Tanglewood Jazz Festival
August 29-31, 2008
Tanglewood, in Lenox, Massachusetts, is the summer home of the Boston Symphony, and it's also home to events like an annual James Taylor concert, an annual recording of A Prairie Home Companion, and the annual Tanglewood Jazz Festival, which ran this year from August 29-31.
Lenox has a proud history where jazz is concerned. From 1957-1960, it was home to the Lenox School of Jazz, a pioneering gathering of improvising musicians looking to share ideas and carry the music forward. The faculty reads like a who's who of jazz from that era: Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Milt Jackson, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Jim Hall, Max Roach, Lee Konitz, Booker Little, Bill Evans, Kenny Dorham, J.J. Johnson and that's just scratching the surface. Similarly, many of the students would go on to become acclaimed musicians, including Ran Blake, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, and Don Ellis. (There's an excellent book on the subject, Jeremy Yudkin's The Lenox School of Jazz: A Vital Chapter in the History of American Music and Race Relations (Farshaw, 2006).)
The Boston Symphony Orchestra, which runs Tanglewood, honors that history with the annual jazz festival. The setting is idyllicthe whole place is nestled in the Berkshire Mountains between Lenox and Stockbridge. The festival is held in Ozawa Hall (named after famed conductor Seiji Ozawa), with additional performances in the "Jazz Cafe"a tent up the hill from the hall. People also sit on the lawn between the two venues, and the entire back wall of Ozawa Hall opens up for the evening performances to give the lawn folks a view of the show.
There were really only two small problematic issues on the opening daybugs and rain. It was quite humid, and the mosquitoes and gnats were out in full force during the early evening. Then it rained later on. Still, the crowd was happy and into the music, and I'd have to say the opening day was a big success.
I started out by interviewing clarinetist and saxophonist Eddie Daniels, who would play on Sunday at 2 P.M. While we were recording the interviewwhich will be on an upcoming edition of The Jazz SessionDaniels got a call from his pianist, Tom Rainier. Ranier was calling to say that drummer Joe LaBarbera had just fallen off his bicycle and broken his left hand, and thus couldn't play their gig in less than 48 hours. Daniels suggested some names and asked Tom to start calling around. "You can leave this in the show," Eddie said. "This is what it's like to be bandleader." (On a personal note: Here's wishing Joe LaBarbera a speedy recovery!)
Later in the afternoon, I stopped over at the VIP reception site and listened to a rehearsal by Australian vocalist Jo Lawry. It was a knock-out performance. She has an incredibly pure voice with faultless intonation, and the band featured some top-notch players, including guitarist Keith Ganz, whose name will be familiar if you're a fan of his wife, singer Kate McGarry. McGarry was there later for Lawry's set, and she told me that she and Jo Lawry have become good friends and collaborators. In fact, their joint vocal group features a medley of Rush tunes. Lawry's writing skills are also impressive, particularly her lyrics on songs like "Small House."
Pianist and Blue Note recording artist Aaron Parks was a ubiquitous presence at the festival. In addition to his performance on Friday, his tunes were sung and played later in the weekend by both Kate McGarry and Terence Blanchard. Parks was joined on Friday by most of the line-up from his new album, Invisible Cinema: Matt Penman on bass, Mike Moreno on guitar, and Kendrick Scott on drums in place of Eric Harland, who plays on the record. The crowd was appreciative, although perhaps not quite sure what to expect from Parks and his set of original music.
EDMAR CASTENEDA & THE GREAT JOE LOCKE HUNT