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43rd Annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland, Part 2

43rd Annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland, Part 2

Courtesy C. Andrew Hovan

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The Tri-C JazzFest did a fantastic job of ensuring that those who arrived with open ears, discovered at least one artist who they fell in love with.
Part 1 | Part 2

After a year online and a year at the suburban Cain Park, the Tri-C JazzFest made a triumphant return to downtown Cleveland in 2022. The downtown location gave the music a wider audience than at Cain Park, as it was more likely that someone returning home from a baseball game or an afternoon at a bar could stumble upon one of the many bands playing at two outdoor stages. The festival comes less than a year after the Cain Park version of the festival, with a quick turnaround time giving it the chance to entertain a summer audience, and pay tribute to the current president of Cuyahoga Community College Alex Johnson before he retired in June.

Though at many festivals the big name national acts are often the ones playing indoors for paying audiences, this writer often finds the outdoor shows to be a better way to experience a truly local festival. You can experience Eddie Palmieri performing at any city in the country when he's on tour, but a tribute to a local Cleveland legend like organist Eddie Baccus Sr. performed by the musicians who knew him can only happen in the city that he called home.

Outdoor Concerts

Dave Thomas had giant shoes to fill on Friday night. The organist had to pay tribute to Baccus, someone he watched play local clubs for years trying to learn his tricks behind the organ keys. Baccus made a name for himself as one of the few people keeping the hard bop and soul jazz organ style of performers like Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff alive in the Midwest. The set on Friday paid tribute to that tradition with a cover of Miles Davis's "All Blues," adding groove and energy to the originally relaxed modal tune. Baccus became friends with the renowned saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirkwhen they were both students at the Ohio School for the Blind. Baccus once had the chance to play nationally with the saxophonist, but decided to stay in Cleveland to be close to his support system, Thomas said. Thomas added that Baccus's playing was defined by restraint with a mix of showmanship. He recalled one time where the elder Baccus played a trick on his audience that made them all wonder at his artistry.

"One time during his solo he put something on his keys that would make them stick," Thomas said. "He got up in the middle of his solo and started walking around the organ."

Cleveland band Alla Boara paid tribute to a different musical tradition underneath the Playhouse Square chandelier. In the middle of their set, the audience a recording heard a recording of a long-dead Italian priest singing an old, nearly-forgotten song. After the recording ended, Alla Boara took that priest's melody and gave it life, letting the stories of the dead live again beyond the grave. The band ensures that a new generation of listeners will have a new perspective on the folk music of their Italian ancestors. Folk music can be transformed into something completely modern retaining something of the emotions that previous generations expressed through song. The band's remixing of older songs is reminiscent of how jazz musicians have mined Broadway musicals for material since the beginning of the genre. How many people would know of the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical "Babes in Arms" if it never spawned "My Funny Valentine?"

"If you have a grandpa from France or South Africa or Poland check out their music," bandleader and drummer Anthony Taddeo said. "It might speak to you in a way that is surprising."

All the songs Alla Boara performed would have been forever lost to history if Alan Lomax, best known for preserving the folk songs of the American South, hadn't journeyed through Italy in 1954. Taddeo took those field recordings, learned the melodies and constructed modern arrangements of them that add a hint of modernity while still being listenable for a popular audience. "C'Aventi C'e" is a stellar example, with unison guitar and bass riffs and an angular bridge, in-between Singer Amanda Powell's verses. Powell translates the lyrics of each song, often written in regional Italian dialects, so that she can try to preserve the meaning of the songs.

"I always have my little book with all my translations because it's important to maintain the story," Powell said.

Some of the pieces were more whimsical than the religious song of a priest. One standout story song is based around a dialogue between an uninterested woman saying that she would rather turn into a flower then marry the other singer, who responds by saying he'd turn into a bee, leading to a long spree of banter. Alla Boara's first album, Le Tre Sorelle, comes out in October, 2022.

Indoor Concerts

Anthony Hamilton, a favorite of Dr. Johnson's kicked off the festival with Southern tinged soul. Hamilton showed love to the audience, mixing stage banter about his Southern roots, at one point inviting Johnson over to his house for grits, with the ability to dance and improvise at the end of a song to keep audiences holding on for just a couple minutes longer. The crowd paid him back in return waving white towels in the air and getting out of their seats. Many of Hamilton's songs are about a grown-up love, with songs like "Best of Me" based on the simple pleasures of having a lazy day with a person you love. He also paid tribute to his forebears, with references to m: Bill Withers, Parliament Funkadelic and Luther Vandross. Hamilton ended the night with a song that he said "pays my bills:" "Charlene," a song about a topic as old as touring musicians, about the difficulties at home having a job on the road causes, with the singer unable to spend time with his daughter and family.

