Day one of the Syracuse Jazz Fest couldn’t have dialed up better weather, a better lineup, or better setting as the crowds filled in to the Onondaga Community College campus like a wave coming into shore. With music in the wind, literally, this spectacular day went down in the record books as a huge success.
Kicking off the day with locals Scottie Madonia, Sam Smith, Dunhan Hall, David Millen, Rick Bostick, and Nick DeMaria who make up NOTEified, they welcomed special guest Julia Goodwin to entertain early arrivers with hits from Stevie Wonder, Peggy Lee, Herbie Hancock, some Snarky Puppy, and Annie Lennox.
However it was Julia’s cover of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” that blew away the audience and would make Billy Joel himself sit up and take notice. Her voice is full of passion, yet strong and effortless, and with the accompaniment of some amazing musicians, this young group rocked the stage opening what would become the 34th epic weekend of music for the Syracuse Jazz Fest.
Next up was a band of amazing local artists from the Central NY region who paid homage to the late Mark Murphy. Mark was instrumental in the Syracuse musical scene as well as making his mark on the world with his innovative song writing and acting abilities. Discovered in the 50’s by Sammy Davis Jr. at the Ebony Jazz Club, Murphy was considered by his peers to be one of the greatest jazz vocalist ever, touching their lives and influencing their sounds. With six Grammy nominations and more than 40 releases over his 40 year career, the stage was full of top notch musicians this past weekend ready to celebrate his life and accomplishments.
Randy Brecker 2016 Artist in Residence, Joe Carello, Jay & Marty Ashby, Ronnie Leigh, Nancy Kelly, and Darmon Meader, took to the stage together with Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinhan, and Kim Nazarian also known as the New York Voices. Their set celebrated some of his greatest songs and memories they each shared with him over the years. Known as a whistler it was fitting that during this set, a wind blew up and blew his sheet music all over the crowd reaching those in a way so fitting for the legend.
As the sun began to set, it was time for the The Mavericks to heat up the stage and the party to begin. Those not familiar with this vivacious group were in for a real treat. Best known as country musicians, their eclectic mix of sounds can best be described as a Bakersfield sound. You’re familiar with it…it’s a recipe with a Tex Mex flavor, a bit of rockabilly, a tad of Latin, some rock and roll, and traditional country to make a unique country mix that is the perfect recipe. These spicy entertainers are not only outstanding musicians, they have one of the best stage presence I’ve ever seen.
It didn’t matter that this music wasn’t traditional Jazz per se, because with a voice like a purr and a smile that melted all the girls hearts, Raul Malo mesmerized that audience from the get go, making his mark on this event. Joined by band members Paul Deakon on drums who laid down the beat and percussion for the evening, he set the stage for Eddie Perez’s rocking solos. With flying rock star hair and the best rhinestoned pants that would make any vaquero proud, Eddie’s rifts brought the house to their feet. Rounding out this dynamic group was the one only oh so very colorful Jerry Dale McFadden on keyboards. This charismatic musician won the crowd over the minute he took the stage in his dapper green suit. This band stood out as a cohesive group. No one member outshone the other, instead they each complimented and played off of each other and the crowd throughout the whole set. With an elite ensemble of brass rounding out the group, these gentlemen had that crowd on their feet dancing in no time flat.
Singing a setlist of some of the most versatile songs this evening, they had this journalist’s attention as they played a personal favorite “Harvest Moon”, a Neil Young cover that Malo made his very own. Getting into a patriotic mood for the 4th of July weekend, his rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s America to Me”, demonstrated the varied influences other musicians have had on the band. As the smiles grew wider on the audience’s faces, the toes began tapping moreso, it was no time flat that the audience was eating out their hands and becoming part of the show. Feeding off this energy, and throwing in their rendition of Guantanamera by Pete Seeger and Twist and Shout made famous by the Isley Brothers, Mr. McFadden danced his way across the stage from one end to the other, inciting the crowd in a happied frenzy. Yes, it was crystal clear they were going to be a very tough act to follow on this gorgeous July evening.
As the sun set, and the fire began to fade in the sky, the mood also changed on stage as it was time for the headliner Michael McDonald to take the stage. Sharing a personal message, this humanitarian personally spoke about the state of this country, perfectly segwaying into “Freedom Highway” and “Sweet Freedom”. It was a joy to sit back and listen to this melodic voice once again.
As the night ended, fitting it was to have the evening end with a bang, with the fireworks display for all those who gathered on this holiday weekend to enjoy friends, community, and music at it’s best.
The Mavericks Setlist: Back In Your Arms, All Night Long/Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In, Stories, All That Heaven Will Allow, There Goes My Heart, Dance the Night Away, Harvest Moon (Neil Young cover), Only Question Is, Loving Tonight, Acoustic, The House I Live In, That’s America To Me (Frank Sinatra cover), Ride With Me, Fall Apart, Every Little Thing About You, Dance In the Moonlight, Summertime, Come Unto Me, Bring Me Down, and Guantanamera/Twist and Shout (Pete Seeger cover/the Isley Brothers cover)
Michael McDonald Setlist: Freedom Highway, Sweet Freedom, It Keeps You Runnin’ (The Doobie Brothers song), I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near), I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Marvin Gaye cover), Hurt Me, Obsession Blues, You Don’t Know Me (Eddy Arnold cover), Here to Love You (The Doobie Brothers song), Ain’t No Love, Minute by Minute (The Doobie Brothers song), This Is It (Kenny Loggins cover), What a Fool Believes (Kenny Loggins cover). Encore: On My Own (Patti LaBelle cover), Yah Mo B There (James Ingram cover), Takin’ It to the Streets (The Doobie Brothers song)