Youth rules at Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival Saturday and Sunday at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Trumpeters Theo Croker and Etienne Charles are 29 and 31, respectively, and bassist Michael League of Snarky Puppy is also 31.
Established stars singer Cassandra Wilson (59), guitarist Al Di Meola (60) bluesman Ronnie Earl (62) and percussionist Pedrito Martinez (41) are middle aged; while Maze singer Frankie Beverly (68) and pianist Monty Alexander (71) are a bit younger than the members of Heads of State — all in their 70s: Saxman Gary Bartz is 74; bassist Buster Williams is 73, and pianist Larry Willis and drummer Al Foster are both 72.
Foster first recorded at 21 with Blue Mitchell and is of the last jazz generation who didn’t attend music school, as his bandmates and almost everybody else on this festival did.
In fact, Snarky Puppy was formed at the University of North Texas, in Denton, whose music grads include Norah Jones, Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band), Don Henley (Eagles), Ray Wylie Hubbard, Roy Orbison, “Bones” Malone and Lou Marini (both were Blues Brothers).
“Originally everybody in the band was at the school, but now about half are,” said Snarky Puppy bassist and leader Michael League. At school, he played with the Latin Jazz Ensemble, the Brazilian Jazz Ensemble, the Jazz Singers and others. In Denton bars, he played salsa, straight-ahead jazz, pop and R&B.
Obsessed first with the Beatles, then with Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan, ’90s grunge, Stevie Wonder and James Brown, he had switched from guitar to bass because his high school jazz band had three guitarists but no bass player. Always interested in songs rather than improvisation, “I was writing terrible songs as soon as I started playing guitar,” he said.
League composes 80 percent of Snarky Puppy music but strives to “create an environment where everybody has some voice and opinions are all equal.”
The eight-piece Snarky Puppy will play originals from past instrumental albums on Sunday at SPAC, but not the new orchestral release “Sylva” with the 52-piece Dutch Metropole Orkest.
No vocals, either, from the albums Snarky Puppy makes with guest singers in their Family Dinner charity series that benefits “anybody who provides free or very, very cheap music education,” League said. Recipients include the Jefferson Center in Roanoke and a New Orleans program the Rebirth Brass Band fostered for at-risk children.
Snarky Puppy has “limitless” freedom onstage, said League, “as long as it services the composition.” He said, “We play songs differently, night to night, and take the compositions to distant places. We look out at the crowd just before we play and we ‘take their temperature.’ Mid-way through the first tune, we know [what to play].”
Familiar faces at the fest include Pedrito Martinez who has played A Place for Jazz; I also saw him at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, where Maze draws huge crowds. Cassandra Wilson and Al Di Meola both starred at The Egg (with Harriet Tubman, and World Sinfonia, respectively), while Snarky Puppy played the Upstate Concert Venue recently, and Ronnie Earl played WAMC’s the Linda and Pauly’s Hotel, across the street.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]
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