Fifty years is a long time in jazz; time enough for styles to become outmoded, for younger musicians to assume the spotlight and for long-playing records to be supplanted by CDs and MP3s.
But some things endure. This year marks the 50th anniversary of several landmark albums, including the influential Miles Davis record “Kind of Blue” and Dave Brubeck’s explorative “Time Out.”
These two 1959 recordings will be celebrated on Saturday and Sunday at the Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
On Saturday, drummer and recent National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Jimmy Cobb, who performed on the original “Kind of Blue,” will be joined by members of his “So What Band” — Wallace Roney, Vincent Herring, Javon Jackson, Larry Willis and Buster Williams — to perform a tribute to the historic album.
-- Performances will run from noon to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday.
-- Saturday tickets are priced at $62.50 for adult amphitheater seats, $52 for children under 12 in the amphitheater, $41.50 for adult lawn tickets and $5 for children under 12.
-- Sunday tickets are priced at $56 for adult amphitheater seats, $49 for children under 12 in the amphitheater, $41.50 for adult lawn tickets and $5 for lawn tickets for children under 12. Children 2 years and younger are admitted free.
-- For tickets, call 584-9330, visit www.spac.org or go to SPAC’s Route 50 box office.
“Kind of Blue” achieved its sound by making use of modes or scales instead of the chord progression so common to most songs.
Space to hear
In an interview with critic Nat Hentoff, Davis explained his interest in this approach, saying “No chords . . . gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things. When you go this way, you can go on forever. . . . It becomes a challenge to see how melodically innovative you can be. When you’re based on chords, you know at the end of 32 bars that the chords have run out and there’s nothing to do but repeat what you’ve just done — with variations.”
Jazz Fest schedule
Click here for a schedule of perfromers for the Main Stage and Gazebo
The recording has influenced many jazz musicians since 1959. One reviewer called it a defining moment of 20th century music, and the songs “So What” and “All Blues” from the album have become jazz standards.
Composer and arranger Quincy Jones has written: “That [‘Kind of Blue’] will always be my music, man. I play ‘Kind of Blue’ every day — it’s my orange juice. It still sounds like it was made yesterday”.
On Sunday, the Dave Brubeck Quartet will appear to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Time Out,” his experiment with different time signatures and polyrhythms.
When the album came out in 1959, some critics and fans had negative reactions, since it didn’t “swing” in the traditional sense. Brubeck told PBS’ Hedrick Smith: “The first time that I realized people did not know what we were doing was when we played at Carnegie Hall [in 1963] and we got into a tune where we’re all in different tempos at the same time. . . . We were able to bring up these polyrhythms and all keep our individual beats going the whole time. The reviewer the next day said, ‘The Brubeck Quartet can’t even keep time together.’ ”
First platinum jazz album
Yet the record went on to be the first jazz album to go platinum in sales. Ironically, the one tune from the album that became a hit was not written by Brubeck. “Take Five” was the work of the group’s alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. It was a feature for drummer Joe Morello, who was adept at the different time signatures. Because of its success, the group played it at just about every concert, and it is sure to be heard on Sunday.
More music at fest
The rest of Saturday’s lineup includes vocalist Patti LaBelle’s first appearance since 1985. She has a new album titled “Back to Now.” Vibraphonist Gary Burton will lead a group featuring guitarist Pat Metheny, bass guitarist Steve Swallow and drummer Antonio Sanchez.
To read Gazette music columnist Michael Hochenadel's take on this weekend's jazz fest, click here.
Also, after playing with Jimmy Cobb, Wallace Roney will perform in the Gazebo with his quintet, and there will be appearances by the Dred Scott Trio, vocalist Kendra Shank and tenor saxophonist John Ellis and his quartet.
In addition to Brubeck, the Sunday lineup also includes eight-time Grammy winning singer/guitarist/songwriter George Benson, who will perform some of his hits as well as a tribute to Nat King Cole accompanied by a 28-piece orchestra.
A special treat on Sunday will be an appearance by tenor saxophonist George Coleman, a veteran of one of Miles Davis’ bands. The New Orleans trombone/brass funk band Bonerama will also play the Amphitheater, as will soul singer Bettye LaVette.
The Gazebo will find pianist Aaron Parks, named a “New Visionary” by JazzTimes magazine, playing music from his debut album, “Invisible Cinema.” Guitarist and composer Julian Lage will make his first festival appearance in the Gazebo, along with the remarkable 16-year-old alto saxophonist Grace Kelly.