FEST: Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival Announces Line-Up of Bands

Chris Botti
Chris Botti

Photographs by Timothy Raab, Rudy Lu

The 2018 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival once again features a dynamic roster of artists, ranging from jazz luminaries Herbie Hancock, Gregory Porter, Joey Alexander, Jon Batiste and Chris Botti to gospel and R&B legend Mavis Staples, all of whom will be headliners at this year’s fest.

And let’s not forget the array of up-and-coming artists making their Spa City debuts – José James, Lakecia Benjamin & SoulSquad, Scott Sharrard & the Brickyard Band, Jazzmeia Horn, Keyon Harrold and more.

In addition, the fest will be highlighted by a number of unique collaborations, including the all-star TEN Trio, the threesome of Mark Whitfield, Ben Allison & Billy Drummond; the Latin Jazz duo of Alfredo Rodriguez & Pedrito Martinez; and New Orleans @ 300 featuring the Big Easy band of Evan Christopher, Quiana Lynell, David Torkanowsky, Roland Guerin and Shannon Powell.

Slated for Saturday & Sunday, June 23 & 24 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, performances will – for the first time – begin at 11am rather than 12noon on the new Charles R. Wood Jazz Discovery Stage, formerly known as the Gazebo Stage. And in another scheduling change, the amphitheater performances, which had previous begun at 12noon, won’t start until 3pm.

SPAC also announced the addition of Saratoga Jazz Fest Friday, a new expansion of the fest which will bring together a variety of local musicians performing in Spa City venues to showcase Greater Nippertown’s rich array of jazz talent. The Friday schedule of bands and venues is TBA.

Tickets go on sale to the general public at 10am on Thursday, March 1, ranging from $65-105 for a single-day ticket to $110-190 for all-fest, two-day tickets. Children ages 15 & under can purchase $20 amphitheater tickets at the gate, and also are admitted free on the lawn.




10am: TODD BARKAN: The 2018 NEA Jazz Master recipient Todd Barkan hosts live DJ session featuring classic jazz hits til 1:30pm.

3pm: THE ANAT COHEN TENTET: Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen is renowned for her expressive virtuosity and delightful stage presence. The Jazz Journalists Association voted Anat as Clarinetist of the Year nine years in a row, and she has topped both the Critics and Readers Polls in the clarinet category in DownBeat magazine every year since 2011. She was also named Rising Star in the soprano and tenor saxophone categories in DownBeat, as well as for Jazz Artist of the Year. Anat’s Tentet release, Happy Song, draws inspiration from Brazilian music to African grooves, from vintage swing to touching ballads and features arrangements by both Anat and Oded Lev-Ari, the band’s music director.

4:30pm: JOEY ALEXANDER: Returning for his second Saratoga Jazz Festival appearance, 14-year-old Indonesian jazz pianist, developing contemporary bandleader and promising composer, Joey Alexander, only recently came onto the scene, having made his US debut in 2014. Since then, Joey has performed at the prestigious Montreal and Newport Jazz Festivals and performed for such jazz legends as Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis. He has released two studio albums and garnered three Grammy nominations, making him the youngest jazz artist ever nominated for a Grammy. His latest album is Joey. Monk. Live!.

6:05pm: JOSE JAMES: Celebrating the 80th birth year of the legendary R&B singer-songwriter, Blue Note recording artist José James presents “Lean On Me: José James celebrates Bill Withers.” Vetted personally by Mr. Withers himself, the show is an exploration of the deep musical catalog that touched millions of hearts and united communities worldwide. Featuring Withers’ Top 10 hits, as well as his soul ballads and rare grooves, James brings both a deep musical appreciation and a contemporary approach to songs such as “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Hope She’ll Be Happier” and “Just the Two of Us.” Fittingly, James has assembled a truly all-star cast of musicians: Nate Smith on drums, Ben Williams on bass, Sullivan Fortner on keys and Brad Allen Williams on guitar.

7:45pm: HERBIE HANCOCK: Herbie Hancock will make his return to SPAC for his 12th appearance and first in 12 years. A legendary pianist and composer, Hancock received an Academy Award for his “Round Midnight” score and 14 Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. He currently serves as Creative Chair for Jazz for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and as Institute Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. He received a Kennedy Center Honors Award in 2013 and a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2016.

