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Tradition meets 'U Can't Touch This' on day 6 of the jazz fest

CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival
Samara Joy.

That chest-rattling booming bass, the caterwauling vocals celebrating Sly Stone to “When the Saints Go Marching In,” was Sheila E on Wednesday at the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival.

It was a party, with a huge crowd. There was no available real estate anywhere for the free show on downtown’s Parcel 5.

This was a day for the jazz fest women. Sheila E, of course. Samara Joy. Emmaline. The Jamie Baum Group at The Wilder Room. The Connie Han Trio at Montage.

The Joy of nostalgia

Fats Navarro was only 26 years old when he died in 1950. Yet Navarro, and his song “Nostalgia,” set the tone for Samara Joy.

“Nostalgia hit me as I recalled the day that I knew that I loved you,” she sang during her first set at Max of Eastman Place. Two years younger than Navarro when he died, Joy mined a smoky era of women in jazz like she is the resurrection of Sarah Vaughan; she won the 2019 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Or Betty Carter; Joy did Carter’s “Tight” as a woman who’s had enough. “I don’t know where my man is. Where is he? Where is he?” Or how about, “I thought my man loved me, but he was lovin’ someone else.”

Dynamic for sure. And when not relentlessly upbeat, Joy was defiant.

She unloaded sassy, sly lyrics, backed by a slick, electric-guitar trio. Her wide-ranging voice had a high end that could shatter a wine glass, if we weren’t all drinking out of plastic cups like kids at a birthday party.

The aptly named Joy gave the packed room “April in Paris,” sung partially in French (which reminds me, the Django Reinhardt-driven Stephane Wrembel was playing just down the street, at Innovation Theater).

No one adds contemporary touches to a Picasso, but music can be a moving target. So Joy opened Thelonious Monk’s “San Francisco Holiday” a cappella, with its alternate title, “Worry Later,” drawn from lyrics added later: “If you wake up in the morning with a troubled mind, don’t worry now, worry later, friend.”

Recalling Carmen McRae’s advice that “you can’t lose if you sing the blues,” she sang “my mama told me there would be nights like this.” She drifted deep into the vintage blues catalog, so deep that it’s uncertain who wrote this song, or even what the precise, suggestive lyrics are: “If you don’t like my peaches, why did you shake my tree?”

Did you just scream, “THE STEVE MILLER BAND!” No. No. No.

Today’s jazz haiku

Wine should be served

like we’re all adults here;

long-stemmed glasses

Emmaline 'Can’t Touch This'

Nostalgia wasn’t the vibe for all of the women vocalists at this festival.

Witness Ms. Lisa Fischer’s mind-blowing first set Monday at Temple Theater, when she mixed traditionals with The Rolling Stones and Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”

CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival

Emmaline, in her first set at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom, reached for a far more contemporary sound to add to the mix. Just 24 years old, while growing up in Indiana, she used social media savvy to launch her career, posting acoustic versions of traditional jazz vocals and originals.

She’s searching for her sound, trying them all out. A classically trained violinist, Emmaline picked up a violin at Wednesday’s show for an instrumental interlude on a sweet song dating back to 1935, after having dropped a far more contemporary series of verses filled with f-bombs.

Her range of emotions went from “I’m in the Mood for Love” to her own “When This is Over.” A song Emmaline described as capturing a moment: “My first experience with heartbreak. Heartbreak really shapes us.”

And Emmaline likes throwing the unexpected at her audience. So yeah, a smoky jazz version of M.C. Hammer’s 1990 hip-hop hit “U Can’t Touch This,” with Emmaline jumping in with a frantic violin solo, definitely qualifies.

Preview: Bacon flavor

Let’s set aside, at least for the purposes of this music story, that Kevin Bacon is a famous actor. When The Bacon Brothers hit the stage Friday night at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, it’s purely a songwriter-driven evening.

The Bacon Brothers take this gig seriously, says Kevin’s older brother, Michael.

CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival
The Bacon Brothers.

“We didn’t really have any goals, exactly,” says Michael. “I think we both felt if the songs keep coming, and the band’s getting better, and the audiences are coming out, we’ll continue.”

Since 1994, the songs have kept coming. Eleven albums worth of songs. A mix of folk, rock, soul and country. And personal drama, Kevin admits.

“Sometimes you get your heart broken, and then you write the song about it,” he says. “Sometimes you can write a song about something and not be experiencing it at the time. But when it comes time to sing it, or it comes time to perform it, or be in the studio to make it work, or even finish the song, you can draw on it. Everyone’s had their heart broken, at some point, I would hope so, in life.”

Read more on The Bacon Brothers at

Jeff’s Thursday picks

CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival
Booker T.

  • Booker T’s Soul Stax Revue, Parcel 5, 9 p.m. Booker T. & the M.G.s were one of the great Southern soul and Memphis R&B bands, and originators of the Stax sound. Booker T. Jones, the keyboardist behind “Green Onions,” is keeping the music alive. Soul Stew, the Canadian band that’s always been popular at the fest, plays at 7 p.m. Brother Wilson and Unpack opens at 5 p.m.
  • Hans Bilger, The Little Theatre, 7 and 9:15 p.m. Bilger studied evolutionary biology at Yale and has incorporated his studies of bird calls into some of his music. He’s also collaborated with birds, bats and frogs. I do not see how this cannot be bizarrely interesting.
  • Big Lazy, Montage Music Hall, 6 and 10 p.m. Gothic noir hipsters from New York City, Big Lazy has played with some cool folks such as Marc Ribot. If you miss the trio Thursday, it plays again Friday at The Little.
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.