Sedona Jazz on the Rocks
September 21-24, 2006
When it comes to jazz in Arizona, nothing rocks quite like Sedona, at least every September. And the state's premiere jazz festival manages to make its presence felt throughout the state year-round.
The 2006 edition of Sedona Jazz on the Rocks was also its 25th anniversary festival. Organizers added more musical punch to the weekend, which drew an estimated 4,000 attendees to the festival, located in one of America's spectacularly beautiful natural wonders.
No matter which direction you turn, you're likely to see several of the many huge red sandstone rock formations and mesas that dominate the landscape in and around the city. They are remarkable and very different from the vistas of the Grand Canyon, which is less than two hours away. If you're a jazz fan, love to hike or take "can't miss photographs, Sedona is a dream destination.
This year's festival opened with pianist Benny Green's trio featuring Carl Allen and John Webber in a Friday evening indoor concert at the Sedona Creative Life Center and continued with a 10 am to 6 pm outdoor main event on the grounds of the Radisson Poco Diablo Resort. That eight-hour stretch (plus a Billy Mitchell-led jam session that followed) included hour-long sets by singers René Marie and Barbara Morrison, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera's quintet, contemporary guitarist Earl Klugh and blues singer/guitarist Doug MacLeod, who has appeared at Sedona nine times. It wound down with a Sunday brunch at the Sedona Hilton Resort in the neighboring village of Oak Creek that featured singer Melissa Walker with pianist Makoto Ozone, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Clarence Penn.
Morrison's saucy blues had the crowd up dancing in front of the main stage (she joined them - singing and dancing on the lawn through half of one tune). One highlight was when she brought pianist Mitchell to the stage for "I've Got My Mojo Working complete with a New Orleans shuffle beat and the swaying accompaniment of hundreds of waving white handkerchiefs. Mitchell's main stage appearance on Saturday gave Morrison a chance to acknowledge him for first bringing her to Sedona.
D'Rivera's set featured a Dizzy Gillespie tribute segment that started with the poignant "A Night in Englewood (which D'Rivera wrote the night Gillespie died) and continued with '"Round Midnight and "A Night in Tunisia with a few segue licks of "Salt Peanuts for good measure. Trumpeter Diego Urcola was featured on "Blue Tango one of his originals.
René Marie opened the day with Nina Simone's "Feeling Good on what was a sunny, breezy morning, mixing standards and more personal material.
Green opened the weekend with a set that stuck closely to the American Songbook and jazz standards, offered with his usual blend of humility and unbridled joy. Three treats included his takes on Randy Weston's "Hi-Fly , Charlie Parker's "Anthropology , Michel LeGrand's "Pieces of Dreams andof all thingsa jazz romp through the "Theme from Bewitched .
Walker's closing sets showed the degree to which the singer is very much a cool, vocal storyteller. Tops were "Return to Me , "Forget Him , a Gary Bartz arrangement of "Miss Otis Regrets and "Mr. Bojangles with the latter included, Walker said, because life is a dance.
This year's festival added a second stage for performances by the festival's youth band and allstars between main stage sets. The Saturday festival event is a benefit to raise funds for jazz education. Education Director Susannah Martin said Sedona Jazz on the Rocks has awarded scholarship totaling more than $250,000 to more than 150 Arizona youth to attend Berklee College of Music summer programs in Boston and Los Angeles since 1992.
"It's all about creating a new generation of musicians to keep this music going for another thousand years, Martin said. In other words, to keep it timeless, just like the rocks of Sedona. The effort was not lost on the performers. Klugh, who also performed as a special guest with Billy Mitchell's trio at a more intimate Thursday night jazz party, donated his performance fee for the weekend toward Sedona's scholarships. He wasn't the first appearing musician to do soand likely won't be the last.