The Atlanta Jazz Festival is regarded as one of North America’s largest free jazz events. This annual musical showcase celebrates jazz legends and rising stars in venues throughout the Atlanta metropolitan during the entire month of May. The festival will culminate with the Memorial Day Weekend’s shows organized at Piedmont Park. This year, the lineup- features two-time Grammy Award winner Roy Hargrove, Ahmad Jamal, popular guitarist Bill Frisell and the iconic Freddy Cole.
While in many parts of the world April is considered the month of jazz, with the worldwide celebration of International Jazz Day on 30 April, Atlanta celebrates the music genre for the entire month of May. Performances by world’s renowned artists and local up and coming bands, workshops and cultural events make the Atlanta Jazz Festival one of North America’s most appreciated jazz events. Jazz enthusiasts in Georgia will have the opportunity to experience jazz through shows organized around the city and the stellar celebration of Memorial Day Weekend at Piedmont Park.
Taking Jazz to the Neighborhoods and Young Talents Competition
In May, the streets and parks of Atlanta will be invaded by the inspiring sounds of jazz. The Neighborhood Jazz Series will give families the opportunity to enjoy jazz and cultural happenings in their own communities. Some of the city’s most popular names, such as Tony Hightower and Julie Dexter, will perform in various parks every weekend.
Young local talents will be on display with performances by the winners of the Youth Jazz Band Competition. The competition, which was held on 22 March at Georgia State University’s Kopleff Recital Hall, gave young jazz musicians from the Atlanta metropolitan area the chance to showcase their artistic and technical talent. The winners – North Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band, Tri-Cities High School Jazz Band and the Milton High School Jazz Ensemble – will perform at the Atlanta Jazz Festival on Memorial Day Weekend.
And starting from 28 April, Mondays in Atlanta will be dubbed MARTA Mondays! In fact, for a month, the city will kick off its week with a series of free two-hour jazz concerts organized at different MARTA transit stations.
Memorial Day Weekend Jazz Celebration
The highlight of 37th edition of the Atlanta Jazz Festival is without doubt the Memorial Day Weekend celebration set to take place at Piedmont Park. From 23 to 25 May, the green area will turn into a stage that will welcome a stellar cast of jazzmen and women, as well as thousand of music lovers who will dance on this open-air dance floor under the sun and moonlight.
On Friday 23 May, the North Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band will kick off the jazz party (5 pm). At 7 pm, it will be time for the Roberta Gambarini Quartet. Italian singer Roberta Gambarini is known to the audiences for being a semi-finalist, back in 1998, of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Vocal Competition and for the numerous incredible performances that followed. During her career, Gambarini has shared the stage with major jazz acts like the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove and Christian McBride.
Her debut album Easy to Love received a Grammy Award nomination, while her third – So in Love – was awarded the Grand Prix du Jazz Vocal by the Jazz Academy of France. Hailed “the best singer to emerge in the last 60 years” by legendary pianist Hank Jones, the two-time JJA Award nominee in the Female Jazz Singer of the Year (2007 and 2009) category Roberta Gambarini will enchant the Atlanta Jazz Festival audience with a display of beauty, joy and vocal talent.
The star of the evening will undoubtedly be star trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Now in his mid 40s, Hargrove has firmly established himself as one of the world’s premier jazz players. In 1997, Hargrove’s Cuban-based band Crisol, group that included pianist Jesus “Chucho” Valdes and wonder drummer Horatio “El Negro” Hernandez, won the Best Latin Jazz Performance Grammy for the album Habana. Hargrove was awarded a second Grammy in 2002 in the ‘Best Instrumental Jazz Album’ category for Directions in Music, three-way collaboration that featured Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker.
Today, Roy Hargrove continues to be one of the most influential trumpet players and bandleaders. His popular progressive group the RH Factor, band that combines the elements of jazz, funk, hip-hop, soul and gospel, has featured critically-acclaimed instrumentalists Chalmers “Spanky” Alford, Pino Palladino, James Poyser, Jonathan Batiste and Bernard Wright.
The jazz celebration in Atlanta will continue on Saturday 24 May with local talents, international performers and popular artists like Ester Rada, the Russell Gunn’s Krunk Jazz Orkestra and Christian Scott.
Ester Rada‘s cross-cultural sound is a deep reflection of the Israeli born Ethiopian’s heritage. Growing up in a religious Jewish family in one of the roughest neighborhoods of Isreal gave Rada the drive to change her way of life and fulfill her dream of becoming a musician. Her dream has become true and Rada’s music has been enchanting thousands of music lovers in her motherland, North America and Europe.
Her first EP, Life Happens, was described as a “graceful composition of Ethio-Jazz, funk, soul and r&b, with mixed undertones of black grooves”. Hailed “amazing” by Alicia Keys, Ester Rada joins Atlanta Jazz Festival (5 pm, main stage) as she is about to finish working on her debut album.
Russell Gunn is the perfect model of the quintessential contemporary musician. The fortuitous appearance at a 4am jam session at New York’s Blue Note that earned him as spot in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra was only the beginning of an incredible career. Receiving rave notices for his work with the ensemble, Gunn began to be referred to as one of the most dynamic and exciting musicians of his generation.
