FREE FEST: Bands Announced for Lake George’s Jazz at the Lake Festival

By J Hunter

It’s 18 degrees as I type this, and while the snow has retreated enough that I can actually see my patio furniture, it’s still a winter wonderland in my backyard. So why am I fixated on mid-September, another time when fleece products should be kept close to hand? Because I now know the line-up for the 2017 edition of Lake George Arts Project’s Jazz at the Lake, to be held Saturday & Sunday, September 16 & 17 at Shepard Park in Lake George – and, as usual, curator Paul Pines has made the free festival a cut above everything else:


This Tuscon-born pianist-vocalist’s fourth disc Lyric Fury came into my life this past January, during a Jukebox Jury panel at the JazzConnect Conference in NYC. One listen to one track motivated me to dig deeper, and I struck the mother lode once I got under the surface. Hilts’ biggish-band compositions have been described as “When Mingus Met Debussy,” but the bottom line is we’re talking smart, well-crafted originals made glorious flesh by heavy hitters like Jack Walrath and Lisa Parrott. If you like music that carbonates your brain and brightens your heart, don’t be fashionably late for this opening act.

OLA ONABULE (2:45pm)
Charenee Wade’s infinitely beautiful take on the music of Gil Scott-Heron introduced jazz-powered soul to Jazz at the Lake in 2016, and the new tradition continues with the vibrant baritone of Ola Onabulé. Born in London to Nigerian parents, Onabulé has been a major European recording and concert act for the better part of two decades, winning – and entrancing – fans with a magnetic stage presence and a voice that’s been compared favorably to Donny Hathaway and Frankie Beverley. Onabule has also sung with the legendary WDR Big Band and has headlined festivals in Canada, Mexico, Latvia and his family home of Nigeria. Get ready to make a new friend!

THE COOKERS (4:30pm)
When this group of Hall Of Famers got together for their 2010 JLP release Warriors, nobody expected this not-so-Over The Hill gang would become one of the most powerful recording acts in the genre today. With five releases under their collective belt (including The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart, one of the Top 10 Jazz2K Discs of 2016), the Cookers take command of any stage they walk on with super-tight hard-bop arrangements and undeniably powerful solos. If you’ve only seen this group from the other side of a very crowded amphitheater, now’s your chance to see & hear the Cookers up close – and for free!


Here’s your headline: One of the greatest living sax players shows love to one of the greatest sax players who ever lived. Nuff said.


This diminutive reed wizard most definitely got our attention during the aforementioned set by Charenee Wade last year – and then Camille not only helped the all-female big band Diva hit it out of the park during the evening show, but she blew all our minds with a dive-bombing vocal take on “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.” Now we get to see Thurman’s chops as a leader, as she brings her own band to “the happiest place in jazz.” Sunday’s opening slot has a stunning history, with killer performances by Sharel Cassity, Victor Prieto and Edmar Castaneda. It’s going to be fun to see what goodies Camille Thurman brings to our early-afternoon table.

ORRIN EVANS (2:45pm)
I’ve always rolled my eyes whenever critics refer to an artist as “important.” However, this Jersey-born, Philadelphia-raised pianist-composer has me re-thinking that reaction. First catching my ear with the insane alt-jazz project Tarbaby, Evans’ thoughtful, rich compositions have grown increasingly breathtaking, both in his solo efforts and with the unstoppable Captain Black Big Band. Evans’ latest Smoke Sessions release #knowingishalfthebattle (which featured Kevin Eubanks, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Lucques Curtis and Mark Whitfield, Jr.) showcased his amazing ability to apply the proper touch to any instrumental configuration. Trust me: This one’s gonna be epic!

A familiar face returns to close Jazz at the Lake, accompanied by several other familiar faces. Argentinian pianist Emilio Solla pays exquisite tribute to Astor Piazzolla’s groundbreaking “nuevo tango” approach to jazz: The music from Solla’s 2010 disc Bien Sur! was one of the highlights of JATL in 2012, and his 2014 disc Second Half earned Solla a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album. Expected to join Solla on the bandstand are names that are well known to regular Lake George attendees, including altoist John Ellis, trombonist Ryan Keberle, trumpeter Alex Norris (seen last year with Amina Figarova’s band) and the aforementioned accordion master Victor Prieto.

Bring on the fleece!

SPAC Announces New Concert

518 SONGFEST @ The Egg, April 1
THE ROOTS MUSIC FESTIVAL @ The Linda, Albany, April 8
MOVE MUSIC FESTIVAL @ various locations, Cohoes, Troy & Albany, April 27-29
A TASTE OF COUNTRY MUSIC FESTIVAL @ Hunter Mountain, Hunter, June 9-11
MOUNTAIN JAM @ Hunter Mountain, Hunter, June 16-18
CLEARWATER’S GREAT HUDSON RIVER REVIVAL @ Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson, June 17 & 18
SOLID SOUND @ MASS MoCA, North Adams, June 23-25
FREIHOFER’S SARATOGA JAZZ FESTIVAL @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center, June 24 & 25
COUNTRYFEST 2017 @ Schaghticoke Fairgrounds, Schaghticoke, July 8
GREY FOX BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL @ Walsh Farm, Oak Hill, July 13-16
FRESHGRASS @ MASS MoCA, North Adams, September 15-17

  1. Rudy says

    I am really pumped up for this one! Always a great festival, I have attended at least one day since 2001 and attended everyday since 2006. See you at the Lake!!!

  2. Richard Brody says

    Great news on another dreary March day. It’s always a fabulous way to put a cap on summer.

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