READING, PA -- February 6, 2002 -- The GPU Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, is a special event whose roots grow deep into this community’s fabric. This year’s 12th edition of the festival runs from Friday, March 15 through Sunday, March 24 and features more than 120 events at multiple and various venues throughout Berks County.
With a smorgasbord of jazz guaranteed to satisfy all musical appetites, March winds in Berks County have distinctive jazz overtones. And this year they promise to be especially memorable with Patti Austin, Kurt Elling, Charlie Hunter, Bob Mintzer, Janis Siegel, and New York Voices performing in the festival.
Other marquee artists in the festival lineup are Jeffrey Osborne, David Sanborn and Joe Sample, Fourplay and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
The 10-day riff of music gets off to a rousing start with a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald by vocalist Patti Austin on Friday March 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the refurbished Sovereign Performing Arts Center (formerly the Rajah Theatre) in downtown Reading.
Singer and songwriter Patti Austin will bring the much-loved music of the legendary Ella Fitzgerald to the festival with “Ella: A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.” Austin will be accompanied by the Berks Jazz Fest Orchestra, coordinated by Dave Stahl, for this special concert saluting the 250th anniversary of Berks County. The daughter of a jazz trombonist and goddaughter of musical legends Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington, Austin’s long-lasting success in jazz and pop genres has made her a very popular performer.
The Kurt Elling Quartet will perform Monday March 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Plaza Hotel Ballroom. Elling’s latest CD Flirting with Midnight has received a Grammy Award nomination in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category. He also has been nominated for a Grammy, along with Laurence Hobgood, in the Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist category for the song Easy Living" on the Flirting with Midnight CD.
A festival highlight will be a CD release concert for vocalist and nine-time Grammy Award winner Janis Siegel of The Manhattan Transfer Saturday March 23 at 10:30 p.m. at the Inn at Reading/Clarion Ballroom. Over the past three decades the voice of Janis Siegel has been an undeniable force with The Manhattan Transfer’s diverse musical catalog. Siegel also has sustained a solo career that has spawned a large international fan base and garnered high critical praise.
The Charlie Hunter Quartet will appear on Tuesday March 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Albright College Meridian Theatre. While it would certainly be accurate to call Charlie Hunter a guitarist, his abilities on his altered instrument – three bass strings, five guitar strings, two amps and specially fanned frets – set him miles apart from a typical six-stringer.
His custom-made eight-string Novax was unveiled during his band’s sophomore 1995 release, Bing, Bing, Bing. With it, he was able to realize his capacity. Songs From the Analog Playground, Hunter’s 2001 release, exhibits his talents on his instrument, as well as the talents of several guests, including Kurt Elling and Theryl de’Clouet.
The GPU Berks Jazz Fest includes community groups in the musical mix, and more will be involved than ever before.
Returning to the festival will be the Berks County High School All-Star Jazz Band, performing with the U.S. Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble, with special guest saxophonist Bob Mintzer of The Yellowjackets, They will be joined by the Berks Classical Children’s Chorus in this special free community concert Tuesday March 19 at 7 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Catheral.
In another special free community concert on Wednesday March 20 at 7 p.m., the Kutztown University Jazz Band will join the Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble and Mintzer.
Mintzer has received a Grammy Award nomination in the Best Large Ensemble Album category for the Bob Mintzer Big Band’s CD Homage to Count Basie.
The third annual Skip Norcott Memorial Concert will feature New York Voices, familiar to festival fans from past years, with the Reading Pops Orchestra on Saturday March 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. The Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble is renowned for its excellence in the art of jazz and group singing.
The Albright College First Union Theatre will be the venue for concerts such as the Contemporary Jazz Meets Big Band show featuring Gerald Veasley and the University of the Arts Big Band; the Jimmy Bruno Group and the Charlie Hunter Quartet.
In a special concert on Friday March 22 at 10:30 p.m. in the Inn at Reading/Clarion Ballroom, vocalist/pianist Joe McBride, internationally recognized as a smooth jazz/R&B artist, revisits his roots with Acoustic Joe: A Tribute to Jazz Masters". McBride will be performing originals and music by jazz legends John Coltrane, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis and others.
The festival, which last year attracted 40,000 fans from 32 states and overseas to break all attendance records, climaxes with the much-anticipated appearance of pop star Jeffrey Osborne on Sunday March 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in West Reading.
