Jazz Festival Livens up Rochester

Year 21 of the Rochester International Jazz Festival kicked of this weekend, with 13 indoor venues as well as four open air stages being used during the nine-day event.

Bad Sneakers

Starting on June 21, streets around the famed Eastman School of Music were closed and transformed into a music lovers haven, with Gibbs St being becoming Jazz St for the next 9 days. The hub of the festival, Jazz St has a large stage with viewing from 180 degrees around, a large air-conditioned merchandise shop, beer trucks, and culinary promenade the opposite end. There are also info booths around to help visitors navigate and get questions answered.

Kingfish Ingram

Also conveniently located along Jazz St are four indoor venues, including Kodak Hall (Eastman Theatre), which hosted the legendary Taj Mahal on Friday night and Lee Ritenour on Saturday.

Mahal brought a show that mixes old school stripped down blues with tropical vibes, as he played the keyboard, guitar, and banjo. With steel drum, bass, and drums to add to the sounds, Taj and crew energized the crowd on the first of nine amazing nights of music.

Christie Dashiell

The following night, Ritenour took the stage and wowed yet another packed house of music fans. With sixteen Grammy nominations and one win (1985 “Early A.M. Attitude”), Ritenour’s music has not gone un-noticed, as he showcased his guitar skills with specials guests Randy Brecker and Bill Evans for roughly two hours.

Across the street from Kodak Hall is Max Rochester, which provides an airy atrium setting, with amazing acoustics for more casual sets, such as the soulful sounds of Christie Dashiell and Franck Amsallem‘s perfectly arranged piano pieces. Stop by Max at Eastman this week for some amazing culinary delights and perfect ambient sounds as you sip your spirits.

One of my favorite venues during the festival is The Little Theatre. Just outside the perimeter of the festival, this nostalgic theatre greets you with the aromas of classic popcorn as you make your way across the hall to the 1929 300 seat theater. A step back in time, indeed. As with recent years, The Little hosts Roots and Americans acts. Small acts, with minimal gear to set up, but amazing sounds and stories. This weekend, Thunderstorm Artis stopped by and told stories of being one of eleven kids (number 7 to be precise) and island life in Oahu. His laid-back personality, smooth and poignant vocals, and witty rizz paired perfectly the crowds for each of his 2 shows as well the venue itself. A finalist from The Voice, Artis is quickly making his name known.

You want free shows? They are plentiful each night of the festival. The blues serenaded the intersection of East Ave and Chestnut St for nearly three hours as Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Chris Beard played on Saturday night to a packed street that stretched nearly a full block out and half block each way. This festival is more than grammas jazz records, as it encompasses many genres and takes.

The Jazz St Stage hosts free shows from 330pm until 10 every night. Local high school jazz bands get showcased, the Army band, and various other young local ensembles have opportunities. Later on, more noticeable acts will shake the stage, as Miss Emily did.

Hailing from Prince Edward County in Ontario, Miss Emily has a powerful soulful voice that resonates to every corner of the room she is in. Playing songs she wrote for her daughter and about mother nature (ironically as the winds picked up around the area), Emily played 2 sets for the Sunday evening crowd. Chatting with her after her first set, she says said she was amazed at the festival and the area in general and would love to come back with a full band in the future. This night was just her and the keyboardist.

”Miss Emily’s voice has got to be heard to be believed – raw, expressive, transitioning flawlessly from a plaintive cry to a sonorous growl, weaving blues, country and rock while she does it. Miss Emily is unafraid to dig deep when she sings, tackling big, messy feelings in her songs – and you can feel it in every note.” 

– Rob Baker (The Tragically Hip)

New venues for this year’s festivities are The Duke and Inn on Broadway. The Duke sits just outside the perimeter of the festival, and it is taking up space in a former retail mecca that is growing back up with the area around it. 18 sets will adorn the small stage over the week. It is the fourth business for ownership who also own a small plate venue right across the hall.

The Inn on Broadway is 95-year-old, 25 room boutique hotel and steakhouse that many visitors will pass as the make their way to the main event. The musical venue is an elegant second floor ballroom, with great sound and lots of natural light.

With the first weekend in the books, the Rochester Jazz Festival is primed for a strong finish as acts such as Sheila E, Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Bill Charlap, Samara Joy, and John Oates roll into town. Local favorite, Joy, is making her first appearance as a headliner at the festival, after playing smaller stages in recent years. The festival concludes Saturday night, June 29.

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