Saratoga Springs

Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival: Two stages and ‘something for everybody’

The Amina Figarova Sextet plus Strings and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis are among the performers this weekend at the Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival. (credits: Andrea Carter/Piper Ferguson)
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The Amina Figarova Sextet plus Strings and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis are among the performers this weekend at the Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival. (credits: Andrea Carter/Piper Ferguson)

The 45th annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival returns Saturday and Sunday with a full two days of performances in the Saratoga Performing Arts Center amphitheater and the Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery” stage. Performers can’t wait.

“It’s wonderful,” said bassist Todd Coolman. “There’s something for everybody, even if it’s just the atmosphere.”

Coolman has been an occasional guest at the festival, mostly in association with the Skidmore Jazz Institute Faculty All-Stars, a group which is part of the two-week institute Coolman has been artistic director for between 2011 and 2018. He still is on the faculty at Skidmore College.

But Coolman is also a Grammy Award-winning player who has performed with many of the greats all over the world, including Horace Silver, Gerry Mulligan, Benny Goodman, Stan Getz and James Moody. With such international venue experience, he particularly loves this festival.

“Many festivals across the country don’t really present jazz. . .jazz is a sexy word in marketing,” Coolman said. “But what is jazz? There are many branches. But you can’t present Snoop Dog and say that’s jazz.”

Audiences at SPAC know the difference.

“They routinely exceed expectations,” he said. “Because jazz is an acquired taste art form. It’s for the connoisseur. So when you have large amounts of people attracted to that and they are there for the music. . .that’s who we play for. The absence [of performing] was profound so being back now has rejuvenated our opportunities to play together. It’s extremely rewarding.”

While Coolman and the All Stars will play on Sunday on the Discovery Stage, Saturday will offer in the Amphitheater: soul music legend Booker T. Presents: A Star Revue; jazz/hip-hop crossover Robert Glasper; New Orleans funk and jazz collective Galactic featuring Anjelika Jelly Joseph; Ozmosys Band; and the debuts of Con Tumbao, which spotlights numerous Latin artists; and the Amina Figarova Sextet plus Strings.

Figarova, an Azerbaijani jazz pianist who also composes most of the band’s material, has been touring internationally for 20 years. But only recently did she decide to incorporate strings into her mix.

“I love big band, but I had a sound in my head,” she said. “I was looking for more layering. Strings create an harmonic structure and different color; they also hold notes for a long time. There are padding elements.”

Figarova has always composed.

“I wrote my first song when I was 3 years old,” she said.

Since then, she can write anywhere — at the piano, in the middle of the night, which causes her to get up and write the ideas down, or in the clouds in a plane.

Figarova also discovered a few years ago that she visualizes what she writes.

A friend had invited her to view a painting that particularly attracted Figarova.

“She asked me to write a piece about what I saw. The painting had splashes of color that looked like notes, so I wrote what I saw,” Figarova said.

“That’s when I realized that everything has color and I see the colors as shapes with sounds.”

Her latest efforts are on her album “Road to the Sun” and “Persistence.”

On Sunday the amphitheater will spotlight the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who are returning to the festival for the first time since 1998. Also on Sunday are: powerhouse vocalist Ledisi in her festival debut; SuperBlue: Kurt Elling featuring Charlie Hunter; Brazilian jazz pianist Eliane Elias; Garland Nelson’s Joyful Noise; and the debut of Matthew Whitaker.

On Saturday at the Discovery Stage are the debuts of that pioneering Brooklyn based groove band Red Baraat, the Connie Han Trio, vocalist Emmaline, Dan Wilson Trio, and Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith; also Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt.

On Sunday at the Discovery Stage are the debuts of Tiempo Libre, Texas blues singer/guitarist Carolyn Wonderland; Ryan Keberle & Catharsis; Mardi Gras Indian funk band Cha Wa and the Skidmore All-Stars.

With the festival being one of the largest jazz music events in North America, funding was crucial. Freihofer’s bakery and its parent company Bimbo Bakeries USA have reaffirmed their commitment to the festival and region with a five-year title sponsorship, according to a SPAC press release.

Besides the music, fans can enjoy a fine arts and crafts fair, artist CD signings, barbecue and other food vendors.

Guests are welcome to bring their own food, beverages, blankets, tents and umbrellas. With inside seating capacity up to 5,200 and a lawn seating of 20,000, get there early. Parking is free.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Saratoga Springs

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