College & Town team up to host annual Jazz Festival

It is time once again for Williamstown to groove hard and play host to its annual springtime Jazz Festival. Perhaps the largest town/gown project in Williamstown – the event draws from a wide range of sponsors, including the President’s Office, MASS MoCA and many local restaurants and businesses – the festival is set to showcase a wide array of musical events beginning tomorrow. The programming includes concerts by some of the finest jazz artists in the country, a dance workshop, a lecture and film component and performances from 13 college jazz ensembles from around the Northeast.

“The festival is a combination of high quality live music, provided by students, professionals and alums; a major interdisciplinary cultural celebration of our American classical musical heritage; and an event of great educational and community-building value,” said Andy Jaffe, Williams’ Lyell B. Clay artist-in-residence in jazz performance and a major organizer of the festival.

From its beginnings as strictly an intercollegiate jazz exchange program, the festival has evolved into a major cultural event that strives to bring the whole Williamstown community together. This year’s festival, which will run through Saturday night, promises to be as vibrant and dynamic as ever, spanning from the Clark Art Institute, to Chapin Hall to the Log. Featuring three top headlining acts – the John Blake Quartet, John Scofield and his Uberjam Band and Kenny Barron and Canta Brasil – along with a Gospel performance by Rejoicensemble, jazz and Irish tap dance master classes, a lecture by Blake and a double feature of jazz films, the 2003 Williamstown Jazz Festival is not to be missed. 

Aside from the top-caliber headliners at this year’s festival, Williamstown is fortunate to host a number of other musical and interdisciplinary events. As always, the festival will include a key dance component, with events taking place throughout the course of the week. Beginning on Thursday evening at 5:30, jazz tap master Dianne Walker will teach a dance workshop open to the community (MASS MoCA Rehearsal Hall, free, reservations strongly recommended). An accomplished performer whose career has included productions on television, Broadway, film and numerous other jazz performance venues, Walker will bring to the festival a fresh look at the state of contemporary jazz dance performance. Accompanied by “T.A.P!!” (Totally Artistic Percussion, a Berkshire-based teaching and performing organization), Walker hopes to cover a variety of different techniques and styles in the jazz idiom. Walker will also offer another class on Friday (4:00 p.m., Adams Memorial Theater Studio).

Williams is also lucky to welcome Orfhlaith Ni Bhriain, a Ph.D. candidate focusing on Irish step dance from Limerick, Ireland, to the festival. Ni Bhriain has been working with the Williams College Dance Company, which is set to perform at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday in Lasell Dance Studio, choreographing an array of both traditional and modern Irish pieces. For one segment of the show, the Company will work with a jazz quintet from the Williams Jazz Ensemble on a tune entitled “Irish Mantra” by composer/performer and jazz educator Lewis Porter, who visited and performed the piece at the Ensemble’s last concert in March. The dance portion of the festival will conclude with a Jazz Tap Club Jam with both Walker and Ni Bhriain on Saturday at 2 p.m., also in Lasell.

The Festival will also continue its tradition of hosting and providing expert adjudication for many area college jazz ensembles. Beginning at noon on Friday in Chapin Hall with a small combo from Skidmore, the intercollegiate segment of the Festival will feature 13 different bands. Playing every hour, four ensembles will play on Friday and the rest will play throughout the day on Saturday. This year’s adjudicators are Paul Brown – who has recorded widely with artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Dexter Gordon to Anthony Braxton – and Keith Fiddmont, a saxophonist who has toured with several renowned jazz orchestras. The college set will conclude with the Williams band, which takes the stage at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday in its last on-campus performance of the year.

Holding true to its commitment to an interdisciplinary approach to jazz education, the Festival will present a lecture and two films to complement the wealth of performances, taking place throughout the week. On Thursday night, after the dance workshop, MASS MoCA will show a double feature at 8 p.m. of two jazz films, “A Great Day in Harlem” and “Setting the Record Straight.” Admission is $5.50. On Friday, John Blake will deliver a lecture entitled “A Brief History of the Jazz Violin,” during which he is sure to play several musical examples highlighting a variety of styles and influences.

Finally, the Festival will offer three more non-traditional performances to round out the week’s lineup. On Friday evening, before the Scofield concert, the community is invited to St. John’s Episcopal Church (Park Street, Williamstown) for its annual gospel addition to the jazz program. This year, Rejoicensemble – a chamber vocal group from Manhattan dedicated to performing works by various contemporary African-American composers – will provide a small window into the world of “sacred jazz.” For the first time in Jazz Festival history, a late-night jazz jam session will take place after the featured concert at the Log (Saturday night after Barron, at 10:30 p.m.). Featuring a professional rhythm section, this jam session is open to the public; all students and local musicians are encouraged to attend and sit in on a few tunes.

The Williamstown Jazz Festival – kicking off tomorrow and running through Saturday night – will showcase a variety of talent and a huge assortment of musical and educational events. Be sure to check it out. (For further information, please visit http://www.williamstownjazz.com for a full schedule; all tickets can be ordered from MASS MoCA, 662-2111.)

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