The NYS Music Guide to the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Here are our 30 can't-miss acts at this year's festival

During the seemingly unending winter, Rochesterians yearn for a glimpse of the warming sun. As soon as the summer hits however, a large number of them start ducking in and out of dark halls, churches theaters and clubs, now yearning for a glimpse of some of the greatest musical talent the world over. From June 22 through 30, Rochester will once again become one of the hottest destinations for live jazz, and music in general. The 17th edition of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest is bringing 1500 artists from 20 countries to play over 300 shows in 20 different venues. 214 club pass shows, 97 free shows and 5 headliner shows all happening over a 9-day stretch inside 1 square mile. That’s a lot of numbers to crunch, and you just want to see some music. Thankfully we’re here to do the math, calculating the perfect slate for any music lover. Whatever you’re pleasure, there’s a number that fits. Check out our picks below, and don’t forget to also read our tips for the best way to enjoy your time at the fest.


1 Voice

These are the singers we’ll have our eyes on:

Songs of Freedom
Drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. originally put together this show for a special gig at Lincoln Center. It features not just one, but three amazing voices singing songs from not just one but three iconic singers. The show explores the 1960s through through the music of Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell and Abbey Lincoln and will feature the singers Theo Bleckmann, Alicia Olatuja and Joanna Majoko.

June 27, Kilbourn Hall, 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.; $35 or Club Pass

Zara McFarlane
An award-winning singer from the UK with roots in the Caribbean, McFarlane’s sound adds reggae and soul to a jazz base, but it doesn’t stop there in breaking down new barriers in music. She’s in the thick of a new and young British jazz renaissance and is joined on her latest release by XRIJF alums Moses Boyd, Binker Goldings and Shabaka Hutchings. This won’t be your typical jazz vocal set.

June 25, Christ Church, 6:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

The Suffers
We could easily throw this Houston band into the next category because they’ll certainly get you moving with their big band Gulf Coast soul music, but it all comes back to Kam Franklin and her big time pipes. They’ve wowed at many a festival all around the world, but now it’s Rochester’s turn.

June 28, Harro East, 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Also check out:

Liz Vice
June 27, Montage Music Hall, 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Deva Mahal
June 30, Harro East, 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass


2 Feet

In the mood to dance? Here are some artists that will get your body moving:

St. Germain
An innovator of house music, St. Germain is the stage name of Frenchman Ludovic Navarre. He combines jazz, blues and African music with electronic music. Even if you’ve never heard of him, you’ve likely heard him, his songs like “Alabama Blues” and “Rose Rouge” were widespread hits. Even his music that is now decades old sounds fresh and new today.

June 29, City of Rochester East Ave and Chestnut St Stage, 9:00 p.m.; Free

Tower of Power
Going further back, Tower of Power have been blasting their tunes for 50 years and are celebrating as such all year. As appropriate a name in a band as you will find, this horn-based funk and R&B band is truly a towering power, with charting hits like “You’re Still a Young Man”, “So Very Hard to Go”, “What Is Hip?”, and “Don’t Change Horses (in the Middle of a Stream)”.

June 30, City of Rochester East Ave and Chestnut St Stage, 9:00 p.m.; Free

Moon Hooch
Moon Hooch resides somewhere in between St. Germain and Tower of Power, the up-and-coming three piece combines bombastic saxophones with eclectic drumming to arrive in an electronic music space via a more organic path. It’s unique and will make your mind spin, but it’ll also get your feet moving.

June 24, Rochester Regional Health Big Tent, 8:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass
June 25, Montage Music Hall
, 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Also check out:

Ghost-Note with Mononeon
June 27, Harro East, 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass
June 28, Squeezers Stage at Anthology, 7:45 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Mwenso and the Shakes
June 23, Xerox Auditorium, 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass


6 Strings

Here are some musicians that will be lighting fires with axes:

Scott Sharrard
You may have caught Sharrard a couple of years ago as a part of the late Greg Allman’s band when he headlined at the Eastman Theatre. Sharrard was a long-time member and musical director of Allman’s band, but he also has a long solo career of his own. Now he’s fronting his Brickyard Band, playing raw and vital blues rock. They’ll be bringing material from their forthcoming album, Saving Grace.

June 22, City of Rochester East Ave and Chestnut St Stage, 9:00 p.m.; Free
June 23, City of Rochester Jazz St Stage, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; Free

Stephane Wrembel
The mantra of the festival might be “It’s not who you know, it’s who you don’t know,” though after 17 years it’s tough not to have return visits. Wrembel is coming back for the 5th time, and has been a fan favorite every year. He returns almost yearly for non-festival shows and even recorded a live album in town at the Lovin’ Cup a few years ago. We probably don’t need to tell you, but you won’t want to miss his set this year either.

