Young musicians will be the stars of the show this season during the Jazz on Jay concert series.
The Schenectady-based series has showcased budding musicians in previous years, however, organizers said that this year it’s more of a focus. Given how many music programs and performance opportunities have been curtailed for emerging musicians, it seems like an apt time to put them in the spotlight.
“These musicians are the future of the jazz scene and I know people will be blown away by their talent, not just at performing but also at composing,” said Betsy Sandberg, one of the organizers of the series.
It starts on Thursday with opener Azzaam Hameed, accompanied by two of Hameed’s students: Jordan Gamble, who attends LaSalle Institute in Troy and Paris Bouldin who attends Niskayuna High School.
Bouldin, who is a junior, began playing piano in 2013 and has always been struck by the range of styles the instrument offers, from classical to jazz to pop and beyond.
“You can really express yourself through it,” Bouldin said.
During the last year, she’s performed for her family but hasn’t been able to showcase her skills outside her home. Thursday’s Jazz on Jay performance will change that and it’s given her something to work toward.
“I like performing. You get to showcase your talents and show people you’re doing something you really love to do,” Bouldin said.
She’s planning to perform a rendition of “River” by Charlie Puth, which she will sing as well.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for me and I feel like it’ll be a way for me to step out of my comfort zone,” Bouldin said.
For Nick Dwarika, a 2020 Schenectady High School graduate and bandleader of the jazz band Center Square, the series marks a return to doing what he loves.
“If you want to make music and you want to have an effect on people, you need to perform,” Dwarika said.
The bassist, who will be studying music education at the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam in the fall, has been sold on performing since his first gig, playing at a senior center. Dwarika remembers one resident in the audience had Alzheimer’s and came alive when the band played “Fly Me to the Moon.”
“He didn’t really remember much and he didn’t really remember his wife at all but then we played ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ he started singing, he started dancing with his wife. That was really cool,” Dwarika said.
Center Square, which includes several Empire State Youth Orchestra alumni, is slated to perform on July 15.
“We do a mix of things because we all have different interests,” Dwarika said.
Some players in the group are influenced by figures like John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner or Dave Brubeck, but Dwarika tends to prefer more funk-based music, from the likes of James Brown and Maceo Parker.
“We also just like throwing in some pop songs in the mix just to give everybody something they can recognize,” Dwarika said.
Beyond doing what they love, Jazz on Jay gives the band members the chance to fine-tune their stage presence. It’s a lesson professional musician and series favorite Joshua Nelson well remembers learning. He first performed in the series as a SUNY Schenectady student and he’s performed several times since then.
“All of that was perfect training . . . just leading the band and doing everything that you would do in a real-world situation and it is. It’s an actual gig where no one’s holding your hand and I grew up having the opportunity to get better every time. So it’s really helpful,” Nelson said.
This year, the saxophonist will take the stage with the Joshua Nelson Quartet on Sept. 16 after spending more than a year living in New York City building his musical career.
He made the move just before the pandemic began and shortly after graduating from SUNY Purchase 2019. While the pandemic certainly made it more challenging to find gigs, he’s been able to teach students online and release an EP, called “Sunday,” a precursor to a full album he plans to release in the coming months.
“The move to New York, . . . obviously, it was going to be difficult but there was so many opportunities, so many different cultures. I’m Black and Puerto Rican so my existence is built on the mixture of cultures so I think whether it’s food, music, that’s where I gravitate toward is the mixing of those cultures,” Nelson said.
It hasn’t been the year Nelson, or most people, expected but he said a semblance of normalcy is returning to the city.
“Lately, things have been opening up and gigs are coming back. A lot of people are doing their first gigs since the return so that’s been really exciting. Sessions are opening up, the city is staying awake a little longer each week so it’s really cool,” Nelson said.
He credits local teachers and musicians like Dave Gleason and Mike Lawrence as well as Brian Patneaude of SUNY Schenectady, who, Nelson said, helped him through some important years of studying.
Nelson’s return to Jazz on Jay is in part thanks to Lawrence.
“I really credit it to Mike Lawrence, he’s really . . he’s just an awesome guy and an awesome player but he did a lot of reaching out to us and to a lot of the young musicians and he’s been really helpful and encouraging through seeing me grow up as a musician,” Nelson said.
He’ll return to the series in September with new songs from his EP, as well as a few that will be on the forthcoming album and a couple of jazz standards.
“I love the environment. I like seeing so many familiar faces, especially growing up in Schenectady,” Nelson said.
Jazz on Jay typically runs between eight and 10 weeks during the summer, with the help of sponsors MVP Health Care, DSIC and support from the City of Schenectady and the Local 85-133 musician’s union, said Sandberg.
However, the series has been extended for this season.
“We were able to expand the series to 15 weeks thanks to a Decentralization grant from the Arts Center of the Capital Region, specifically funding the ‘younger’ or what some call ‘emerging’ performers for 2021,” Sandberg said.
Concerts run on Thursdays from noon to 1:30 p.m. on the corner of State and Jay streets and will be held rain or shine.
Here’s a look at the schedule:
June 10 – Azzaam Hameed & Friends
June 17 – Quinton Cain Quartet
June 24 – Matty Stecks & The 518
July 8 – Jeanne O’Connor Ensemble
July 15 – Center Square
July 22 – Dylan Perrillo Quartet
July 29– Jon LeRoy Trio
Aug. 5 – Michael Benedict & BOPITUDE
Aug. 12 – The Dadtet
Aug. 19 – Henry Fernandez Quartet
Aug. 26 – Claire Daly Quartet
Sept. 2 – Joe Finn Quintet
Sept. 9 – Maggie MacDougall & Bossamba
Sept. 16 – Joshua Nelson Quartet
Sept. 23 – Awan Rashad Quartet
More from The Daily Gazette: