On Saturday, August 12, thousands of people will enjoy a full day of live music at the 2017 Montclair Jazz Festival. It takes place in Nishuane Park, a beautiful 17-acre setting in Montclair’s South End, and is the culmination of two weeks of musical events throughout the town. Since the end of July, Montclair has been home to everything from live performances on the streets to photography exhibits and master classes–and the festival is the perfect finish!
The festival’s lineup includes multiple Grammy Award winners like Dee Dee Bridgewater and Christian McBride, and legendary players like Cyrus Chestnut – a keyboardist who was a first call pianist for the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band along with The Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestras.
McBride is coming off a pair of performances at the Newport Jazz Festival, where he is the Artistic Director, while Bridgewater will be heading to the Monterey Jazz Festival in September. Unlike those two festivals, admission to the Montclair Jazz Festival is free. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see world class performers in an amazing setting. The festival takes place rain or shine.
Melissa Walker, a jazz vocalist and recording artist, and Christian McBride, her husband, founded the festival. Walker is also the president and founder of Jazz House Kids, a Montclair-based arts education and performance nonprofit. Jazz House Kids works closely with 1,500 students in Montclair, in underserved schools, and at its Jazz House Summer Workshop. The organization is committed to providing access, inclusion and innovative programming for young people from all walks of life.
In addition to a great lineup, music is only part of the fun at the festival. There are two dozen vendors, including 17 food-related such as Bonjour Montclair, Eatible Delights, Suzy Que’s BBQ and Fisherman’s Bay. North Coast Brewing Co. sponsors a beer garden (with 100% of the proceeds going to support the Jazz House Kids Music + Education Fund), and there is a Family Jazz Discovery Zone Stage that hosts performances by Louis Primar Jr. and the Witnesses, the Jazz House Adult Ensemble and Jazz House Alumni Ensemble. Activities include kid-friendly art activities for the younger kids and music-related story books read by festival headliners as part of a collaboration among Jazz House Kids, Montclair Public Library and Montclair Art Museum.
Jazz is a very broad form of music that includes many sub-genres and the Montclair Jazz Festival lets you explore many of them. Festival goers can hear modern jazz with trumpeter Ted Chubb; swing from Louis Prima, Jr.; electro-funk from Christian McBride Situation; big bands from Philly Soul to Afro-Latin sounds; classic songs by artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Buddy Rich and Lena Horne will be performed by the Centennial Project (presented by the Jazz House Collective); while the future of jazz is on display by students at the Jazz House Kids Summer Workshop.
In a bit of a twist, one of the biggest names this year might not be performing jazz at all. Despite being one of the most recognizable voices in jazz, Dee Dee Bridgewater’s upcoming album, due out September 15th, is a return to her roots.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Michigan, Bridgewater is a triple Grammy winner, a Tony Award winner, a UN Goodwill Ambassador, a world class producer and head of her own record label. Her upcoming album represents a glimpse at the music that inspired her to become a musician. It takes listeners back to when she would spend nights listening to the Memphis radio station WDIA – the first radio station in the country to feature all-black programming. The album, “Memphis …Yes, I’m Ready,” features Bridgewater’s takes on classics like “Why?(Am I Treated So Bad)” by the Staple Singers and “I’m Going Down Slow” by Bobby Blue Band.
Bridgewater is bringing her new 10-piece band, Dee Dee Bridgewater & Memphis Soulphony to the festival. The band includes Barry Campbell on bass, Curtis Pulliam on trumpet, Bryant Lockhart on saxophone, Charlton Johnson on guitar, Sharisse Norman and Shontelle Norman-Beatty on background vocals, Carlos Sargent on drums and Farindell “Dell” Smith on piano/organ.
The 2017 Montclair Jazz Festival is once again hosted by the Mistress of Ceremonies: S. Epatha Merkerson, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actor (best known for her work on 17 seasons of “Law & Order” as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren), and Gary Walker, the legendary WBGO Jazz 88.3FM announcer, who serves as the stage host and provides info on the festival performers.
Attendees are encouraged to bring folding chairs, blankets and sunscreen. The festival also hopes people visit the Front Line for the Arts tent to learn about the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and their efforts to keep arts funding at its current levels. The NEA is a major sponsor of the Montclair Jazz Festival and its funding has become a major issue.
If you cannot make it to the festival, you can watch it streamed live on the internet. Just go to http://www.montclairjazzfestival.org/live.
“We are proud that the Montclair Jazz Fest has metamorphosed into one of the largest and greatest free summer events in New Jersey,” said Melissa Walker. “Along with the Montclair Film Festival in the spring, the Montclair Jazz Fest has become part of the fabric of our community and a world-class event, solidifying the town’s standing as a thriving arts and cultural destination all year round. An ambitious undertaking, the ‘no tickets required’ Montclair Jazz Festival, which attracts thousands of music lovers and families from across the region, would not be possible without the tremendous support of our sponsors, community and government partners, and generous individuals who believe in Jazz House Kids’ mission.”
Jazz House Kids, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, provides the framework inside which students from diverse backgrounds can play, sing and appreciate America’s original musical art form. Through music, mentoring, education and apprenticeship, we cultivate tomorrow’s community leaders and global citizens so they may build vibrant communities where they live.
The Montclair Jazz Festival takes place in Nishuane Park, 48 High Street, Montclair, NJ on Saturday, August 12 from noon until 9:00pm. Admission is free. For more information visit http://www.montclairjazzfestival.org.