To understand why Litchfield Jazz Festival carries such an intergenerational appeal, consider the age of two of its headliners. Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, 91, sat in as a special guest during a Benny Goodman tribute with clarinetist Ken Peplowsky. Piano prodigy Brandon Goldberg, who performed in an homage to Carly Simon and Carole King, is 11. At this lively festival in Goshen, CT, these two musicians were united by a sole curatorial purpose: to juxtapose jazz’s past and future in a way that often blurred the distinction between the two.
The programming is overseen by Vita Muir… who first founded the not-for-profit Litchfield Performing Arts in 1981. Muir, who often gives her festivals themes, decided on “Discovering Genius” for 2017. That premise was certainly substantiated by the lineup, which included a powerful group of young stars on the ascent, but also artists and tributes that prompted attendees to rediscover the genius of jazz stars from long ago.
Litchfield, which hosts an annual jazz camp, has served as a sort of farm system for the jazz big leagues, and the festival makes a point of spotlighting former campers. One such success story was pianist Julian Shore and his quartet (Dayna Stephens, Jorge Rossy, and another former Litchfield Camper—drummer Jimmy MacBride) who glided through Shore’s compositions with pockets of gentle groove. But a high-water mark for the fest was vocalist Michael Mayo who employs his agile, gospel-tinted voice as a bridge between jazz and r&b. The fest’s first evening closed with Peplowsky’s Goodman tribute with Matt Wilson, Nicki Parrott, Joe Locke, Ehud Asherie and Bucky Pizzarelli. After a day of awe-inspiring young talent and forward-looking sounds, it was a welcome gust of nostalgia.
On Aug. 5, Joe Alterman, a youthful pianist with an old soul, tended a set of (mostly) standards …that put a premium on dynamics and often delivered tension-shattering eruptions. Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pac Coalition with Rez Abassi and Dan Weiss…unleashed a torrent of odd-metered prog grooves and intricate, knotty melodies that provided a power surge after Goshen and the festival briefly lost electricity. The fest wrapped with John Pizzarelli performing material from his recent album Sinatra & Jobim … and another beguiling mix of generations: the band included his teenaged daughter, Maddie.