June 29, Max of Eastman Place, 6:15 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Ron Artis II and the Truth
If you’re looking for a fresh-faced axe slinger to blow you away, look no further than Ron Artis. This Hawaiian band oozes soul and backs it with exhilarating instrumentation. They’ll bring material from their recently released debut album, Soul Street, and will leave town with a whole bunch of new fans.

June 22, Rochester Regional Health Big Tent, 8:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass
June 23, Montage Music Hall
, 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Also check out:

Jack Broadbent
June 23, Harro East, 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass
June 24, Xerox Auditorium, 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Torben Waldorff
June 27, Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass


50 Stars, 13 Stripes

That’s the flag we’re referencing there, and these are acts steeped in Americana:

Pokey Lafarge
Another returnee, Pokey Lafarge is coming back to the festival after six years away. In our review of his Lilac Festival set a few years back, we noted “his music does pull from many early music influences like Western swing, ragtime, old-time country and jazz, it manages to rise above a simple throwback.”

June 29, City of Rochester Stage at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, 9:00 p.m.; Free

Alison Krauss
Grammy-winning bluegrass, folk and country singer Alison Krauss comes to the festival behind  her critically-acclaimed new album Windy City, her first without Union Station in a decade. Her smooth-as-silk voice will be even more front and center than usual and the show will be as captivating as you’ve come to expect.

June 27, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 8:00 p.m.;$115/$105/$85/$70 or Club Pass

Dustbowl Revival
One of our favorite finds from last year’s fest, Dustbowl Revival, “a string band with a horn section, used each of its eight pieces to their advantage, moving from swing to ska to folk to blues to funk to rock and everything in between.” Anyone who caught them last year will certainly be on their way to see them again.

June 24, Harro East, 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Also check out:

Junior Brown
June 26, Squeezers Stage at Anthology, 7:45 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

VickiKristinaBarcelona Sings the Music of Tom Waits
June 26, Montage Music Hall, 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass


88 Keys

As always there’s plenty of piano talent to go around, these are the ones we’re most excited to check out:

The Bad Plus
Genre-bending trio The Bad Plus premiered material from a forthcoming album featuring singer Wendy Lewis at the festival in 2008. It was quite the surprise at the time. Ten years later they finally return, and again have a lineup change. Pianist Ethan Iverson left the band at the end of last year, and was replaced by Orrin Evans. The band promptly released a new album, Never Stop II, and we’ll get a peek at some of that material and a lot more.

June 23, Temple Building, 7:00 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Pilc Moutin Hoenig
Heavily improvised and inventive, this trio out of New York featuring Jean-Michel Pilc, Francoise Moutin and Ari Hoenig. Each brings their individual instrumental prowess together to form something wholly unique. For the full experience, you can also catch Pilc perform solo piano at the Hatch Hall on the next night (at 5:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.).

June 28, Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Gogo Penguin
They played their first ever North American gig in Rochester when they nearly topped our list of the 10 best sets of the 2015 festival. They’ve expanded their reach and have been winning fans the world over. “The music is thoroughly melodic, not veering into traditional solos, and taking cues from both classical and pop music for a unique sound that isn’t immediately identifiable as jazz.” Our most anticipated returning artist is a toss-up between Gogo Penguin and The Bad Plus. We wouldn’t miss either!

June 28, Xerox Auditorium, 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Also check out:

Django Bates Beloved
June 23, Christ Church, 6:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez
June 22, Xerox Auditorium, 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass


∞ Possibilities

The skies the limit with these artists who push the boundaries of music:

House of Waters
It’s your one chance to see the hammered dulcimer at the festival, so thankfully it’s a player, Max ZT who NPR calls the “Jimi Hendrix of hammered dulcimer.” Forget everything you know about the instrument as ZT has all but reinvented the sound. With jazz bassist Moto Fukushima and South American drummer Ignacius Rivas Bixio, House of Waters creates a musical blend unlike any you’ve ever heard.

June 26, Max of Eastman Place, 6:15 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt Band
Wilson’s latest project, the Honey and Salt Band, plays music inspired by, and including the words of the poetry of Carl Sandburg. It is off-beat and quirky, funny and fun and will have you smiling ear to ear for the duration of their set. You kind of just need to go see it.

June 30, Kilbourn Hall, 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.; $35 or Club Pass

Beats and Pieces Big Band
A big band for the next generation, bandleader Ben Cottrell conducts this 14-piece outfit out of Manchester, England. Their music is equal parts rocking, jazzy and ethereal. The band’s lineup hasn’t changed much in ten years making for a supremely tight group that has incredible agility for a band of this size. Expect the unexpected.

June 24, Christ Church, 6:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Also check out:

Trail of Souls
June 25, Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Shake Stew
June 27, Xerox Auditorium, 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.; $30 or Club Pass

Be sure and check out the full schedule and download the app at rochesterjazz.com to construct your own nightly schedule.