The Hudson Valley's resident jazz fansand visitorsfound themselves with two days of musical treasures on June 25-26, when Kingston chooses to celebrate Independence Weekend a week ahead of time. There were two independently produced free jazz festivals in New York's first capitol city. While I was there for Sunday's Kingston International Jazz Festival, down along the reviving waterfront in the Rondout neighborhood, I also caught two sets of the prior evening's Wall Street Jazz Festival held in the Uptown business district. The Kingston Jazz Festival was a first-time venture that holds great promise for the future, as word gets out and the audience grows. The festival opened at noon to a sparse crowd, but it had grown quite a bit and turned into a salsa party as sunset neared and the city was preparing for a later non-jazz concert and fireworks that swells the Rondout neighborhood with thousands of visitors. Credit the weather with also keeping the crowd sparse for most of the day, as temperatures reached the low 90s for the second straight day and felt like 100 at times.
Dutch bassist Joris Teepe and his Groningen Art Ensemble kicked things off. The all-star ensemble featured Dena DeRose on piano, Don Braden on tenor sax, Brian Lynch on trumpet, Ralph Peterson on drums and Ron Jackson on guitar. This was a band that drew on each member's strengths to create music that was powerful and rousing, in spite of the off-stage heat.
Pianist Renee Rosnes's quartet with saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Victor Lewis offered a cooler balm with an hour-long set that wound down with Dizzy Gillespie ballad "Con Alma - arranged and played in stunning form. It was a splendid setup for the next act, when Rosnes was back for the Jon Faddis quartet's five-part "Gillespiana tribute suite. The band included trumpeter Faddis, Rosnes, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Dion Parson. The Faddis-Rosnes duet on "'Round Midnight glowed with an instrumental conversation quality that many artists strive for but few truly reach. This pair did and then some.
Two student groups performed before and after the headlining act, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra with special guest Joe Lovano. The Village Vanguard's resident orchestra never disappoints. Lovano's mere presence tunes added momentum. Lovano's song-long solo on the ballad "Portrait of Jenny was the set's highlight.
As the evening crowd began arriving, the audience swelled. The Amsterdam, N.Y.-based Alex Torres Latin Jazz Orchestra changed the energy level and brought dancers in the crowd to the front, along with some folks who had been dining al fresco at a bistro across the street. The 13-piece salsa band turned up the heat further when Puerto Rican timbalero Endel Duáº½no sat in on two tunes as a previously unannounced special guest.
This is a festival that has much to build on as it moves forward. It is part of a strong musical weekend, a weekend that is becoming a tourist draw, and it presented a formidable lineup for a first-time event.
Uptown's second annual Wall Street Festival presented a succession of eight woman-led bands, including those of Betty MacDonald, Marilynn Crispell, Rebecca Martin, Lee Shaw, Francesca Tanksley, Erica Lindsay and Sumi Tonooka, Dena DeRose, and the festival's artistic director, pianist Peggy Stern.
I only caught the latter two acts, which were very good. DeRose was joined by her usual trio with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson. The group provided a sundown balm for what had been another scorching day outside, just as Uptown's quaint tree and façade lighting flicked on. The crowd listened intently where this day it transformed the intersection of Wall and Front Streets into a pedestrian plaza.
Stern capped the night with a jazz-meets-Latin crowd-pleaser that drew many of the same dancers as the Rondout event would the following night, when she blended her trio with the Estrella Samba and Salsa band.
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.