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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the June 18, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New Jersey Grows Jazz

While some critics of the Garden State’s vibrant jazz

scene might dismiss the organizers of the annual New Jersey Jazzfest

as being "moldy figs" who have stayed trapped in the 1930s

and ’40s, the reality is, the New Jersey Jazz Society (NJJS) has a

long tradition of bringing young "up-and-comers" into its

programming mix.

This year, for the Atlantic Mutual JazzFest 2003, NJJS has booked

vocalist Jeanie Bryson and her trio, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and

his quintet, the extraordinary saxophonist Eric Alexander and his

group, and the drummer Winard Harper and his sextet.

Also performing will be pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and her trio, an

artist who has drawn rave reviews throughout her recent residency

at New York’s Birdland jazz club. Canadian jazz piano master Oscar

Peterson calls Akiyoshi "the best female jazz pianist I have ever


Given that NJJS makes an effort to bring in younger performers —

each festival day begins at 11 a.m. with the best high school and

college jazz bands — that does not mean the organization does

not have its favorites: clarinetist Kenny Davern, called the country’s

best jazz clarinet player by the New York Times; guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli,

veteran of thousands of recording sessions, who was raised in Paterson

and schooled with the late poet Allen Ginsberg; trumpeter Randy Reinhart

and his group; bassist Jay Leonhart and his trio. Leonhart is particularly

interesting for one of his routines, called, "The Bass Lesson."

During this humor-filled presentation, he takes the audience on a

tour through the history of the bass, thoroughly demonstrating his

mastery of the instrument in the process.

This year, violinist Aaron Weinstein, who will have just graduated

from New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, will join guitarist

Pizzarelli, who plays a seven-string guitar. Weinstein recorded his

first album, "Fiddler’s Dream," at age 13. He will play jazz

standards with Pizzarelli and his quartet.

East Brunswick-based vocalist Bryson, the daughter of

songwriter Connie Bryson and the late trumpeter and composer Dizzy

Gillespie, freely mixes up Brazilian jazz, traditional jazz standards,

blues and originals into her sets. Most recently, she has recorded

a series of critically-acclaimed albums for the Telarc Jazz label.

Pianist and singer Hanna Richardson and her trio, which includes husband

Phil Flanigan on bass and saxophonist Mike Hashim, will perform a

mix of original compositions as well as the tradition-based jazz tunes

by Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday,

and Dinah Washington.

Saxophonist Eric Alexander, who performs with pianist Norman Simmons

and trumpeter Terrell Stafford, has a soulful sound that is rooted

in the blues of his native Chicago. He began playing piano at age

six, but switched to clarinet at nine, before settling on alto saxophone

at age 12. After graduating from college, he paid his dues playing

with organ trios on Chicago’s South side. He made his recording debut

in 1992 with "Straight Up" for Delmark Records. More recently

he has had success with recordings on the Milestone/Fantasy label.

Multi-instrumentalist Randy Reinhart switches between trumpet, cornet,

and slide trombone at his live shows. He began his professional career

with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, but has also performed with Vince Giordano’s

Nighthawks and plays frequently with clarinetist Kenny Davern. Drummer

Tony DeNicola, trombonist Tom Artin and bassist Greg Cohen will accompany


Vince Giordano’s band, the Nighthawks, specialize in vintage blues

and jazz from the 1920s and ’30s. Giordano switches between tuba and

bass saxophone at his live shows. He began his playing career as a

15-year-old in New York City. Because of their expert renderings of

classic blues and jazz compositions from the 1920s and ’30s, Giordano’s

Nighthawks have performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the JVC

Jazz Festival, Lincoln Center, and the Breda Jazz Festival in Holland.

Giordano and the Nighthawks can be heard every Monday and Thursday

night at the Cajun Restaurant in Manhattan.

Trombonist Gordon and his quintet and drummer Harper

and his sextet both perform an artful blend of originals, classic

jazz, and blues-based jazz at their live shows. Both groups lean heavily

on the musicians to improvise and take solos, so expect lots of musical

fireworks at either bandleader’s set. With all these different types

of music going on both Saturday and Sunday at the Atlantic Mutual

JazzFest, it’s difficult for the most seasoned of jazz fans to get

bored with the program, and therein lies the genius of those who program

NJJS events.

The festival is held rain or shine, Saturday and Sunday, June 21 and

22, on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison. Two

big tents with two big stages, an indoor auditorium and an indoor

aerobics room make the "rain or shine" aspect of the gathering


Jazz enthusiasts are free to bring their own picnic baskets, and food

is also offered on site. CDs from all of the artists are offered for

sale, and the annual get-together remains one of the best organized,

most educational, and entertaining festivals in the state. Many of

the same people involved in the annual JazzFest are the same volunteers

who help coordinate the stage and music for Princeton’s annual "JazzFeast"

every September.

— Richard J. Skelly

Atlantic Mutual JazzFest, New Jersey Jazz Society,

Fairleigh Dickinson University, Park Avenue, Madison, 973-543-2039

or 800-303-6557. Weekend festival with music on three stages. Tickets

in advance or at the gate. $40 per day; or $75 weekend; students with

ID $10. Saturday and Sunday, June 21 and 22, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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