Dominick Farinacci presented a band Triad with an eerie sound almost akin to the instrumentals you hear on a 1980's Tom Waits record. The unorthodox rhythm section of Jamey Haddad on drums, Christian Tamburr on vibraphone/marimba, and Michael Ward-Bergeman on accordion, along with a song selection featuring a mix of old standards ("St. James Infirmary Blues"), and new ones (John Mayer's "Stop This Train"), creating one of the most memorable sets of the festival. Chanel Johns' vocal performance was perfect, the snob in me never thought a John Mayer song would put tears in my eyes, but Triad conveyed the dread of getting older and seeing life slip past you in a way that few bands have. Overall, not bad for a band's first gig together. Following Farinacci, French vocalist Cyrille Aimee, showcased herself as a jazz singer-songwriter based firmly in the Great American Songbook and jazz-influenced pop. Her original songs used instrumentation that streched out beyond a standard band of bass, guitar, drums and piano, creating an instant highlight in the set. One song, written when she built an off-the-grid house in Costa Rica, featured just her singing with a ukulele. Following that song, Aimée went in a completely different direction, improvising a piece with just her voice and a looper. The harmonized chords and beatboxing were a great display of experimentation, showing she can tackle any genre of music

There are certain bands who do not fit well in sitting rooms. Ghost-Note, led by the Snarky Puppy percussion duo of Robert Sput Searight and Nate Werth is one of them. By the end of their Friday concert, many of the seats inside the Allen Theater were empty as the audience rose up to dance.

The band is pure '70s funk out of the Tower of Power and James Brown school, played by virtuosic musicians. The band even blended some humor into the set, at one point playing an extended James Brown tribute over soundbites from an infamous CNN interview where he responds to many of the interviewer's questions with song lyrics or titles. Bassist MonoNeon with his colorful suits and custom bass, stood for his looks as much as his incredible talent.

Education

The Tri-C JazzFest does more than provide entertainment for people and an excuse to drink outdoors in downtown Cleveland. The festival is also an educational tool, giving students the opportunity to perform live in front of an audience and learn from some of the top jazz artists in the country before they even graduate college.

Farinacci's journey to become a professional musician began at the Tri-C JazzFest Academy. Farinacci got the opportunity to play with Wynton Marsalis in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in high school, which set the stage for him attending Juilliard as a jazz studies major. Now Farinacci is the director of the academy, helping around 60 middle and high school students learn the craft of jazz. Bassist John Clayton, who performed with John Pizzarelli in the last concert of the night, gave a workshop to the students, following in the footsteps of artists like Terence Blanchard who have passed their knowledge to students in Northeast Ohio.

This year a new stage was devoted entirely to current Tri-C students and alumni, including Spirit of the Groove, a yearround pre-college program intended for students considering music school, Farinacci said. Jazz education, like that of K-12 schools across the country, was forced online during the COVID-19 pandemic. For two years, Farinacci said, the class was split, the rhythm section doing in-person lessons, the horn section doing online lessons, because of COVID-19 restrictions, with combined practices only happening since March. The horn section would play over pre-recorded rhythm tracks, creating a much different environment than the communications between instruments that normally occurs at a jazz rehearsal.

"We didn't look at it as better or worse. We just looked at it as a different skill set," Farinacci said.

Student Ava Preston showcased some of what she learned from Tri-C on the student stage. Preston first got into jazz at four years old after discovering Diana Krall. Now 18, she performs professional concerts regularly, and hopes to make jazz her career. The COVID-19 pandemic did not entirely stop her ability to perform, as she was still able to play outdoor concerts, but the first year of the pandemic felt especially devastating.

"It's just such a fundamental It's part of who I am," Preston said, referring to music, "And who all of my friends are, and who my teachers are, to not have the chance to connect with the arts and connect with other people, was devastating."

The Tri-C jazz program offers young students the experience of making music outside of their basement or for an audience of their peers, as random people walking through Cleveland can also stumble upon their music.

"It's about more than just music," Preston said. " It's about making something bigger than yourself."

Drummer Drew Hoschar is set to take the step on his musical journey by becoming a student at the Manhattan School of Music. The ability to constantly progress and learn is what draws him to the field, as even the slightest change of grip can make a difference in your playing. That's the beauty of pursuing jazz or another artform, it's impossible to stop evolving.

"I started hearing all the nuances that music brought, and the ability to just go back to a record and you've already listened to find new things," Hoschar said. "It's so inspiring."

The ability to go back to something you've heard countless times and discover something new is one of the countless reasons to love jazz. The Tri-C JazzFest did a fantastic job of ensuring that those who arrived with open ears, discovered at least one artist who they fell in love with.

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