Jazz fest day 8: Downtown alive with outdoor stages
Plus: A spiritual Joe Locke homecoming, and a haiku!
Downtown Rochester was a live wire. The CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival was looking to go out with a big final weekend of free shows. And after Friday night, it was halfway there.
Over at Parcel 5, which has been drawing huge crowds all week, The New Power Generation was playing the music of Prince, featuring musicians who played with him. Blessed with beautiful weather, it looked like the biggest crowd yet, spilling across East Main Street and into Liberty Pole Square. It was also the loudest show thus far, the echoes off the surrounding buildings seemingly eclipsing Sheila E.
The blues of G Love & Special Sauce headlines the park off East Main Street on Saturday, the closing night of jazz fest.
And a new venue has joined the lineup for these final two days. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park had The Bacon Brothers on Friday. Headed by the actor Kevin Bacon and his brother, Michael, the relaxed alt-rock combo also drew a big audience nicely filling up the space around the stage set up on Court Street.
Kevin Bacon asked if there was anyone under 50 in the crowd. There appeared to be quite a few, actually, so he told of an era when people would open a little yellow box, take out a roll of “film” and put it in a “camera.”
The music returns to MLK Park on Saturday with Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, a late replacement for Wynonna Judd, who canceled after the death of her mother and musical partner, Naomi Judd.
The spiritual side of Locke’s jazz
Joe Locke sometimes turns loose his spiritual side at these shows. That’s needed even more in these times. “Being in community with each other has more and more meaning,” he told the nearly packed room of 700 people at Temple Theatre.
The Joe Locke Group had already built a little community connection with its entrance. Rather than magically appearing from some doorway in the wings of the theater, the quartet marched from the front lobby, down an aisle and to the stage.
Locke, now a citizen of the world, grew up in Rochester. And he doesn’t forget it. “Whatever musician I’ve become, in my dotage,” he said, “is a result of my time in this town.”
Locke is fun to watch. Gripping two mallets in each fist, he flowed across the vibes set up on center stage, seemingly singing along with the notes, sometimes punctuating the end of a riff with a little leap. There’s real character in his movements. He was totally connecting to the task at hand.
The task? Locke looks like he’s having fun.
He’s a gracious front man. In the midst of the opening “Interwoven Hues,” written by his pianist, Lorin Cohen, he set down the mallets and stepped to the side of the stage, allowing the rest of the band to stretch out for a good, long while.
Locke spoke of Roy Hargrove, the jazz trumpeter who passed away a few years ago, and a man he knew well. Hargrove loved that thing that comes from the heart, jazz ballads. And that thing from the hip, hip-hop. “To Roy, there was no difference between jazz and hip-hop,” Locke said. “It was all music to him.” He dedicated “Raise Heaven” to Hargrove because, “When he was down here, he was raising hell.”
And, for an encore, Locke dedicated Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” to the late Democrat and Chronicle film critic, always a presence at these events: “If anybody’s with us in spirit, it’s Jack Garner.”
Tommy Smith was with us as well; that empty stool on the stage had to be for someone. The Scottish saxophonist, who’s had his own shows here this week, was called to the stage for two songs. No opportunity is to be missed. “You cannot control what life is going to throw at you,” Locke said, recalling how he was in Scotland to tour with Smith’s Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, but the gigs were wiped out after just two shows when the entire band contracted COVID.
A burbling waterfall of vibes led the way to Smith’s sax, and the instantly recognizable melody of Burt Bachrach’s “Close to You.” Locke even stepped away from the vibes to urge the audience to sing the chorus.
We did the best we could. Locke’s optimism prevailed. “Don’t give up on people,” he said. “People can be pretty cool sometimes.”
Today’s jazz haiku
Notes explode like rain
a vibe reverberating
from soul to ceiling
Jeff’s Saturday picks
- Danielle Ponder, 7 p.m., Parcel 5. This may be the year that the soulful Rochester vocalist breaks out, with high-profile shows and her May appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Local rockers blü open at 5 p.m., and you’d be well advised to hang around for the headliner, G. Love & Special Sauce, at 9 p.m.
- Kurt Elling’s Super Blue, Kilbourn Hall, 6 and 9 p.m. Swinging jazz vocalist Elling will have a new sound for this return to the jazz fest. He’ll be joined by the guitarist Charlie Hunter, as well as two veterans of the jazz-funk fusion band Butcher Brown: drummer Corey Fonville and bassist/keyboardist D.J. Harrison.
- The Majestics, The Little Theatre, 7 and 9:15 p.m. For all of these jazz fest years, Ron Stackman was the stage manager at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Now retired from that job, he turns his attention to his longtime reggae band, The Majestics. Stackman is joined by his original bandmates, bassist Jim Schwartz and drummer Lou LaVilla, and guitarist Kevin Hart and saxophonist Vince Ercolamento.