The 38th annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, one of the world’s longest-running major jazz events, will be held on Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). This year’s festival will feature Erykah Badu, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Cassandra Wilson celebrates Billie Holiday, Sheila E., Al Di Meola Electric Band, Snarky Puppy, Christian McBride Big Band, Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express, The Pedrito Martinez Group, Benny Green Trio, Heads of State, Django Festival All-Stars, Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, Theo Croker, and Etienne Charles, among others. Tickets for the festival will be available online beginning March 3 for SPAC’s highest level members and March 24 for the general public. Tickets and information are available online at spac.org.
Located in Saratoga Springs, New York at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the festival was founded in 1978 by jazz impresario George Wein and has hosted a who’s who of jazz greats over the years including Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, B.B. King, Wayne Shorter and Ray Charles. With an inside seating capacity of 5,200, lawn seating of 20,000, world class jazz talent performing on two stages, and an idyllic State Park setting located just three hours driving time from either Boston or New York City, the festival draws thousands of fans from across the Northeast and throughout North America.
“At this year’s festival we bring our audiences a remarkable lineup—a blend of familiar favorites and debut artists, all musicians of the greatest national and international acclaim,” said Marcia White, President and Executive Director of SPAC. “For two days, as an annual kick-off to the festivities of summer, our guests make the SPAC grounds their home. They come to see friends they may only connect with once a year at our festival, to hear great music and to create lifelong memories. Each year, I personally look forward to seeing the familiar faces of generations of Jazz Fest fans. I couldn’t be more proud of the experience that our guests will share this June as they listen to, and engage with, our incredible musicians.”
“The prestige of the Saratoga Jazz Festival allows us to present some of the best artists on the scene today,” said Danny Melnick, President of Absolutely Live Entertainment, and co-producer of the festival. “Both legends and emerging artists look forward to playing in Saratoga because of the intimacy of the venue, the loyalty of the fans, and the beauty of the SPAC grounds.”
“On behalf of SPAC and our community I would like to thank Freihofer’s for their unmatched support of our Jazz Festival,” White said. “Their generous involvement as our title sponsor allows us to bring the best artists in jazz to Saratoga for fans to enjoy.”
While two days and two stages of live, world-class jazz is the centerpiece of the weekend, fans can also enjoy a host of amenities including a fine arts and crafts fair, CD signings by artists, a full-service bar in the Hall of Springs, southern style barbeque and other food vendors, all presented by Stella Artois. Guests are welcome to bring their own food and beverages, as well as blankets, tents and lawn umbrellas. Parking for the event is free. More information about what to bring to the Jazz Festival can be found online at spac.org.
Stella Artois returns to the festival this year as the lead sponsor of the lawn experience (“the hang”). The upscale Belgian beer company is no stranger to sponsoring high-profile arts and cultural events; they’ve been notably involved with the Chicago Jazz Festival, the Singapore Jazz Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival.
“SPAC’s postcard-perfect setting in the majestic Saratoga Spa State Park creates the perfect atmosphere to sit back and enjoy this world-class line-up you won’t find anywhere else,” reflects White. “There is truly no better way to welcome in the summer.”
2015 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival Artists
Tickets to the festival go on sale March 24 at spac.org; box office and phone sales begin May 15.
SATURDAY, JUNE 27 – MAIN STAGE
Maze featuring Frankie Beverly Venerated for honest, raw soul music, Maze has delighted music lovers world wide for over 40 years. SPAC welcomes the musicians of Maze, whose emotionally vibrant musicality and brilliantly sensitive artistry has allowed them to continue to headline at top concert venues across the globe. There are no gimmicks or stage tricks in their shows, just Beverly with his smooth, soulful vocals supported by the tight Maze band. At Saratoga Jazz Fest, Maze will play from their large catalog of classic hits, including “Happy Feelings,” “Lady of Magic,” “While I Am Alone,” and “Workin’ Together.”
Cassandra Wilson celebrates Billie Holiday Cassandra Wilson returns to SPAC for her first appearance in a decade as she celebrates Billie Holiday’s 100th Birthday. Wilson will perform repertoire from her upcoming album to be released on Holiday’s centennial, commemorating Holiday’s prestigious career. Named America’s Best Singer by Time Magazine, she has been described as “Soulful, sensual and lyrical, she’s carrying on the tradition of great jazz vocalists.” A two-time GRAMMY Award winning artist and DownBeat Magazine’s “Jazz Vocalist of the Year” for three consecutive years, Wilson is considered by many to be the most talented jazz singer alive today.
