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All That Jazz

Aug 07, 2011 08:33PM ● By Anonymous

Returning to Easton this Labor Day weekend with more artists and more venues, Jazz on the Chesapeake presents the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival. The legendary jazz pianist, Monty Alexander, who serves as namesake and artistic director of the festival, headlines the Saturday, September 3rd evening concert at Easton’s historic Avalon Theatre and will perform with the Monty Alexander Trio. Grace Kelly, the outstanding young saxophonist who wowed audiences at last year’s festival will be back by popular demand for an evening concert on Friday, September 2nd with her Grace Kelly Quintet. The opening act for Friday’s concert will be a duo performance by trumpet player Dominick Faranacci, who has opened for British rock stars Jamie Cullum and Jeff Beck, and pianist Aaron Diehl, who has performed with the Wynton Marsalis Septet.

A special feature this year will be a tribute to the late Charlie Byrd, who was based in the Chesapeake Region the majority of his life, and was nationally renowned for his jazz and classical guitar performances. Festival Artistic director Monty Alexander accompanied Byrd on several occasions over the years and is looking forward to paying homage to the guitarist’s many accomplishments. The festival tribute to Byrd will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday September 3rd and will feature touring artist Nate Najar who will be collaborating with accomplished vibraphonist and drummer Chuck Redd and his ensemble. Redd was a member of the Charlie Byrd Trio. He was also the featured vibraphonist for the Mel Torme All-Star Jazz Quintet.

Chesapeake Chamber Music
is the parent organization responsible for bringing the jazz festival to the Eastern Shore. The non-profit organization that celebrated its 25th anniversary last year has a mission of bringing chamber music to music lovers of all ages on the Eastern Shore. While the organization is based in Talbot County, gradually it has expanded its reach to Chestertown and Queenstown, while its YouthReach program for students includes Dorchester County.

But what do chamber music and jazz have in common? “Both often consist of small ensembles, one on a part,” explains Chesapeake Chamber Music Executive Director Don Buxton. “While once there were only string quartets, now there are saxophone quartets and percussion groups. The definition of chamber music has changed dramatically. It is now an open book. So why not include jazz?”

Why not indeed? This year’s Jazz on the Chesapeake presents the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, promises to have some of that aforementioned ensemble playing taking place during the two-day event. The plan is to have four jazz musicians performing in various combinations—solo, duet, and ensemble— in what is rapidly becoming a Labor Day tradition for music lovers. “We are expanding to add more concerts,” explains Al Sikes, who is co-chair of the festival with his wife, Marty. “We’ve been talking to various restaurateurs in Easton and we’d like to turn the entire Easton Historic District into a jazz village for a couple of days.”

World-famous jazz pianist Monty Alexander, has a career spanning five decades. The Jamaican native, who now resides in New York City, has played and recorded with artists that include: Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, , Quincy Jones, Ernest Ranglin, Barbara Hendricks, and Bobby McFerrin. The first year, the festival consisted of a single concert featuring Alexander. The second year Grace Kelly, a vibrant young saxophonist, performed in addition to Alexander and wowed the audience.

“We’re excited to bring Grace back,” says Marty Sikes, “There was so much conversation last year after her performance. People will be able to see her again or listen to her for the first time.”

“The festival and the interest is really growing,” says Al Sikes. “It’s going to be a jazz year in Talbot County. Jazz is also a way that we can draw more young people into our audience.”

For the latest updates on the performance schedule: