No better example can be given than the melodic refrains of jazz floating upon the gentle summer breezes when A-list musicians-and those still honing their craft-converge for what has become one of the classiest jazz events in the nation-the Litchfield Jazz Festival.
Back beats, fusion and improvisation by the world's top jazz musicians have entertained audiences for 13 years in Litchfield County, but with this year's festival comes a change in venue.
Having outgrown its home at the Forman School in Litchfield, the festival's jazz camp moved to the picturesque campus of the Kent School in Kent. When plans were laid to move the camp, the idea of moving the festival itself to the same location soon followed.
"[The Kent Chamber of Commerce] is dedicated to their town, and proud of what they have to offer," said Lindsey Turner, public relations and marketing director for the Litchfield Jazz Festival and Jazz Camp. "They are intelligent, open minded, excited about partnerships and work together as a whole for the better of their businesses and their residents. They were confident that the town would embrace the festival ... and they have with open arms."
The change in venue will not diminish the high-caliber festival, according to Ms. Turner. Rather, this year's festival is expected to be bigger and better than ever before, with proceeds benefiting Litchfield Jazz Camp scholarships.
"The enthusiasm and commitment from the town of Kent has been incredible," Ms. Turner, the daughter of festival founder and executive director Vita West Muir, said. "To see such palpable support, excitement and enthusiasm from the town has been inspiring. At Litchfield Performing Arts (LPA), there has always been a feeling of community, and the town of Kent has the same ideals. Kent has truly become a cultural center for the arts in the Litchfield Hills with wonderful art galleries and events like the Kent Film Festival. We now add the sounds of jazz with the Litchfield Jazz Festival."
The 14th annual Litchfield Jazz Festival, hosted and emceed by long-time jazz journalist and broadcaster Michael Bourne and Sunday Morning Jazz Show host Mike Gow, will kick off July 31 with music starting at 7:45 p.m. at the Kent School. The festival will continue with main stage and student performances, master classes with festival stars, fine crafts shopping and top-notch food from local restaurants Aug. 1 and 2 on the school's grounds.
A "Friends of the Festival" opening night gala at Kent's Morrison Gallery begins at 5:30 p.m. on July 31 with hors d'oeuvres by the Fife 'n Drum, Doc's Trattoria and the Bull's Bridge Inn, paired with wines and microbrews from Northeast Beverage Company of Connecticut. The festival will officially kick off with main stage performances by the Lewis Nash Quintet at 7:45 p.m. and festival headliner, vocalist Jane Monheit, at 9:15 p.m.
After the Preservation Hall Jazz Band set, there will be an after party and open jam Saturday night at Fife 'n Drum.
"The response we have gotten from musicians from all over the world has been overwhelming," Ms. Turner said. "Everyone in the industry is excited about the festival and its new location. It's always hard to maintain a balance ... and keep the festival fresh, but I think we have-and this year we have some new additions.
"Because everything is in the same place physically, we have been able to make additions to the festival that never made sense logistically in the past," she continued. "This year, we will be able to host four master classes, which we weren't able to do before. Ticket holders can learn about what goes into composing their favorite music or what inspired their favorite musicians. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Previously, the master classes, led by festival stars, were only open to Litchfield Jazz Camp students. They are now free to ticket-holding musicians and music lovers, and will be held in Kent School's Mattison Auditorium. Ms. Turner said festival stars will discuss their experiences, demonstrate their talents and, perhaps, invite some students to play with them. Saturday will feature master classes by Trio Da Paz from 11 a.m. to noon, and Bill Henderson from 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. Sunday's classes feature Lionel Loueke from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m., and Poncho Sanchez from 4 to 5 p.m.
What has kept the festival going for 13 years, however, are performances by the best talent in the jazz industry, which includes vocalist Jane Monheit. Ms. Monheit developed her voice at Manhattan School of Music with vocal instructor Peter Eldridge, a founding member of New York Voices. At age 20, she entered the 1998 Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition, where she was named second runner up, the youngest in the history of the competition. From there, she released her debut album, "Never Never Land." Eight years later, she is among the "post-millennial jazz world's foremost vocalists."
When she was a relative newcomer, Ms. Monheit opened for headliner Dave Brubeck at the festival in 2001. She is now the festival headliner.
The music continues at noon Saturday with offerings by the Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet, Trio Da Paz with Leny Andrade, the Wycliffe Gordon and Jay Leonhart Quartet, Benny Green and Bucky Pizzarelli, the Bill Henderson Quartet and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The music continues on Sunday with the Ted Nash Quartet, the Mancini Project, the Lionel Loueke Trio, the Dena DeRose Quartet featuring Claudio Roditi and the Houston Person Quartet. The festival closes with the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band.
"We are so excited about this year's lineup," Ms. Turner said.
The festival also offers plenty of shopping possibilities, with top crafters and artisans on site, all hand-picked for the festival by Ms. Muir. "The food for the festival is very upscale-the best sushi, lobster, Thai, even burgers and hotdogs," Ms. Turner noted. "The food is really high scale, but affordable. People are also welcome to bring a picnic."
Since its inception, the festival established its reputation for being a launching pad for new talent. Nurturing talent has always been important to Ms. Muir, who was inspired to start the Litchfield Jazz Camp as an educational facet of the festival. During the month leading up to the festival, students aged 13 through adults study in an intensive, noncompetitive environment with the festival's resident all-star faculty, their efforts culminating in performances on the student stage at the festival.
Students work in skill-matched combos and the only requirement for participation is that students be devoted to making great music and have basic instrumental and reading skills.
"My mother has always thought five steps ahead, which is why the LPA, the Litchfield Jazz Festival and the Litchfield Jazz Camp have been so successful," Ms. Turner noted. "The economic downturn has led to the demise of many big festivals, including the Newport Jazz Festival, which was the granddaddy of jazz festivals. Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein sold his company, which included the more than 50-year-old festival. Sadly, the buyers ran it into the ground. The fact that we're still moving forward in the current economy is amazing, and the response from people is overwhelming."
Ms. Turner said she is looking forward to the new venue. "At first, we were just going to move the camp ... but rumors started circulating and excitement swelled and swelled at the idea of the festival moving to Kent. It all happened so quickly, but the town has welcomed us with open arms and we are looking forward to another phenomenal weekend of music."
The Litchfield Jazz Festival will be held July 31 at 7:45 p.m., Aug. 1 from noon to 10 p.m. and Aug. 2 from noon to 8:30 p.m. at Kent School, located at 1 Macedonia Road in Kent. Premium weekend passes are $350; opening gala and performance tickets, $150 Advance general admission tickets start at $35. For tickets or a complete performance schedule, call 860-567-4162, or visit www.litchfieldjazzfest.com.
Litchfield County Times
July 23, 2009
by Jamie Ferris
Photo of Lionel Loueke by Steven Sussman