When the reality set in that it was going to be impossible for the Northwest Jazz Festival in Lewiston, NY to happen this year, I knew it was going to make all of us sad. The ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is being felt in many parts of the country in the worst manner than the cancellation of a jazz festival. This is a perspective we keep in mind as my thoughts and prayers go out to those who have suffered the loss of loved ones.
The festival has grown to be one of the most attended and beloved in the region. Outstanding music from international and local jazz musicians, fantastic venues offering unique foods and drink, and a once-per-year gathering for friends and family. Something for everyone the festival is. From the casual jazz fan to the aficionado.
As the Music Director for the festival, I was personally looking forward to presenting one of the most ambitious programs the festival had ever planned. The program was never announced officially. However, I feel it is owed to the spectacular musicians who were scheduled to appear.
The festival this year happened to fall on the 100th Centennial Birthday of Charlie Parker. Actually, on Charlie Parker’s birthday of August 29. In jazz, it does not get any bigger than paying tribute to a pillar in jazz history. Here is what was planned. The festival planned to feature the celebratory Bird at 100 project led by alto saxophonist Vincent Herring along with fellow legendary alto saxophonists Gary Bartz and Bobby Watson. Joined by pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Carl Allen, the trio of alto sax legends were scheduled to recreate the number one jazz album in the country for many weeks, Bird at 100. Go get this album and support this magnificent endeavor.
The Main Stage this year was set to feature award-winning jazz:
- The New York-based Svetlana and the New York Swing Collective with their exciting brand of swing music and vocals, performing music from their widely-acclaimed album and project, Night at the Movies
- 2020 Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocals, Sara Gazarek, was to grace the stage with songs from her Grammy-nominated album, Thirsty Ghost, which has achieved worldwide acclaim and appearing on many “Best of 2019” lists
- 2016 Juno Award Winner and 2019 Juno Award Nominee for Best Jazz album – Group, the Allison Au Quartet, led by alto saxophonist Allison Au, was set to perform from their much-heralded albums, Wander Wonder (2019) and Forest Grove (2016)
- Carmen Intorre, Jr. Four The Soul – the notable jazz drummer Carmen Intorre, Jr. (Pat Martino, Joey DeFrancesco) presenting his acclaimed project Four The Soul that was to include Downbeat Critic’s Poll recognized organist Pat Bianchi, guitarist Dan Wilson, and saxophonist Troy Roberts
- Winner of the 2019 Downbeat Critic’s Poll for alto saxophonist and 8-time Grammy Nominee Miguel Zenón and his quartet was set to appear and perform music from his much-acclaimed 2020 Grammy Nominated album, Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera, plus music from a soon to be released album.
Other national jazz artists scheduled to appear included:
Jazz guitarist and jazz-soul legend, Eric Johnson, was set to return to the festival (2018) in a trio format. Johnson has been a popular sideman for Lou Donaldson, Brother Jack McDuff, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Akiko Tsuruga.
The Indiana-based jazz guitarist Charlie Ballantine, acclaimed for multiple CDs and his groundbreaking The Music of Bob Dylan project, was set to make an appearance with noted jazz saxophonist Rob Dixon and his trio.
In addition to the headliners mentioned, outstanding local and regional jazz artists were to include the Jay/Sharp-Tet, Nelson Rivera y Somos La Genre, Far Trio, Carina and the Six String Preacher, Jonathan Hughes Quintet, Buffalo Jazz Collective, Will Holton Quintet, Dale Toliver Trio, Skiffle Minstrels, Hot Club of Buffalo, PK Hanna, Freighttrain, Autonomous Vehicles Trio, French ConéXion, Paper Rose Trio, AM Guitar Duo, The DUO Plus, Saranaide, Stu/Avery Weissman Duo, and the George Kane/Dave Schiavone Duo.
Lastly, the festival had scheduled to continue to provide opportunities for the youth as Matt’s Music Vocal Performance Team and the NCMEA All-County Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Vocal Ensemble planned to perform at the festival.
In some small way as you can, please support the musicians all mentioned above. It is a dire and difficult time for many as their sole source of income has been literally turned off suddenly.
Yes, it is heartbreaking right now. We will, however, see brighter days. All I can ask is that you take the time to check them all out. Their recordings and support with CD purchases or donations.
My hope is that we can get to hear these magnificent artists in the near future. The plan is to return in 2021 and we hope to once again program for an ambitious and exciting lineup that brings the best in international, national, regional, and local jazz to the little town that could – Lewiston, NY.