SCHENECTADY – The annual Jazz on Jay series kicked off in Schenectady on Thursday with a lively gig by the ESYO Youth Jazz Orchestra.
“People are so thrilled that it’s back,” said Betsy Sandberg, a board member for the ElectriCity Arts & Entertainment District, one of the organizers of the music series. “Some people literally plan their Thursdays around it!”
Beginning over two decades ago as a way to bring people to Schenectady, Jazz on Jay throws free jazz concerts nearly every Thursday afternoon throughout the summer. This year’s lineup includes the Musicats, the Peter Van Keuren Trio and the Hot Club of Saratoga.
“We still do it, even though now people come downtown more often than they did back when downtown was depressed, because it’s fun,” Sandberg wrote in an email. “I’ve seen very busy, very important people who are rushing along the street to make it to a meeting and they stop and pause and listen for a while. I’ve seen many downtown employees look at their watches and frown when they realize they have to leave because their lunch break is over.”
On Thursday, the ESYO Youth Jazz Ensemble, which consists of student jazz musicians from schools across the Capital Region, performed for over an hour and half, featuring compositions by Miles Davis, Kenny Wheeler and even one by one of the group’s saxophonists, Bohdan Kinal. Spectators clapped, cheered and took videos as the ensemble brought a steady beat to Jay Street.
“We just really feed off of each other’s energy and really push each other,” said Kinal, a senior from Guilderland High School.
But a surprise accompanied the performance’s impressive improv and bossa nova groove. Just over an hour into their set, three of the ensemble’s musicians, who were recently announced as recipients of the Lee Shaw Scholarship by the Swingtime Jazz Society, were presented with plaques and checks by Capital Region jazz pianist Peg Delaney. Guitarist Samuel Wagner, drummer Kiemon Noel and saxophonist Kinal received the award because of their talent and future musical endeavors.
“They’re just amazing,” said Delaney, who created the fund in 2016 in honor of her close friend and fellow jazz pianist Lee Shaw, who died in 2015. “We had six kids apply this year — we’re going to give money to all of them.”
All of the scholarship recipients will be continuing their music studies in college. Kinal plans to attend the University of Denver to study jazz composition. Wagner will be attending William Paterson University for jazz studies & performance. Noel, a Niskayuna senior who has been playing percussion for six years, will study jazz performance at SUNY Purchase.
“I feel very lucky to receive this scholarship,” said Noel, adding that he did not expect to win anything when he applied. “I play with the people that I know applied for it and I think the musicians I play with are phenomenal and I just love the fact that I’ve been able to play music with them.”
Jazz on Jay will continue every Thursday, from noon to 1:30 p.m., on the corner of Jay and State streets in Schenectady until Aug. 31.