Al Di Meola Electric Band This virtuoso jazz guitarist makes his Saratoga return with his newly-formed Electric Band, performing music from his landmark albums, Elegant Gypsy, Casino, Electric Rendevous and others for the first time in 35 years. His fascination with complex rhythmic syncopation, combined with provocative lyrical melodies and sophisticated harmony, has made him a leader of jazz fusion since the 1970’s. At SPAC, Di Meola is poised to move audiences with his dizzying speed and passionate playing.
Christian McBride Big Band A Saratoga favorite, McBride returns for his fifth Jazz Festival appearance and his third as a leader. Bassist extraordinaire, composer, arranger, educator, curator and administrator, McBride has been one of the most important and influential figures in the jazz world for 20 years. The New York Times hailed McBride’s artistry, calling “the deep, dark-maple tone that he elicits from an upright bass… one of jazz’s forthright pleasures.” This performance marks the debut of his heralded Big Band on the SPAC stage.
Pedrito Martinez Group 2015 GRAMMY nominee Pedrito Martinez is a Cuban-born vocalist and percussionist, master of Afro-Cuban folkloric music, and the world’s first-call rumbero. His infectious charisma will light up SPAC’s main stage as he wows audiences with his athletic musicality. Martinez is the winner of the Thelonious Monk Award for Afro-Latin Hand Percussion in 2000; the 2014 Sphinx Metal of Excellence; the 2014 Jazz Journalist Association “Percussionist of the Year;” the 2014 Modern Drummer Readers Poll #1 “Percussionist of the Year;” and one of DownBeat Magazine’s “80 Coolest Things in Jazz Today.” This performance will be the Group’s third festival appearance.
Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express In a career spanning five decades, pianist Monty Alexander has built a reputation bridging the worlds of American jazz, popular song, and the music of his native Jamaica. Alexander returns to SPAC for the first time since 1996, this time with his Harlem-Kingston Express band, to perform in support of their most recent album, Harlem-Kingston Express: Live! The album was nominated for a 2012 GRAMMY Award and saw number one ratings on both jazz and world-music charts simultaneously. Alexander also continues his solo career as a pianist. Notably, American singer and icon Tony Bennett personally invited Alexander to record as the featured pianist on his 2008 Christmas album, A Swinging Christmas, with the Count Basie Orchestra. In 2012, Alexander received the Caribbean American Heritage Luminary Award from the Institute of Caribbean Studies in Washington, D.C.
Theo Croker Noted trumpet player and bandleader Theo Croker, grandson of jazz legend Doc Cheatham and known by his fans as “the AfroPhysicist,” will bring his internationally celebrated “Miles-ian timbre” (JazzTimes) to his SPAC debut. Croker will play selections from his critically acclaimed 2014 album, The AfroPhysicist. His musical training has taken him from Jacksonville, Florida to Oberlin, Ohio to Shanghai, China to New York City, allowing him to develop his unique style that incorporates elements of salsa, rock, R&B, blues, and hip-hop. Donald Byrd said of Croker, “I would place Theo in a class of musicians who will redirect the flow, change and alter the current of today’s New Jazz.”
SATURDAY– GAZEBO STAGE
Steve Wilson Wilsonian’s Grain featuring Orrin Evans, Ugonna Okegwo & Bill Stewart Steve Wilson leads an exciting collaboration of some of the most highly regarded artists in today’s jazz landscape. His quartet Wilsonian’s Grain, headliners at the prestigious Detroit Jazz Festival in 2011, has been featured on NPR live from the Kennedy Center and the Village Vanguard in New York City. Wilson had been recognized by NPR as “a complete musician, technically and imaginatively… a musician of honesty within the vast field of mainstream post-bop, but never constrained by its parameters.” The quartet will play in support of their upcoming album Steve Wilson & Wilsonian’s Grain Live in New York: The Vanguard Sessions, to be released on March 24, 2015 by Random Act Records.