After leading his own groups and releasing his first record for the legendary Muse record lable (in 1994), Gunn went on to perform and/or tour with many of the greatest artists in music, including Johnnie Taylor, Branford Marsalis, Dionne Farris and D’Angelo. Russell Gunn and his Krunk Jazz Orkestra will bring their exciting mix of Cuban, African, Brazilian, European, classical and jazz on the Atlanta Jazz Festival main stage at 7 pm.
Saturday will also be the day of the Colombian harp’s ace Edmar Castaneda, Grammy-nominee pianist Eldar Djangirov and his trio, singer Somi – who sings in English, as well as in three African languages – and a series of local talents. And from 9 pm, the stage will be all about two-time Edison Award winner and Grammy Award nominated trumpeter, composer and producer Christian Scott.
New Orleans-born Scott is known for developing the harmonic convention known as the “forecasting cell” and for his use of an un-voiced tone in playing emphasizing breath over vibration of the mouthpiece, widely referred to as “whisper technique”. The artist – who received a Grammy nomination for his international recording debut Rewind That, which was called “arguably the most remarkable premier the genre has seen in the last decade” by Billboard Magazine – is also popular as one of the progenitors of “Stretch Music”, a jazz rooted genre form that attempts to “stretch” jazz rhythmic, melodic and harmonic conventions to encompass as many other musical forms, languages and cultures as possible.
For NPR, “Christian Scoot ushers in new era of jazz”. In fact, in addition to his musical experimentations, Scott, in collaboration with Adam’s Instruments, is revolutionizing brass instrument design all over the world with his Siren Trumpet, Sirenette and Reverse Flugelhorn.
Scott is also considered to be a major inspiration for HBO’s Treme series lead character Delmond Lambreaux, a hybrid of both Scott and his uncle, saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr.
Saturday night at the Atlanta Jazz Festival will end with the highly anticipated Late Night Love Riot (11 pm), show that features Jon Baptiste and Stay Human.
Classy Sunday Jazz
The Atlanta Jazz Festival will continue with new exciting shows on Sunday 25 May. In addition to the showcase of international artists like guitarist Diego Figueiredo, French/Dominican vocalist Cyrille Aimée and Moroccan singer and Quanun performer Ali Amr and local talents – Kemba Cofield Quartet and Darren English Quintet, the festival will welcome three of the greatest contemporary artists: Freddy Cole, Bill Frisell and Ahmad Jamal.
Jazz singer and pianist Freddy Cole, a regular performer in Europe, the U.S., Asia and South America, will be on stage with his Freddy Cole Quartet at 5 pm. Known for being the brother of musicians Nat King and Ike Cole, father of Lonel Cole and uncle of Natalie Cole, Freddy Cole has been enjoying a successful career for over 50 years. At the Atlanta Jazz Festival, he will bring his most popular songs, including compositions from his latest album This and That.
From 7 pm, all eyes and ear will be for Bill Frisell and his project Guitar in the Space Age! Fresh of a JJA Award as “Guitarist of the Year” for the second straight year, Frisell will pay tribute to the inspirational popular music of his formative years made in the wake of “the birth of the Fender Telecaster guitar”. Coincidentally, the instrument was released in 1951, the year in which Frisell was born.
For over three decades, Frisell has been one of the world’s most in-demand guitarists. His catalogue was cited by Downbeat as “the best recorded output of the decade” and he has been widely recognized as one of America’s 21 most vital and productive performing artists. In addition to tours and recordings, Frisell is also active “behind the scenes”. In fact, he’s currently the guest curator for the Roots of Americana series at Jazz at Lincoln Center, as well as Resident Artistic Director at San Francisco Jazz.
At the Atlanta Jazz Festival, Bill Frisell and his band mates will explore material associated with The Beach Boys, Junior Wells, Pete Seeger, Jimi Hendrix and many more, as well as Frisell’s own compositions. If you love guitar, you don’t want to miss this gig!
From 9 pm, the main stage will welcome a living legend of jazz music: Ahmad Jamal. Considered second in importance in the development of jazz after 1945 only to Charlie Parker (according to music critic Stanley Crouch), Jamal has been one of the most successful small-group leaders in jazz. Because of his contribution to jazz, with an incredible collection of records and performances around the world, he was awarded numerous prestigious awards, including a National Endowment of the Arts American Jazz Masters award and the Order of the Arts and Letters by French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu (in 2007). In 2011 he was also inducted into Downbeat Magazine’s 76th Readers’ Poll Hall of Fame.
At the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival people will have the opportunity to see some of the world’s greatest jazz performers up close. In fact, in addition to the scheduled concerts, jazz aficionados will have the chance to participate in the free education workshops with some of the festival headliners and music experts.
On 24 May, Roberta Gambarini will held at vocal workshop (12 pm), while Roy Hargrove’s (2 pm) one that will revolve around the trumpet and the Modern Big Band (4 pm) will talk about the effectiveness of rehearsal strategies. On 25 May, Somi will talk about inspiration and the creative process (12 pm), Danny Harper about negotiating the changes (2 pm) and UGA jazz director David D’Angelo about practice technique and listening skills (4 pm).
If you like jazz, you’ll LOVE the Atlanta Jazz Festival. A month-long and free-of-charge celebration that brings world’s renowned artists, local up and coming talents and cultural events in the streets and parks of Atlanta. There’s no better way to experience jazz than the Atlanta Jazz Festival, no doubt!
23 – 25 May