Jazz fans keep coming back year after year to the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival (hereafter, FSJF) at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. So do many performers, some with long local track records.
Brian McElhiney highlights some top artists at this weekend’s 35th FSJF (click here to see his story), and here are some of my picks.
Bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding (Saturday in the Amphitheater) was the first jazz artist to win the Best New Artist Grammy. She was new to everybody when she introduced herself to area audiences, first at FSJF in June 2007, then at Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park in a stunning free show in August 2008. A tiny woman with talent as wide as her ’fro, she sang as well as she played and vice versa.
She won the Grammy for her 2010 “Chamber Music Society,” a quiet album she reprised at The Egg last year. Then she built her bigger, louder Radio Music Society with such top women players as saxophonist Tia Fuller, who played A Place for Jazz last year. At Jazz Fest in New Orleans in May, Spalding and the Radio Music Society stayed cool but played hot when the input on her acoustic bass failed.
She played the whole set on electric bass after mildly complaining she missed “my friend and half my voice.” But her agile singing voice, booming funk-bass bumps and big band all played at full strength.
Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda played the FSJF in 2006 and the Spa Little Theater in May 2008 as part of a three-show SPAC season prelude. Castaneda displayed bravura technique, one hand plucking bass lines, the other sketching melodies in ingenious music worthy of his performing skills. He didn’t have (or need) a bassist, but he did have vibraphonist Joe Locke in the Spa Little Theater show as guest soloist.
Castaneda plays on Sunday in the Gazebo with his quartet and guests later with the Arturo O’Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in the Amphitheater.
Trumpeter Mario Abney was the best discovery in 2010’s FSJF, a 5-foot-2 whirl of funky jazz, New Orleans style. He’s the trumpet player in an early “Treme” episode, playing in a welcome-the-visitors band at the airport, and in later episodes as a member of trombonist Antoine Batiste’s (Wendell Pierce) band.
In a phone interview before the 2010 festival — two questions, two-plus hours of excited, engaging talk — Abney said he moved to New Orleans after Katrina and trained in Chicago bars and a college marching band. He played double duty at FSJF in 2010, both in the Gazebo and the Amphitheater; he’ll do the same on Saturday. He sure has the energy and the band for it. Last time, he led his band into the audience, enlisting everybody in a dancing parade.
Touting three more
Staying in New Orleans for a minute — you knew I would with the faintest excuse — let me pull your coat about Pedrito Martinez (Saturday in the Gazebo), Diana Krall (Sunday in the Amphitheater) and Trombone Shorty (right after Krall Sunday in the Amphitheater to close the festival).
The Cuban-born Martinez leads his quartet from behind congas or a drum set, driving the music with tremendously engaging spirit and soul. At Jazz Fest this year, he had to follow the formidable Donald Harrison, a very tough slot. But in two songs he had the crowd in his pocket. Martinez was THE discovery of last year’s FSJF, playing on both stages, as Abney will do on Saturday. Martinez also plays A Place for Jazz this fall.
Krall played Jazz Fest in 2008, my first, the usually cool singer-pianist heating up both her music and the crowd. That night, she and her band ate at the next table in Cochon, said to be the first great Cajun restaurant to open since Katrina and, I can tell you, a very good one. Krall’s husband, Elvis Costello (like Abney and Trombone Shorty), also appears in “Treme” and recorded “The River in Reverse” with Crescent City great Allen Toussaint the year after Katrina.
At Jazz Fest in 2008, Trombone Shorty just overwhelmed the place in a sizzling set studded with guest stars. Everybody wanted to play with this guy, a trombonist-trumpeter-singer whose skills and showmanship were unmatched that year. Trombone Shorty and his rocking funk-jazz band Orleans Avenue wrap up the FSJF on Sunday night in the Amphitheater.
Many other FSJF performers have played here in recent years. Saxophonist Maceo Parker rocked the Massry Center at The College of Saint Rose in Albany this spring. Pianist Hiromi played FSJF in the Gazebo in 2003, at the Van Dyck in Schenectady several times around then, and Proctors last season.
The Yellowjackets brought guest guitarist Mike Stern to Proctors two years ago, and their out-on-hiatus bassist Jimmy Haslip played with Alan Holdsworth at the Van Dyck this season. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt headlined at A Place for Jazz a few seasons ago and played last year at The Egg with Jimmy Cobb’s So What? Miles tribute band. And Catherine Russell sang with Roseanne Cash at The Egg some years back.
These are well-known names, now; but the coolest thing about the FSJF is discovering surprise artists you don’t yet know, who could become instant favorites — as Spalding and Castaneda have.
The Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival runs Saturday and Sunday on two stages, starting at noon. Tickets are $65 to $80 Saturday for Amphitheater seats; children under 12, $40 to $65; and $50 to $70 for Amphitheater seats on Sunday; children under 12 $35 to $55. Lawn tickets are $55 in advance, both days and children under 12 are admitted to the lawn free. Two-day all festival passes bring discounts. Phone 584-9330 or visit www.spac.org.
Get a taste before FSJF. Today at noon, saxophonist Dave Fisk’s Quintet plays a free Jazz on Jay show (Jay St., Schenectady), then completes a double-header with a 7 p.m. show at One Caroline in Saratoga Springs, where Todd Nelson’s TN3 takes over on Friday at 7:30 p.m., while the Lee Shaw Duo plays at Provence (Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany) at 7 p.m.
Also on Friday, drummer Matt Maguire leads his Quintet into the Orchard Tavern (68 Manning Blvd., Albany) for a free 7:30 p.m. show, and Brian Patneaude’s Trio plays the Stockade Inn (1 N. Church St., Schenectady) at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, pianist David Caldwell-Mason brings his trio to 74 State in Albany for an 8 p.m. show.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.