This week I ventured into the world of radio guest commentary. It is a strange place to be, I’m not sure I belong there. My voice is a monochromatic instrument, it doesn’t know the difference between expressing admiration for a YouTube video of a dog wearing a hat and issuing a warning that an asteroid is about to strike the Earth. But the assignment was Tuesday morning’s announcement of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival lineup. And I felt comfortable with that subject.
So here’s the transcript, as heard on WXXI-AM (1370) and WRUR-FM (88.5). It’s actually the director’s cut, I ran a little long and a few things were omitted in the broadcast. And if it were the actual document, it would have a few whiskey-glass rings staining the margins.
SCOTT: I’m Scott Regan, host of WRUR-FM’s Open Tunings. Jeff Spevak has been a frequent guest during the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, and we’ve asked him to stop by the studios here to talk about the lineup for this year’s event, which was announced Tuesday.
JEFF: Thanks Scott. After 16 years, which in its first year we saw Aretha Franklin riding in from behind the right-right fence on a golf cart to close out the show at Frontier Field, the festival now runs on a well-established template. Nine days, this year starting June 22, ending June 30, all shows within downtown walking distance.
SCOTT: So, what do we have this year?
JEFF: The Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre shows have already been announced. It’s the usual diverse formula. R&B singers Seal and Jill Scott. The bluegrass-jazz of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones. The bluegrass of Alison Krauss. The alt-rock jazz vocals of Lake Street Dive. The blues-pop of singer Box Scaggs, if he does “Loan a Dime” like he did last time he was here, a 10-minute version, that’ll be my fest. All of these shows have already sold well over 1,000 tickets according to co-producer and artistic director John Nugent.
SCOTT: So where are the big jazz names? Anything Marsalis.
JEFF: The key to the jazz festival is, to quote Paul McCartney, “And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” In other words, go all out, hit three shows all nine nights, and you’ll have a rewarding music experience. And not just in jazz. This is not so much a jazz festival as it is an international, all-genre music festival. It’s the National Geographic of music events.
The jazz fest doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it has to change a tire or two every year. Most notable is the addition of The Temple Building, an old, 1,000-seat church on Liberty Pole Way that also has a rock-club history in this city. Chuck Berry, The Replacements, The Ramones and The Brian Setzer Orchestra all played there. Later it was a dance club, to the disappointment of Rochester City Police. It’s been silent for a while, but is now beautifully renovated. It’ll be used eight on the night nights – on Sundays it’s still a church – and it starts out strong. Opening nighty is Joey Alexander, a pianist who has blown people away the last two years here, including sharing the Eastman Theatre stage with Chick Corea. I hesitate to say Alexander’s 13 years old, because you’ll think, ‘Oh what a cute kid.’ But everyone who’s heard him is astounded by his musical maturity. And the following night at the Temple Theater is the return of The Bad Plus, an out-there trio that accents its own compositions with inventive rock covers such as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
I mentioned Brian Setzer playing the Temple Theater years ago, and he’s back. His Rockabilly Riot is one of the free big outdoor shows at the East Avenue and Chestnut Street Stage. Tower of Power is a familiar name at the outdoor shows, but two new names could be quite interesting. Vintage Trouble is a band that’s opened for The Who and the Rolling Stones. St. Germain is a Paris electro-dance-rock outfit. Parcel 5 isn’t a part of this lineup. Instead there is an alt-country show at Martin Luther King, Jr., Park at Manhattan Square Park with Pokey LaFarge and Sara Borges.
Now we go indoors to the Club Pass shows. Vibraphonist Joe Locke, a Rochester native is a big show at Kilbourn Hall. Terrell Strafford and Nicholas Payton bring more jazz cred to the venue. And I like the idea of Songs of Freedom, a presentation of spirituals, and Matt Wilson’s arrangements of Carl Sandburg poems.
After that? I’m happy to see the great roadhouse country guitarist Junior Brown back at Anthology. The Made in the UK series at Christ Church and the return of singer Gwyneth Herbert. And Jack Broadbent is back, he was my favorite act a year ago, an English blues guitarist who played slide with a hip flask.
And lots of stuff to be discovered: If you want to hear the music of the jam band Phish played as jazz, that’s a group called Jazz, Phish. The Dmitri Matheny Group has been here a few times playing at Abilene Bar & Lounge, it plays what sounds like soundtracks for film noir. I’m particularly riveted by the idea of Hooch Moon, a trio of two saxophones and percussion, doing all Tom Waits songs.
SCOTT: So that’s the jazz fest?
JEFF: That’s the start. We have three months to figure out what these bands from Iceland and Norway will be doing at the Lutheran Church.
SCOTT: Thanks Jeff. You can read Jeff’s stuff on his web site, jeffspevak.com.
BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.