Young & old alike

At this year’s Dance Flurry Festival, the torch will be passed to the next generation.
Violinist Jonathan “Jazz†Russell will bring his jazz chops to Dance Flurry this weekend, playing with The Doc Scanlon Trio Friday and Saturday.
Violinist Jonathan “Jazz†Russell will bring his jazz chops to Dance Flurry this weekend, playing with The Doc Scanlon Trio Friday and Saturday.

At this year’s Dance Flurry Festival, the torch will be passed to the next generation.

The festival, featuring workshops and performances across seven different venues in Saratoga Springs from Friday through Sunday, is known for its varied performers and styles of dance. From African to Celtic to jazz and swing, nearly every kind of traditional music and dance will be featured in some capacity.

So it may seem surprising that musicians in their 20s or younger make up a large percentage of the more than 400 artists who will perform. Artists such as jazz violinist Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, who at only 14 has already shared the stage with Bucky Pizzarelli, Wynton Marsalis and the late Les Paul. He’ll be playing with local jazz favorites The Doc Scanlon Trio at The Parting Glass, the City Center and Hilton High Rock, all on Saturday.

But age really has nothing to do with what Russell does as a musician. It all comes down to whether or not you can play — and Russell can play.

Time to get serious

“When I was younger, even just two years ago, it would always be like, ‘featuring young violinist Jonathan Russell,’ ” he said from his home in the Bronx. “Now it just says my name. I don’t think as I get older that it has that much of an impact.”

The Dance Flurry Festival

When: Friday through Sunday

Where: various venues in downtown Saratoga Springs

How Much: Full festival — $90; $80 (seniors and Dance Flurry Organization members); $3 (children)

More Info: 384-3275. The full schedule of events can be found at

“It’s great when you’re young, because everyone’s really excited,” said Jim Russell, Jonathan’s father. “But you have to be able to be aware of the transition — there comes a point where you don’t get a pat on the head for being a kid — you actually have to be able to play. Wynton Marsalis said, ‘When [an audience] sees a young performer, they get a smile on their face; when they hear you can really play, then they get serious.’ He said, ‘Get ready to look serious,’ when it came to Jonathan’s playing.”

But Russell’s age is important to the organizers of the Dance Flurry. Many of the kinds of traditional dancing that will be on display, such as contra dancing, Balboa or swing (the latter two of which Russell will be performing for), tend to be thought of as the province of older people. According to Peter Davis, program director for the festival, this is misleading.

“One of the interesting things about this is that it has a really wide age range of people,” Davis said. “If you get into a contra dance line . . . you dance with a partner, but you end up dancing with every other couple in the line. And you will really dance with — if it’s an experienced dance — teenagers all the way up to people in their 70s. It’s wonderful in that way.”

Along with Russell, other young performers at the Flurry will include The Great Bear Trio, featuring multi-instrumentalists Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand.

The two brothers, both in their 20s, are joined by their mother, Kim, and will perform Friday and Saturday night at the City Center and Sunday night at the Hilton Alabama.

Another is Boston’s The Guy Mendilow Band, which draws from Israeli, South African and Brazilian musical traditions. The band will play for Israeli dance events throughout the weekend and will also be instructing a workshop overtone singing.

Passing the torch

“We feel that’s really important to kind of pass the torch on to some of these young people who believe in traditional music . . .,” Davis said.

“World music is something that a lot of young people are interested in — they’re going back to their musical roots more than they used to do.”

This won’t be Russell’s first experience playing music for dancers — he recalled at least one other performance he gave with a band at a dance room in New York City. “I thought it was actually pretty fun to play my solo and see if the dancers reacted at all to what I was doing,” he said.

And what was that reaction? “Pretty much nothing, from what I could tell,” Russell said, laughing. “I just wanted to wait and watch, see what would happen. There is a difference of live dance music versus recorded music — if the band can really swing, the dancers can really swing.”

Russell, who is also slated to perform Friday night at Caffe Lena with the Doc Scanlon Trio, said he can’t even remember when he started playing violin.

“According to my parents, I used to watch ‘The Elephant Show,’ and they had a violinist on it,” Russell said. “I was just always able to identify the sound of a violin, so my parents got one and I was really happy playing it.”

Parental influence

His mother, Eve Weiss, plays classical guitar, and his father is also a musician, so both his parents assumed that he would pick up an instrument.

“It was kind of like in ‘Harry Potter,’ where the wand chooses the wizard,” Jim Russell said.

“Our hope was that the instrument chooses the kid, and with Jonathan always picking up on the sound of the violin, we went with that. Just, thankfully, it was not accordion or bagpipe.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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