Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Jun 14 06:51:18 PDT 2005

Apparently you can't please everyone, especially Ratliff. :-) VBG.

Steve Barbone

Critic's Notebook

Singin' the Blues Before the JVC Jazz Festival

Published: June 14, 2005

It isn't generous to pick on a jazz festival before it begins. But not to do
so with this year's JVC Jazz Festival-New York, which starts today and runs
until June 25, would ignore a strange turn of events. Not only is this
year's JVC-New York full of sleepy or many-times-repeated bookings, weird
inequities and antique fixations, but its Rhode Island cousin, JVC Jazz
Festival-Newport, now clearly has the edge.
The impresario George Wein, along with Elaine and Louis Lorillard, began the
Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, before corporate sponsorship supported
musical events. It was, as everyone now knows, the first major outdoor jazz
festival in the United States, and became the model for what is now a summer
jazz-festival circuit around the world, including Montreal; New Orleans;
North Sea (in The Hague), Marciac (France), Perugia (Italy), Montreux
(Switzerland) and on and on. Newport ran pretty astonishing programs every
year, mixing pop in by degrees, then ended abruptly in 1971, when angry rock
fans, there to see the Allman Brothers, gate-crashed the festival,
reportedly tearing the lid off the stage piano.

Having seen a literal demonstration of jazz being trampled, Mr. Wein didn't
give up; he turned to New York. He began what was first called the Newport
Jazz Festival-New York, then the Kool Jazz Festival, then JVC Jazz
Festival-New York. His New York festival thereafter became the big one.
Newport, on the other hand, was revived in 1981, but not to its former
stature. It brought in a lot of middle-of-the-road pop, and even The Boston
Globe stopped reviewing it for a stretch.

Then Newport changed last year, for its 50th anniversary. Mr. Wein decided
that it was time to turn Newport back to what it once was: a serious index
of mainstream jazz. It was a very respectable festival, and successful
enough that Festival Productions Inc., Mr. Wein's company, will repeat the
"real jazz only" formula this year in Newport.

There is a major difference between the two. Newport, running Aug. 11
through 14 (details at festivalproductions.net/05/jvcjazz/newpsch.php) is an
outdoor festival on one large waterfront site. Once you pay your admission,
you can weave among three stages to hear what you want. Newport's long
history, and its top-billed names, sell most of the tickets, which means
that the festival can err toward the side of conscientiousness.

Most of the big acts at Newport this year are worth seeing: Wynton
Marsalis's Septet, Charles Lloyd's quartet, Dave Holland's Big Band, Joshua
Redman's Elastic Trio, a concert organized around the outrageously vital
drummer Roy Haynes. Likewise with its second stage, which includes worthy
bands like Joe Lovano's quartet with Hank Jones, Chick Corea's acoustic trio
and Carla Bley's inventive, eccentric small group. A third stage presents
only guitar, possibly the crucible instrument in the struggle to understand
where jazz is going. It's nothing radical, but it sets various common jazz
languages beside each other - Russell Malone, Bill Frisell, Kurt Rosenwinkel
- and makes a point about how wide the circle has become.

By contrast, JVC-New York (details at
festivalproductions.net/05/jvcjazz/nysch1.php) struggles on, putting the
same familiar sellers or rambling tribute concerts in its chosen venues:
mid-size halls like Carnegie and Zankel and Rose, with tickets sold
separately to each event.

Concert promoters always know better than critics what will break even. But
the concerts in the New York festival, for the most part, do not reflect the
current excitements of jazz. Filling those theaters is taking the priority
over smart programming.

Something's got to change, at least to keep appearances up. New York is
supposed to be the world capital of jazz, isn't it? Shouldn't it have a
killer festival, one that can use some sleight of hand - marketing tricks,
or a persuasive guiding consciousness - to present dazzling things to an
audience that perhaps doesn't know it wants them? JVC-New York seems nearly
bereft of such ideas.

It has long capitalized on jazz-fusion and tributes, so it's no surprise to
see a double bill of the 80's band Steps Ahead with a 10-bassist tribute to
Jaco Pastorius (June 22). But it gets worse. Tomorrow there is a concert
blurrily called "Piano Masters Salute Piano Legends," with four different
pianists playing Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious
Monk. How boring. On Sunday there will be a 90th-birthday tribute to Les
Paul, with appearances by about a dozen guitarists, including a pageant of
fallen rock stars - Steve Miller, Edgar Winter and Peter Frampton. 

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