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With Trombone Shorty and a full lineup, jazz fest is on, for now

Trombone Shorty is scheduled to perform June 25 at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.
Courtesy Rochester International Jazz Festival
Trombone Shorty is scheduled to perform June 25 at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

Most years, by this point in the story, John Nugent, the producer and artistic director of the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival, generally exudes an attitude that the event is on automatic pilot. All acts are booked, the food trucks are gassed up, the weather vanes are blowing in the right direction.

But coronavirus is the wild card now, as the 19th annual event unveiled its lineup Tuesday. In a statement issued alongside the introduction of Trombone Shorty at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, and free shows with Taj Mahal, Kool and the Gang, the Allman Betts Band, and guitar wizard Tommy Emmanuel, the organizers said the jazz festival is going on as scheduled, but will update the situation in May.

The nine-day event, which runs from June 19-27, drew more than 208,000 people last year. According to Nugent and co-producer Marc Iacona, no acts have canceled, even though some are coming from Europe, and others are on tours that have already lost dates to the coronavirus pandemic.

In comments accompanying the lineup, the jazz fest organizers wrote: “We can speculate and formulate multiple scenarios but at this time dealing in hypotheticals is not productive.”

The complete lineup came via a flurry of digital press links, ensuring the usual live media gathering wouldn’t challenge the pandemic and exceed state or federal guidelines.

Tuesday’s announcement added Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, one of the most popular acts to play the jazz fest over the years, as a sixth show to the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre lineup. Shorty plays June 25; tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, March 20. 

Puss N Boots.
Credit Puss N Boots Music
Puss N Boots.

The five already previously announced shows at Eastman Theatre start are already on sale, starting with the opening night of the festival on June 19 and Puss N Boots, the alt-country band featuring Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper. It’s followed on June 20 by Wynonna & the Big Noise and a Country Tribute Celebration, with musicians performing the songs of Tim McGraw, Eric Church and Jason Aldean; Spyro Gyra on June 23; Nile Rodgers and Chic on June 26; and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Garth Fagan Dance in Rochester, with jazz pianist Monty Alexander, on June 24.

The first weekend of free shows, on the East Avenue & Chestnut Street Outdoor Stage, features Emmanuel and New Orleans pianist Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen on June 19. The Allman-Betts Band, with Allman Brothers Band progeny Devon Allman and Duane Betts, plays the following night.

Taj Mahal.
Credit Stephan Teller
Taj Mahal.

For the closing weekend, Midtown Stage at Parcel 5 has Taj Mahal on June 26 and Kool and the Gang on June 27.

The bulk of the estimated 100 free shows are on the closed-off Gibbs Street, known as Jazz Street for the festival’s nine days. The early shows feature the 21 bands from area schools. Later on, the nights include established acts such as the country blues of The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band on June 19, the fest favorite Soul Stew on June 25 and guitar bluesman Christone Kingfish Ingram on June 27.

A new Club Pass venue this year is Bethel Christian Fellowship, which will play host to the Made in the UK series, opening with vocalist Tessa Souter. That series has previously been held in Christ Church, which is undergoing renovation.

Two other venues join the lineup after being offline last year. The Auditorium at East Broad and Chestnut streets, formerly known as Xerox Auditorium, offers a mix of reedman Lew Tabackin, the offbeat Austrians Interzone and Stephane Wrembel’s “Django Experiment.” And the newly renovated Little Theatre will be home to nine Americana shows, including superb vocalists such as Dayna Kurtz and Ana Egge, and Rochester’s Connie Deming, joined by guitarist Kinloch Nelson, performing the music of Joni Mitchell.

Jeremy Pelt.
Credit Courtesy Rochester International Jazz Festival
Jeremy Pelt.

Kilbourn Hall offers trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and the duo of pianist Danilo Pérez and scat-vocalist Kurt Elling.

Max of Eastman has three women, the 3D Jazz Trio, celebrating bass legend Ray Brown.

Montage Music Hall’s mix includes the vampy cabaret of Davina & the Vagabonds.

Geva Theatre’s Wilson Stage presents Louisiana bluesman Marc Broussard, the self-explanatory California Guitar Trio and Robin McKelle, a Rochester native now living in France.

Hatch Recital Hall opens with saxophonist Tommy Smith, followed by a run of pianists, including the Iceland native Sunna Gunnlaugs.

Lutheran Church of the Reformation, former home of Nordic Jazz Now, and now operating under the banner of “Global Jazz Now,” will present some of the edgier jazz because, if there’s such a thing as “Nordic Americana,” that’s what Finland’s Tuomo & Markus does.

Among the Wilder Room’s offerings is Rochester’s 12-piece Dave Rivello Ensemble.

The Temple Theatre’s lineup includes the longtime duo Tuck & Patti and the jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson.

On Parcel 5, the Squeezer’s Stage @ M&T Pavilion has early free shows with locals such as the groove band The Mojo Collective and jazz with The Rich Thompson Quartet, followed by Club Pass shows with Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers.

At the Big Tent, early free shows are followed by Club Pass shows, some of which are at the Squeezers Stage as well. Lots of funk fusion and international collaborations will live here.

The after-hours jam sessions with Bob Sneider and Karl Stabnau will be back at the Hyatt Regency Rochester, starting at 10:30 p.m. each night. Free jazz workshops for youth and adult musicians will be at the Eastman School of Music, and a kids inclusive concert is being organized in coordination with The Strong museum.

Tickets for the five Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre shows are on sale Friday at and (585) 454-2060. The three- and nine-day Club Passes, allowing access to 13 venues during the June 19-23 festival, are also on sale.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.