Jazz in the Islands: 2nd Annual Anguilla Jazz Festival

Franz A. Matzner By

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A truly unique performance, this moment somehow encapsulated the joys of the festival experience, namely the possibility of encountering something totally unexpected and heretofore unknown.
Transparent aqua waters, rich amber rums, miles of snow-white sand, sophisticated cuisine, crashing waves, opulent resorts, unique private villas, the meandering calm of island-time, and for four days each November, nights filled with the pulse of jazz.

And not just any jazz, either. Like everything else available on this small Caribbean island, the music of the annual Anguilla jazz festival is world-class, refined, and representative of the best that money can buy. This combination—a sumptuous locale and superior music—makes a journey to the Anguilla Tranquility Jazz Festival ideal for those seeking an indulgent fantasy vacation that is somehow simultaneously off the beaten path and smack in the middle of the lap of luxury.
The Island

A tiny strip of beaches only three miles wide and sixteen miles long, Anguilla is located a picturesque ferry ride from St. Maarten, making it the most northerly of the Leeward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Though peculiarly flat compared to its neighbors, Anguilla contains some of the most pristine beaches in the world, a safe, unabashedly welcoming atmosphere based on genuine island friendliness, and as a result of its small size and relative obscurity, an appealing sense of seclusion.

Divorced from the tumult and crowds that make Jamaica a spring-break favorite, there is still plenty to occupy the hours before the music starts. Simply touring the beaches is a good start, or taking part in what seems to be the prime draw of Anguilla for many visitors: its plethora of high-quality restaurants. However, be forewarned. You will encounter very little "native" cuisine as beyond the local spine tail lobster and a few local fish, almost everything has to be imported from abroad. That isn't to say the epicure will go wanting. The litany of available delicacies is almost inexhaustible and the quality of the imported (and famed) chefs from around the world rivals all but the most metropolitan of cities.

Take, for example, the Altamer Restaurant, situated on the inside curve of an isolated, clear blue bay. Here visitors can sample a wide spectrum of dishes including a strikingly authentic crayfish gumbo, as well as a series of impossibly lavish desserts. Run by former pastry chef and French expatriat restaurateur Maurice Leduc, this is one of the most recommended spots on the island, both for the cuisine and the location. Other options include the more Caribbean-flavored Tasty's and a beach side grill called Mango's. And for an unusual afternoon experience, hop a small boat across to a tiny island consisting of a single beach and a single restaurant, Gorgeous George's. Run by George and his wife, this is the perfect place to kill a few hours eating the choicest lobsters on the island—cooked home-style on an open grill—while nursing a few of George's devilishly strong rum punches. A local band completes the scene, as does the small beach where you can take a quick swim to cool off.

Whether you spend the days touring the beaches, sampling the restaurants, shopping for Cuban rums and local art, snorkeling, diving, or relaxing at the hotel pool, try to reserve enough energy for the long nights of music because although the bands start early, they finish late, and listeners won't want to miss out.

The Festival

Only in its second year, the Annual Tranquility Jazz Festival distinguishes itself from other long-standing Caribbean music gatherings by remaining strictly jazz focused, with an emphasis on straight-ahead, acoustic acts. No cross-over Pop, no electric Fusion, and nothing even remotely Smooth. The 2004 roster boasted an impressively diverse and high-profile array of acts from straight-ahead vocalist Carla Cook and the Baltimore based Cyrus Chestnut trio, to the hard-hitting Mingus Dynasty Band, to Latin-Jazz legend Ray Barretto, and Brazilian stars Flora Purim and Airto Moreiera.

The Cyrus Chestnut trio opened the weekend of music on an intimate note with a Thursday night jazz dinner hosted by the CuisinArt Resort & Spa. Diners were treated to an exceptional meal, a superb setting on the hotel's expansive patio, and an evening of swinging, traditional tunes featuring the bluesy vocals of Chicago-born Carla Cook. Backed by the ever-inventive Chestnut, Cook guided the guests through their meal—and a few trips to the well-stocked bar—with peppy swing numbers, funky grooves, and several elegantly produced ballads. A fitting start to the week of jazz, the crowd left relaxed and ready for three more jam-packed nights.


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