Theo Croker (see above—Saturday Main Stage)
Duchess featuring Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner & Melissa Stylianou A new vocal trio in the great tradition of the Boswell Sisters, Duchess has grown quickly as one of the up and coming jazz ensembles of the greater New York City region. Showcasing their signature girl-on-girl harmonies, the ladies of Duchess will perform beloved jazz classics from their recently released album Duchess, featuring hits by jazz favorites ranging from Gershwin to Johnny Mercer. The three women each have considerable individual followings: Cervini and Stylianou have both been included in DownBeat Magazine’s Critics’ Poll category “Rising-Star Vocalist,” and Gardner was the female vocalist and Frank Sinatra’s virtual duet partner in Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away. As a trio, these female powerhouses and their tight harmonies have taken New York by storm.
Omer Avital Quartet Making his SPAC debut, Omer Avital is a composer, virtuosic bassist, oud player, and leader of the world-music genre. He has been hailed by the LA Times as “a pioneer in combining jazz with myriad world-music elements.” In 2008, Avital was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award, the most prestigious distinction for artists in Israel. His work seeks to create a sound that is highly individual, yet instantly recognizable—the essence of Israel with all its contradictions and beauty. The New York Times has commented, “Mr. Avital and his group are producing some of the most original music being heard in New York.”
Mike LeDonne Groover Quartet featuring Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein & Joe Farnsworth When Mike LeDonne plays the Hammond B3 organ, the instrument sings with the raw soul of the human voice. LeDonne and his Groover Quartet have been distinguished by The New York Times as a “fixture” of the New York jazz scene. Making their SPAC debut, the Quartet promises to get audiences grooving to the beat as they play jazz, swing, and soul classics from their legendary Tuesday night gig at the famous New York jazz club, Smoke.
SUNDAY, JUNE 28 – MAIN STAGE
Erykah Badu Erykah Badu’s lengthy career has included pioneering work in establishing neo-soul in the modern age, drawing comparisons to Billie Holiday for her smooth, passionate vocals. Winner of four GRAMMY Awards and nominated for 15 others, Ms. Badu’s work includes five widely-praised studio albums and a live recording. Her acting career includes a role in the critically-acclaimed film The Cider House Rules, for which she garnered a Screen Actors Guild nomination and a 2000 Black Reel Award. As a member of neo-soul and hip-hop collective Soulquarians she worked with artists including Questlove, Common, and Mos Def; other collaborations to which she has lent her voice include projects with Macy Gray, Sérgio Mendes and will.i.am, The Roots, Jill Scott, Wu-Tang Clan, Rick Ross, and Tyler the Creator. In her SPAC debut, Erykah Badu will show off her impressive vocal abilities on hits from throughout her nearly two-decade career.
Sheila E. This world-class drummer and percussionist’s credits read like chapters in a music history book: Ringo Starr, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan and George Duke. Sheila E. is the GRAMMY Award-nominated singer/songwriter behind the seminal hits “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre.” She was the first female music director for a late night talk show, “The Magic Hour” with Magic Johnson, and received an Emmy nomination as music director for “Fiesta Latina – A Performance at The White House.” Sheila E. was recently among the roster of stars chosen to perform at the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors whose honorees included artists Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel and Carlos Santana. Making her SPAC debut, Sheila E. will play favorites from her 2014 autobiographical album, Icon, as well as her previous collaborations with some of the world’s most beloved musicians.
Snarky Puppy The 2014 GRAMMY Award winners have gone from a best-kept secret to the standard-bearers for a new movement in jazz. The band has earned high praise from critical stalwarts like the BBC, Village Voice, Guardian, and Boston Herald, and has performed at some of the best venues and festivals in Asia, Europe, Australia, and North America. Their 2014 album, We Like It Here debuted at number one on the iTunes Jazz charts across the world and won the “Best New Artist” and “Best Electric/Jazz-Rock/Contemporary Group/Artist” categories in JazzTimes Magazine’s annual readers’ poll. At their SPAC debut, Snarky Puppy will play selections from their award winning catalog, as well as material from the second volume of their GRAMMY award winning Family Dinner series.
Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters—An Encore Presentation Appearing at the festival in 2014 for the first time since 1997, guitarist Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters will return to SPAC in 2015 due to massive audience feedback from the group’s appearance last year. Earl is considered a New England blues guitar legend—a staple on the local blues circuit for years, having received praise from blues masters such as B.B. King and Muddy Waters.
