! If only for a day or two.
Be sure to pick up a copy of her new release: Angelique Kidjo "Black Ivory Soul" on the Columbia label. I saw a video last year that she did of the Jimi Hendrix song "Voodoo Child". It was awesome. "Voodoo Child" may be found on her previous CD, "The Best of Angelique Kidjo."
Speaking of Hendrix, as my traveling friend and I took a break and walked back through the seated audience in the grass, we approached the arts & crafts tents. This is like a little world of its own and helps make the jazz festival experience what it is. Art lovers supporting artists.
It was there I happened upon this beautiful hand-drawn picture of Jimi Hendrix. I had to have it! On the back of the illustration was a moving poem about Jimi. As it turns out, the artist is Marian Howard and the writer is her son, Alfred Omar Howard. She tells me he does poetry to a "live" band...like the ol' beat days. Look for this family of artists from Morristown, New Jersey!