Festival Fever: Freihofer’s Jazz Fest @ SPAC, 6/26-27/10

Vibraphonist Stefon Harris and Saxophonist Rich Lalama
Vibraphonist Stefon Harris and Saxophonist Rich Lalama

The 33rd annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival takes over the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with more than 20 performances by veteran musicians and up-and-comers alike. The two-day fest rolls into SPAC on Saturday and Sunday, June 26-27 with headline performances by Al Jarreau with the George Duke Trio, bluesman Taj Mahal, guitarist extraordinaire Al Di Meola, soul-pop singer Gladys Knight and two piano legends – Ramsey Lewis and Ahmad Jamal.

It’s gone by many corporate-sponsored names since jazz impessario George Wein brought the first jazz fest to SPAC in 1978.

In her statement, SPAC president and executive director Marcia J. White declared, “The Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival offers a jazz lineup of unparalleled quality and diversity, with musicians from every corner and tradition in the jazz world displaying the extraordinary range and richness of the art form,” says SPAC president and executive director Marcia J. White. “Our festival is a showcase for the artists who have shaped the history of jazz.” The fest co-presented by SPAC and Absolutely Live Entertainment.

SATURDAY, JUNE 26, starting at 12noon

Seven-time Grammy-winning vocalist Al Jarreau teams up with keyboardist-composer-producer George Duke and his trio (bassist Michael Manson and drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr.). (Mainstage)

The Sax for Stax Band pairs alto saxophonist Gerald Albright with tenor saxman Kirk Whalum in tribute to the legendary Memphis sound of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett, Booker T & the MGs and others. (Mainstage)

Jazz piano master Ahmad Jamal – who celebrates his 80th birthday the following weekend – makes his long-overdue Saratoga debut appearance with his current band featuring bassist James Cammack, New Orleans drummer Herlin Riley and percussion master Manolo Badrena. (Mainstage)

After several appearances at The Egg and the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in recent years, Grammy-winning blues/world music multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter Taj Mahal makes his Saratoga jazz fest debut. (Mainstage)

Guitarist Al Di Meola leads World Sinfonia, his six-piece Latin/jazz fusion band in a reprise of their performance at The Linda back in January. (Mainstage)

Clarinetist Evan Christopher explores the New Orleans jazz traditions anchored in the music of Sidney Bechet, Omer Simeon and Barney Bigard. (Mainstage)

Young trumpeter Mario Abney and his funky, powerhouse quintet earned rave reviews at last year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. (Mainstage and Gazebo)

Tomasz Stanko has rightfully earned his place as one of Europe’s best and most intense trumpeters,” according to Stereophile Magazine. The ECM recording artist – now based in NYC – leads his quartet in their Saratoga debut in support of his latest album, “Dark Eyes.” (Gazebo)

Emerging jazz vocalist Alyssa Graham’s latest CD, “Echo,” earned a Critic’s Choice in The New York Times, which also hailed Graham as [having] “The right voice … a sumptuous and flexible croon.” (Gazebo)

“A tenor saxophonist with an enigmatic, elegant and hard-driving style.” That’s how The New York Times described Detroit native JD Allen, one of the most thoughtful jazz saxmen on the scene today. He will be leading his piano-less trio featuring bassist (and Schenectady native) Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. (Gazebo)

Percussionist Steven Kroon – a longtime member of bands led by Luther Vandross and Ron Carter – leads his own Latin jazz sextet. (Gazebo)

SUNDAY, JUNE 27, starting at 12noon

“Neither One of Us.” “Midnight Train to Georgia.” “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination.” One of the great soul singers, Gladys Knight returns to the jazz fest after headlining back in 2001. (Mainstage)

A driving force behind the famed Buena Vista Social Club, bandleader-producer Juan de Marcos leads the Afro-Cuban All-Stars, an ensemble whose members span four generations. (Mainstage)

Chicago pianist-composer-radio personality Ramsey Lewis first came to nationwide mainstream attention with his smash 1965 hit, “The In Crowd.” Since then he’s racked up five gold records and three Grammys. The Ramsey Lewis Trio returns to SPAC for their first appearance since 1989. (Mainstage)

Ann Hampton Callaway is not only an impressive jazz vocalist, but also a composer, pianist, lyricist, arranger, actress, educator, TV host and producer. Callaway performed last September in a tribute concert to Johnny Mandel at the College of St. Rose’s Massry Center. (Mainstage)

Albany native, vibraphone master and composer Stefon Harris – heralded by The Los Angeles Times as “one of the most important young artists in jazz” – leads his electrifying band Blackout, who performed in December as part of the Melodies of Christmas concerts at Proctors. (Mainstage)

Keyboardist Rachel Z’s musical resume cuts a wide swath across musical genres from collaborations with Wayne Shorter to touring in Peter Gabriel’s band to her longtime membership in Steps Ahead. At SPAC, she’ll be leading her new ensemble Trio of Oz (featuring bassist Maeve Royce drum icon Omar Hakim) in a repertoire that stretches from Steely Dan to Stone Temple Pilots, from Johnny Cash to Bjork. (Mainstage and Gazebo)

20-year-old saxophonist Hailey Niswanger is currently attending the Berklee College of Music, but she has already shared the stage with such greats as Phil Woods, James Moody, McCoy Tyner, Maceo Parker and Wynton Marsalis. She’ll be leading her own quartet. (Gazebo)

A veteran of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Joe Lovano Nonet, Grammy-winning tenor saxman Ralph Lalama flexes his muscular sound at SPAC with his quartet. (Gazebo)

25-year-old bassist Linda Oh was born in Malaysia, raised in Australia and now lives in New York City. She’ll lead her trio in support of her 2009 debut album, “Entry.” (Gazebo)

29-year-old drummer Kendrick Scott has been a member of Terence Blanchard’s band, as well as Stefon Harris’ Blackout, but at SPAC he’ll be showcasing his own ensemble, Oracle. (Gazebo)


Saturday, June 26 reserved seats $65; children under 12 $55
Saturday, June 26 lawn tickets $44; children under 12 $5
Sunday, June 27 reserved seats $58; children under 12 $51
Sunday, June 27 lawn tickets $44; children under 12 $5

TWO-DAY TICKETS (prior to Monday, May 10)
Reserved seats $115; children under 12 $98
Lawn tickets $76; children under 12 $10

Ticket order forms are available now online or by phone at 518.584.9330. The SPAC box office opens on Sunday, May 9.

Photos by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Kendrick Scott
Kendrick Scott

Al Di Meola
Al Di Meola

Ann Hampton Calloway
Anne Hampton Calloway

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