LIVE: Friehofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival Day 2 – 6/30/2019
The second day of Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz festival began with overcast skies, but spirits were high in anticipation of the 12 bands lined up for the day.
On the gazebo stage, Kansas Smitty’s House Band brightened the morning. The band featured a Skidmore Jazz institute alumni, Giacomo Smith (alto), who was their emcee. The versatile band did a music history set that featured Jelly Roll Morton’s Le Pearl, Dreamland and their opening piece was a dirty blues that would not be out of place at a 1930 New Orleans House of ill repute. The 7 piece band featured an alto, tenor, trumpet, piano, guitar and rhythm section. Their decades spanning set also included a nod to Miles Davis, and Take Me Home, a song that mentioned Saratoga Springs in the lyrics.
The Amphitheater opened with the Shaker High School Jazz Band, and as on Saturday with Saratoga Springs High School’s jazz band, they were playing Chick Corea’s Spain. Unlike Saturday, though, the band was smaller, with band leader mentioning that two of the members had graduated the day before.
Joel Harrison’s Angel Band was up next at the Gazebo, which included 2 ringers from the Mercy Project that had performed Saturday: drummer Brian Blade and pianist Jon Cowherd. Harrison was the singer and guitarist, along with Kahlil Shaw on alto sax and an electric bassist. The band explored the merging of Country & Appalachian music with Jazz improvisation, and it worked on a number of levels. Whether performing Cash’s Ring of Fire or Jimmy Webb’s Wichita Linesman as an instrumental, the ensemble had great range.
By 1 pm, the free Stewart’s ice cream & Freihofer’s cookies were over & Joey DeFrancesco Trio was taking the big stage, adding to the most Hammond B 3’s I’ve ever seen in a two day period. Troy Roberts was the saxophonist (and played bass when Joey picked up his sax), and the great Billy Hart manned the drums. At age 79, Hart had no signs of slowing. Awake & Blissed was a highlight of the set from his most recent CD.
The Charles R. Wood Jazz Discovery Stage, or the gazebo, was truly a discovery as Youn Sun Nah was singing in a unique and different way than heard elsewhere at the festival. The South Korean, in her late 40s, has released 10 CDs in the last 8 years. A bassist and a pianist who also played guitar backed Youn, but the light instrumentation was just right to accent the amazing vocalist’s abilities.
The Django Festival All-Stars were next up on the big stage, celebrating the great Django Reinhardt, the Belgian/French Gypsy guitarist who died in 1953, but whose influence is still felt. The core band featured acoustic guitar, accordion stand up bass, violin and a second acoustic guitar. Two special guests were brought on late in the set: harpist Edmar Castaneda and alto saxophonist Grace Kelly, a prodigy who released her first cd when 12. Now at age 27, she can swing like its been her lifetime work. Castaneda has wowed in the area before at Lake George’s September Jazz fest, and more recently at Proctor’s Too, when Mona Golub brought him for her Passport series. Ludovic Beier was sensational on accordion, as was violinist Pierre Blanchard and guitarist Dorado Schmitt. Django’s main partner in crime was violinist Stephane Grappelli, who lived until 1997.
Norah Jones another day would have been the headliner, but Trombone Shorty’s energy would have made it anti-climactic. Jones, the daughter of Ravi Shankar, has a gorgeous voice. Her piano playing is transcendent, even when it’s laid back. She’s charismatic with her stage presence radiating calm. Jones’ 75-minute set included “Don’t Know Why,” which is actually a Jesse Harris cover that she made her own, and her own very famous “Come Away With Me.”
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue know how to party, and were a perfect end to a fabulous day, stealing the entire show. The Crescent City child prodigy (Troy Andrews) was in brass bands as a teen, and at 19 was touring with Lenny Kravitz. Now at 33, he’s been exciting audiences as a bandleader. He has released over 10 cd’s since 2002, most recently 2017’s Parking Lot Symphony, his first on Blue Note. He was joined by a tenor & baritone saxes, guitar, two women singers & a rhythm section, but his secret weapon is the musician’s boundless energy that is highly contagious. The band is in constant motion, but the performers hit the solos with precision. Whether party anthems or more serious songs of social commentary, this is a band that needs to be seen and heard live.