Connecticut’s most significant jazz event is in the middle of nowhere. From Hartford it takes 80 minutes to arrive at the huge pasture in Kent’s rolling hills. But it’s worth it.
Litchfield Jazz Festival has gained a reputation for showcasing musical giants and elder statesmen while also inviting little-known talent. The festival’s first year in 1996, for example, hosted bebop trombone pioneer J.J. Johnson, the popular trumpeter Terence Blanchard, and presented the new vocalist Diana Krall. Other noteworthy performers from years past include Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Toots Thielemans, Brad Mehldau, Tito Puente, and Ray Charles.
Everything started with a historic house in Litchfield where owners Vita West Muir and husband began holding classical guitar concerts in their 100-person capacity living room. They continued having concerts and made the nonprofit Litchfield Performing Arts, which brought classical music to schools, churches and prisons and eventually started a jazz camp that runs through the month of July. Highlights for 2009 include vocalist Jane Monheit on July 31 (she first appeared at Litchfield in 2001 as a little-known opener for Dave Brubeck), the first appearance of New Orleans-based Preservation Hall Jazz Band on Aug. 1, and conga master Poncho Sanchez’s band to close out the event on Aug. 2 with seriously vigorous Latin jazz.