9:30pm: CHRIS BOTTI: A master musician and charismatic performer, trumpeter Chris Botti is the best selling American jazz instrumental artist, with nearly three million albums sold worldwide. His success has crossed over to audiences usually reserved for pop music and his ongoing association with PBS-TV has led to four No. 1 jazz albums, several gold and platinum albums and multiple Grammy Awards. This will be his fifth appearance at the festival.


11:05am: THE ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ & PEDRITO MARTINEZ DUO: Grammy nominated pianist Alfredo Rodríguez, reflects the talents of such legends as Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum. Schooled in the rigorous classical conservatories of Havana, Rodríguez’s artistry is informed as much by Bach and Stravinsky as it is by his Cuban and jazz roots. Pedrito Martinez is a founding member of the highly successful, Afro-Cuban band, Yerba Buena, and was awarded the Thelonious Monk Award for Afro-Latin Hand Percussion. He has recorded or performed with Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Paquito D’Rivera, Bruce Springsteen and Sting and has contributed to over 50 albums.

12:30pm: NEW ORLEANS @ 300: Celebrating the Crescent City’s tricentennial, the all-star band brings the musical heritage of the Big Easy to Saratoga, led by acclaimed clarinetist Evan Christopher. Also featuring Quiana Lynell, David Torkanowsky, Roland Guerin and Shannon Powell.

1:55pm: THE CHRISTIAN SANDS TRIO: The pianist and five-time Grammy nominee draws influence from a diverse range of styles, from Afro-Cuban rhythms to hip-hop beats and dirty blues. Also featuring bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Jonathan Barber.

3:20pm: JAZZMEIA HORN: Hailing from Dallas, Jazzmeia Horn is a rising star in New York, where she’s received a litany of accolades and performed at legendary venues such as The Apollo and The Metropolitan Room, to name a few. Shortly after winning the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition and being featured as one of the stars in South Australia’s Generations in Jazz 2017, she released her debut album, A Social Call, which ranked No. 1 in the JazzWeek year-end jazz chart for 2017, and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

4:45pm: KEYON HARROLD: Raised in Ferguson, Missouri, the trumpeter has developed a reputation as one of the world’s most sought-after young horn players. Making his festival debut, Keyon has been featured on nearly 100 albums ranging from gospel to hip-hop, and has toured, recorded with or produced Big Krit, Erykah Badu, Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

6:10pm: LAKECIA BENJAMIN & SOULSQUAD: Charismatic and dynamic saxophonist-bandleader Lakecia Benjamin has become one of the most highly sought-after players in soul and funk music. Known for her electric stage presence and fiery sax work, Benjamin has shared stages with Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots, Macy Gray and many others. A native of New York City, she currently is a featured musician for Gregory Porter, as well as a featured musician and arranger for comedy star Craig Robinson & the Nasty Delicious.

Jane Bunnett (photo: Jon Flanders)
Jane Bunnett (photo: Rudy Lu)



10am: TODD BARKAN: The 2018 NEA Jazz Master recipient Todd Barkan hosts live DJ session featuring classic jazz hits til 1:30pm.

3pm: THE TEN TRIO: The all-star threesome features Terri Lyne Carrington, Grammy Award-winning drummer, composer and bandleader; Esperanza Spalding, Grammy Award-winning composer, vocalist and bassist; and Nicholas Payton, Grammy Award-winning trumpeter, pianist and composer.

4:35pm: MAVIS STAPLES: Making her festival debut, the soul and gospel icon has inspired artists and audiences alike for nearly 70 years. The two-time Grammy Award winner has worked with greats such as Prince, The Gorillaz, George Clinton, Van Morrison, Ry Cooder and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who has produced three albums for her, including her latest, If All I Was Was Black. She’s accumulated a Kennedy Center Honor, the First Amendment Center/AMA “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award and the NEA’s National Heritage Fellowship and numerous other honors.