Heads of State featuring Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Buster Williams & Al Foster The Saratoga Jazz Festival welcomes Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Buster Williams, and Al Foster—four of the greatest jazz musicians working today. Together, they are an unforgettable, cooperative quartet currently preparing for their first recording as a group for Smoke Sessions Records. Jazziz has called Gary Bartz a “remarkable saxophonist who can easily recall the more lyrical moments of John Coltrane or the R&B stylings of players like Hank Crawford”; Larry Willis is “the greatest pianist you’ve never heard of” according to TimeOut NY; The New Yorker names Buster Williams “a paragon of post-bop bass playing”; and TimeOut NY also states that Al Foster’s “brilliant timekeeping encompasses the best of the old and new school.”
Django Festival All-Stars Making their SPAC debut, this “hot-swing” quintet will bring the legacy of the brilliant gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt to Saratoga. Their performance will celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the Django Reinhardt NY Festival at famed New York City jazz club Birdland. The All-Stars include internationally celebrated French jazz musicians Samsom Schmitt, Pierre Blanchard and Ludovic Beier. The Wall Street Journal praises the All-Stars as “The Best Jazz Show In Town… Imagine a stage filled with contemporary Django Reinhardt descendants and you’ll get a sense that the collective talent pool on the bandstand is larger than the Arc de Triomphe!”
Etienne Charles Making his festival debut, Charles is a band leader, recording artist, composer, arranger, and Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at Michigan State University. Still only in his 20s, he has recorded three impressive and well-received albums that showcase his own Caribbean-roots informed jazz style. His most recent album, Creole Soul, is a captivating journey of new jazz expression. The New York Times calls Charles “one of [jazz’s] more ambitious soloists and composers,” JazzTimes applauds him as a “daring improviser” and DownBeat Magazine celebrates his tone as “melodically captivating” and “rhythmically agile” making his music “immediately pleasing.”
SUNDAY – GAZEBO STAGE
Benny Green Trio with David Wong & Rodney Green The Los Angeles Times wrote of Green, “When you say he’s got it all, you’ve said it all—That is the most concise summation of the genius of pianist Benny Green.” Pianist and composer Green’s rich, tasteful swinging; ambidextrous musicality driven with a powerful left hand; and uniquely creative improvisations make him one of jazz’s most celebrated pianists. Once a student of Art Blakey, Green has cultivated 20 years of experience as a leader and performer alongside some of jazz’s best known names—Betty Carter, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, and Ray Brown.
Etienne Charles (see above—Sunday Main Stage)
Kellylee Evans JazzTimes described this Canadian sensation as “a master of fresh interpretation.” Evans made her debut onto the American music scene with her album, I Remember When, released in July 2014 on the Montéma Music label. Evans was the second place winner of the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, which she credits for launching her career from singing in the shower to singing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. At her Saratoga Jazz Fest debut, Evans may perform her fresh, personalized adaptations of hip-hop songs along with classic jazz and soul.
Yosvany Terry Quartet featuring Osmany Paredes, Yunior Terry and Obed Calvaire DownBeat Magazine describes the quartet as “lyrical, complex and caffeinated, it combines the instrumentation and rules of classic hard-bop with the rhythmic savvy of Afro-Cuban music.” Terry’s music, although formally complex and technically intricate, continually maintains a smooth, organic sense of groove that keeps audiences swaying. The New York Times distinguished Terry as “among the bandleaders stretching the definitions of Afro-Cuban jazz.” His latest recording, New Throned King, earned a GRAMMY nomination for “Best Latin Jazz Album,” and this will be his Saratoga Jazz Festival debut as a leader.
Sonny Knight & The Lakers Just returned from their 2014 World Tour, Sonny Knight and the Lakers will delight SPAC audiences with repertoire from their 2014 debut album, I’m Still Here, covering a wide range of tempos and soul forms. Knight’s exuberant, energetic vocals and cheerful charisma defy his 65 years of age and decade long absence from the music industry. NPR praises the band, newly formed after Knight’s career detour serving in the military and working as a truck driver, stating, “…the Secret Stash label got Sonny & The Lakers together. As you’ll hear, that was a wise decision.”
Tickets to the festival go on sale March 24 at spac.org; box office and phone sales begin May 15.