The 33rd annual Atlanta Jazz Festival took place this Memorial Day weekend at Piedmont Park. If you've been following the Atlanta Jazz Festival saga, you know this is the first year that the festival has been back at Piedmont Park since 2007. Due to the Georgia drought and budget shortfalls, both the 2008 and 2009 Atlanta Jazz Festivals occurred at smaller venues and with scaled-back lineups. For those of us who look forward to the Atlanta Jazz Festival each year, it was great to see the festival back at Piedmont Park this year, complete with high-profile touring acts. Budget constraints still limited the festival to just two shortened days instead of three full days, but this year marked a big step in the right direction.
Following are some highlights and photos from the Festival.
Vocalist, trombone player, and trumpet player, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews has been on my radar ever since I saw YouTube clips of him playing in concert with Wynton Marsalis. I knew Trombone Shorty was a talented musician, but I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of that talent until I saw his performance at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. His trombone playing alone was impressive enough, but when he picked up the trumpet I just about fell over. The power and intensity behind every note was astounding. Nothing I had seen or heard of his playing prior to the festival even came close. In addition to his great tone and fantastic musical ideas, his precision on the trumpet, through all ranges was absolute perfection. Trombone Shorty was definitely my favorite performer at this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival.
ESPERANZA SPALDING & RAYDAR ELLIS
Jazz bassist, Esperanza Spalding, and DJ/MC Raydar Ellis brought a hip-hop infused performance to this year's festival. I enjoyed the music, but I would have liked to hear Esperanza Spalding featured more prominently throughout the concert. That might sound strange considering she was the bandleader, but for several of the tunes she only played a supporting role.
It wasn't until the end of their performance when I learned that Marcus Strickland was playing saxophone in the band. I might have recognized him earlier, but since his hair (or lack thereof) was different than I've seen in photos, and since I wasn't all that close to the stage, I couldn't identify him by his appearance. I've been a fan of Marcus Strickland for several years now, ever since I first heard him playing with Dave Douglas. It was cool to see Marcus Strickland at the festival, even if he did only have one solo.
MARCUS MILLER W/ CHRISTIAN SCOTT
Marcus Miller and Christian Scott have been touring the world with their "Tutu Revisited" show, which they brought to this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival. While "Tutu" and the later period of Miles Davis' career isn't exactly my favorite style of jazz, I was still looking forward to hearing the band, especially trumpeter Christian Scott. There's been a lot of buzz about him lately, including a recent Downbeat cover article. It was nice to finally hear Christian Scott in person, although it may have been an off night for him as he struggled to hit some of notes in the upper register. But frankly, after hearing Trombone Shorty's effortless command of the upper register (and every register above and below that!), it was comforting to know that trumpet playing doesn't always come easy to the best players.
I'd also like to mention how impressed I was by the young saxophonist, Alex Han. I hadn't heard of him before, but I've since learned that he's been playing in a variety of high-profile ensembles since his early teen years. I'm sure I'll hear a lot more from him in the future.
JOE GRANSDEN BIG BAND
Followers of the Atlanta jazz scene are certainly familiar with trumpeter Joe Gransden and his 16-piece big band. The band plays on the first and third Monday at Cafe 290 and it regularly features several of Atlanta's best jazz musicians. The big band's inclusion at the Atlanta Jazz Festival was actually the result of a contest held by festival organizers. For this particular time slot, the festival organizers accepted submissions from musicians all over the country and then held an online vote to determine which of the top three submissions would get to play at the festival. I'm happy to say Joe and his band won by a sizeable lead!
Overall, this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival was a great event. The festival was back at Piedmont Park, it featured big-name musicians, it included some of Atlanta's finest musicians on the main stage, it had a reasonably sized VIP area (it was too large in 2007), the festival was well-attended, and it even had decent weather considering the fact that rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast for the entire weekend. There were some problems with this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival, however, and they all seemed to revolve around sound. To begin, this was the loudest Atlanta Jazz Festival that I've attended. The high volume level would have been fine, but it seemed like every performance and/or intermission had at least one eardrum-piercing event where somebody's microphone was turned up too high and the sound guys were caught off guard. The sound guys also seemed slow to react when somebody's microphone level was too low. There were several instances where somebody belted out note after note and we couldn't hear anything. Oh, and why did the sound guys play loud (and bad) alterna-rock during some of the intermissions? Maybe they were practicing for Bonnaroo.
As in previous years at Piedmont Park, this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival had two stages of music. The main stage featured local Atlanta musicians and touring acts, while the second stage consisted entirely of local musicians. Here's the complete lineup:
SATURDAY MAY 29, 2010 - MAIN STAGE
- 2pm - Rialto Jazz For Kids All Star Big Band
- 3pm - Jay Norem & Keith White Quartet
- 4pm - Steven Charles Band
- 5:30pm - Trombone Shorty
- 7pm - Swing Streets to Swing Beats w/ Esperanza Spalding & Raydar Ellis
- 8:30pm - Marcus Miller w/ Christian Scott
SATURDAY MAY 29, 2010 - SECOND STAGE
- 3pm - Our New Dimensions
- 4pm - The Jacob Deaton Trio
- 5pm - Hudson on Bass
- 6pm - Julie Dexter
SUNDAY MAY 30, 2010 - MAIN STAGE
- 2pm - Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Wind Ensemble Jazz Band
- 3pm - Joe Gransden Big Band
- 4pm - Kathleen Bertrand
- 5:30pm - Spyro Gyra
- 7pm - Diane Schuur w/ Jason Marsalis
- 8:30pm - Hiromi & Stanley Clarke
SUNDAY MAY 30, 2010 - SECOND STAGE
- 3pm - Groove Project
- 4pm - The Non-Movement Movement
- 5pm - Madoca & Co
- 6pm - William Green & The Magic Dream Band