6:10pm: GREGORY PORTER: The critically acclaimed, jazz singer-songwriter will be returning to the festival on the heels his knock-out concert at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall last Friday (February 16). Porter’s latest album Nat “King” Cole & Me is his highest charting success yet, following his Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album for his previous two albums, Liquid Spirit and Take Me to the Alley.

8pm: JON BATISTE WITH THE DAP KINGS: The celebrated musician, educator, bandleader and television personality is acclaimed for his originality, jaw-dropping talent and dapper sense of style. The Forbes “30 under 30” honoree balances a demanding performance schedule with his role as bandleader for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Artistic Director at Large of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, public speaking engagements, master classes and occasional acting gigs, as well as his signature impromptu ‘love riot’ street parades. The Dap-Kings recently joined forces with Jon Batiste after years of performing with the late, soul great Sharon Jones. The soulful, retro sound of The Kings was also the centerpiece of Amy Winehouse’s album Back to Black.


11:05am: SAMMY MILLER & THE CONGREGATION: Los Angeles native and Grammy nominee Sammy Miller has become known for his skills as a bandleader, drummer and singer. After completing his masters at Julliard, he formed his ensemble, The Congregation, whose members have worked with artists ranging from Wynton Marsalis to Lady Gaga to Queen Latifah.

12:25pm: MARK WHITFIELD, BEN ALLISON & BILLY DRUMMOND: The all-star trio features guitarist Mark Whitfield (with 14 solo albums and collaborative efforts with the like of Sting, Steven Tyler, D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, John Mayer, Chaka Khan, Jill Scott, Diana Krall, Christian McBride, Chris Botti, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton and more), veteran bassist/composer Ben Allison (who has developed an instantly identifiable sound, solidifying his reputation as one of the leading voices of his generation) and drummer and super sideman Billy Drummond with more than 300 credits to his discography). The threesome will feature music from their debut album, Live and Uncut on Chesky Records.

1:50pm: THE JAZZ PASSENGERS: The playful, colorful combo celebrates their 30th anniversary, playing a fusion of post-bop and musical comedy, once described as a “perverse mainstream … hard-bop group as imagined by Frank Zappa” by The Boston Globe. Throughout their career, the band collaborated with such vocalists as Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry, Jeff Buckley, Jimmy Scott, Bob Dorough and Mavis Staples.

3:15pm: DEVA MAHAL: The daughter of blues great Taj Mahal, the genre-defying artist, powerhouse vocalist and astute songwriter gained acclaim with the Grammy nominated album Maestro. She’s also collaborated with such diverse artists as TV on the Radio and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.

4:45pm: JANE BUNNETT & MAQUEQUE: Back for their second consecutive year, the internationally renowned saxophonist-pianist and five-time Juno Award winner leads her all-female sextet, featuring the rhythms and culture of Cuba and lush, inventive vocals from their latest release, Oddara.

6:15pm: SCOTT SHARRAD & THE BRICKYARD BAND: As the musical director for the Gregg Allman Band, Sharrard has been praised for his prolific songwriting, as well as his talent as a singer and guitarist. The late Gregg Allman said, “I know all about guitar players. I’ve seen the very best – and Scott Sharrard is the perfect guitarist for my band. He understands that you don’t need to play just for the sake of playing; Scott isn’t one of those guys who thinks they get paid by the note. He never steps on the vocals, and he leaves plenty of room for everyone else to do their thing, but when it’s time to solo, Scott delivers, boy.”

A TASTE OF COUNTRY MUSIC FESTIVAL @ Hunter Mountain, Hunter, June 8-10
MOUNTAIN JAM @ Hunter Mountain, Hunter, June 15-17
CLEARWATER’S GREAT HUDSON RIVER REVIVAL @ Croton Point Park, Croton-on-Hudson, June 16 & 17
OLD SONGS FESTIVAL OF TRADITIONAL MUSIC & DANCE, Altamont Fairgrounds, Altamont, June 22-24
FREIHOFER’S SARATOGA JAZZ FESTIVAL @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, June 23 & 24
COUNTRYFEST @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, July 7
GREY FOX BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL @ Walsh Farm, Oak Hill, July 19-22

1 Comment
  1. J Hunter says

    Stick with the Discovery Stage, both days. Bring sunblock and fluids.

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