Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It’s Tanglewood time – in jazz time

Every summer during my festival wanderings, I get one or more similar pitches. “You really need to go to X.” or “You need to come here… It’s a huge jazz event – and it’s free!” Only problem, it’s many hundreds of miles away, it is indeed a HUGE event, and at this point of my summer festival season, I’m ready to wind down with something a bit laid back and bucolic – but no less musical.

The festivals in question also happen to take place on Labor Day Weekend, when I’m already committed to the Tanglewood Jazz Festival. And it'sTanglewood, in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts, that’s a bit laid back and bucolic – but no less musical. That’s a large measure of its charm.

For several decades, jazz has been the traditional closer of the season at Tanglewood, located in Lenox, Mass. Its beautiful woody, pastoral setting - and sweeping lawn - are the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a range of pop concerts. But over the Labor Day weekend, it’s all about jazz – veterans, rising talents and artists whose work blends the jazz and classical genres.

This year’s festival opens Saturday afternoon in Ozawa Hall with the second annual taping of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey’s lively “Radio Deluxe” syndicated radio show with special guest Jane Monheit, who straddles the jazz-cabaret line. Saturday night brings Tanglewood veteran and Grammy winner Kurt Elling to the stage with his band. His longtime pianist and musical director (a relationship dating to 1995) Laurence Hobgood, opens the evening with his trio.

Sunday’s matinee features clarinetist-saxophonist Eddie Daniels and pianist Bob James with bassist James Genus and drummer Peter Erskine in a new program they call “Broadway Boogie.” Its repertoire ranges from standards to Bach. Lee Mergner had a great interview on jazztimes.com today with Daniels about the project. Check it out. The Count Basie Orchestra, now led by Bill Hughes, closes the afternoon.

Sunday night’s final concert opens with Julian Lage’s Group, with the Boston-based guitarist fresh from tearing it up at Newport with his group as well as Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing band. The evening will end with pianist-composer Donal Fox’s latest jazz-classical blend called "Piazzolla to Bach," with classical cellist Maya Beiser as special guest. Fox’s band also includes drummer Dafnis Prieto, vibraphonist Warren Wolf and bassist John Lockwood. Bostonian Fox was a huge hit at Tanglewood two years ago with his "Scarlatti Jazz Project."

Each Ozawa Hall concert will be preceded by a Jazz Café showcase for rising new talent. The tradition began a few years ago – but this year’s has a twist. The four featured bands won a video contest enabling them to play at Tanglewood. The leaders are saxophonist Brandon Wright (Saturday at 12:30 p.m.), pianist Noah Baerman (Sunday at 6:30 p.m.), and singers Kelley Johnson (Saturday at 6:30 p.m.) and Audrey Silver (Sunday at 12:30 p.m.).

Festival regulars will notice something missing this year. There is no Friday night Latin jazz concert, which in the past usually took on a dance party vibe for many attendees well before night’s end . Tanglewood Jazz Festival Manager Dawn Singh called it a victim of the economy, but said she hopes to bring it back.

“We’d like to reinstate the Friday night concerts but it will depend how the economy progresses over the next year,” Singh said. “While it is a bit difficult to get the number of people we would like to see at Tanglewood on a Friday night, the Latin jazz concerts were still very popular and they gave us an opportunity to further diversify our lineup, which we are always striving to do.”

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