Also performing in the festival will be smooth jazz keyboardist Brian Culbertson and guitarist Norman Brown perform in a double bill March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center; the Preservation Hall Jazz Band headlines New Orleans Night on Wednesday March 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Plaza Hotel Ballroom in downtown Reading; contemporary jazz group Fourplay, featuring Bob James, Larry Carlton, Nathan East and Harvey Mason, appears Friday March 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral; and saxophonist David Sanborn and keyboardist/composer Joe Sample blend their considerable talents on Saturday March 23 at 7 p.m. at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center.
The festival’s grand finale features one of the most immediately identifiable voices in contemporary music in Jeffrey Osborne. For nearly three decades, he has shared his special brand of soulful vocal music with audiences all over the world. His latest release, Love Songs, follows That’s for Sure, which was a welcome return after a hiatus from recording new music.
The pairing of saxman David Sanborn and legendary keyboard player/composer Joe Sample has all the ingredients for a memorable show. Sanborn has enjoyed a rich and lasting career, one that has spanned more than 25 years. Sample has entertained audiences for more than four decades, first as a founding member of the groundbreaking fusion ensemble The Crusaders, and since the late 1970s as a popular solo contemporary artist.
Fourplay is an all-star quartet that captured the Best Group Award at the Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards in 2000. It plays music that borders on jazz with some strong improvisations mixed in with large doses of pop and R&B. The band features Bob James on piano; Nathan East on bass; Larry Carlton on guitar; and Harvey Mason on drums.
Carlton, along with Steve Lukather, has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance category for the song “Room 335” on the No Substitutions – Live in Osaka CD, which also was nominated for the Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Brian Culbertson and Norman Brown give the festival an exciting double bill on its opening weekend. A crowd favorite, Culbertson has made numerous appears at the GPU Berks Jazz Fest both as a headliner and with other artists. Culbertson and his band will be the second half of the show. Culbertson punctuates his smooth jazz keyboard artistry with his performances on the trombone. His latest release, Nice & Slow, showcases his unique approach. Brown, a recipient of numerous awards for his talents with a guitar, is also known for his powerful live performances. Celebration, released in 1999, continued his penchant for writing and recording music that is rhythmic but with a laid-back lift.
Historic Preservation Hall is a shrine to jazz in New Orleans. Among the jazz lovers who flock there are young musicians from all over the world who come to learn how to play New Orleans jazz. Fortunately for GPU Berks Jazz Fest fans, the Preservation Hall Bands spend time on the road, sharing their love of the original New Orleans music.
Other highlights of the festival include blues artists Shemekia Copeland and Ann Rabson; and such festival favorites as trumpeter Rick Braun; popular pop jazz group Spyro Gyra; saxophonist Richard Elliot and guitarist Marc Antoine; saxophonist Steve Cole; and Pieces of a Dream with special guest guitarist Gerald Veasley.
A festival staple is the annual Berks All-Star Jazz Jam at the Sheraton Reading Hotel, featuring Rick Braun on trumpet, Gerald Veasley on bass, Cheili Minucci on guitar, Ed Hamilton on guitar, Gregg Karukas on electric keyboards, Joe McBride on acoustic piano, Andy Snitzer and Wayne DeLano on sax and Keith Carlock on drums.
Blues headliners include vocalist Shemekia Copeland, who won numerous W.C. Handy Blues Awards in 2001; uppity blues woman Ann Rabson of Saffire; and Roomful of Blues and Ernie Hawkins. Receiving nominations for 2002 W.C. Handy Awards are Copeland for Blues Entertainer of the Year and Contemporary Blues-Female Artist of the Year; Rabson for Traditional Blues-Female Artist of the Year; and saxman Gordon Beadle of Roomful of Blues for Blues Instrumentalists-Horns.
Zydeco will be ably represented in the festival by Rosie Ledet, the “Zydeco Sweetheart” from New Orleans. Her touch of blues and Creole French mixed into her own compositions of traditional zydeco and Cajun music have quickly made her and her band the act to watch on the zydeco circuit.
In a special twist celebrating the inaugural season of the Reading Royals of East Coast Hockey League, it will be GPU Berks Jazz Fest Hockey Night at the Sovereign Center on Tuesday March 19 when the Royals will wear special jazz-themed game jerseys in their game with the Cincinnati Cyclones. After the game, Royals players will autograph their game shirts and take part in a special post-game reception at the Lincoln Plaza Hotel Ballroom, where the shirts will be auctioned off for charity. Electric bassist Gerald Veasley will play the national anthem before the game.
Indeed, the 12th annual GPU Berks Jazz Fest is all about community and great music!
For more information, visit www.berksjazzfest.com.