Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival Returns, In Two-Stage Format

Last June before the much reduced Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, producer Danny Melnick promised: “a great blow-out” for this year’s edition. Also last year, SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol acknowledged, “This is not the Jazz Festival you’re used to.”

The 2020 festival was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 festival was reduced to a single stage and only a handful of acts each of the two days.

Garland Nelson (Photo by Jim Gilbert)

This June 25 and 26, the year’s biggest outdoor jazz blow-out returns in the two-stage format we’re used to, full-force, and big-time. In its 45th edition and 25th with Freihofer’s as title sponsor, the festival features 24 acts ranging from big bands – the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the Skidmore Jazz Institute Faculty All-Stars paying tribute to festival founder George Wein, and the all-star Latin-jazz crew Con Tumbao – to more compact outfits such as trios led by Connie Han and Dan Wilson.

Stylistically, this June’s festival flexes its full familiar range from straight-ahead jazz offerings likely to please purists to pop and hybrid acts with broader appeal.

Maybe the most crowd-pleasing mainstream of these popular acts is Booker T. Presents: A Stax Revue, closing the show Saturday on the Amphitheater stage.

Booker T Jones (Photo provided)

Since scoring a huge hit with Booker T and the M.G.s “Green Onions” (1962) on Memphis’s Stax Records while still in high school, Booker T. Jones has explored and collaborated in all directions. As the Stax studio band, he and the M.G.s backed Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Bill Withers, John Lee Hooker, and other blues and R&B giants. Chiefly playing organ and often serving as arranger and producer, he’s recorded and toured with Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Levon Helm, Rosanne Cash, Rod Stewart, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Elton John, the Drive-By Truckers, members of the Roots and many others. In addition to four Grammys, he earned a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and induction in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Musicians Hall of Fame.

Evading the music industry border patrol, keyboardist Robert Glasper spans straight-ahead jazz to hip-hop. Another intriguing band guaranteed to surprise is Brooklyn’s Red Baraat, welding North Indian rhythms and chants to contemporary jazz, hip-hop, and punk rock, then making the whole thing dance. Singer Kurt Elling, last seen here with Branford Marsalis at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, teams up with eight-string guitar/bassist Charlie Hunter. The new Ozmosys Band team’s top drummer Omar Hakim with fiery organist Rachel Z. The Amina Figarova Sextet adds strings. Drummer Matt Wilson’s new Honey & Salt band features hot newcomers.

Wynton Marsalis (Photo provided)

Numerous women-fronted bands will perform, including the powerful pianist Eliane Elias, guitarist Carolyn Wonderland, and singers Emmaline, and Ledisi – who also sings August 3 with the Philadelphia Orchestra in a Nina Simone tribute.

New Orleans will be in the house, with Big Easy funky-rock favorites Galactic featuring singer Anjelica Jelly Joseph and the very fun feathered-and-beaded Mardi Gras Indians style Cha Wa.

The festival also welcomes back area favorites who starred in last year’s single-stage event: the gypsy jazz Hot Club of Saratoga, and the Gospel-inspired Garland Nelson’s Joyful Noise. Both will appear on the Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery Stage,” a much-expanded and improved venue that succeeds the former Gazebo Stage on the lawn.

Back in action, the Discovery Stage will reclaim its reputation as the showcase for intriguing breakthrough acts – heavy on artists making their SPAC debuts.

“The 2022 Festival promises to be a memorable one in so many ways,” said SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol in a prepared release. “Not only thanks to a stellar and varied line-up, but also to the sheer joy of being back to full scale.”

Of the festival’s variety, producer Danny Melnick said, also in SPAC’s release, “My mentor and the festival founder, George Wein, always focused on producing events for everyone and that’s exactly what we’ve done for our big return…Our 45th festival features award-winning musical legends, unique all-star collaborations, cutting-edge bands, and many popular rising stars.”
Also returning: a tented arts and crafts bazaar, artist meet-and-greet CD signings, food and drink offerings in an expanded concession area, also tented. While the 2021 festival barred blankets and tents and located lawn patrons in distanced numbered islands, these comfort items will be admitted this year. Parking is free.

Tempo Libre (Photo provided)

As listed in SPAC’s release, but subject to change, here are the line-ups. Performers are typically listed in reverse chronological order. Saturday, June 25, for example, Hot Club of Saratoga will likely play first, to open, while Booker T. Presents: A Stax Revue will likely play last. SPAC premieres are marked*. While some groups marked as premieres include performers who’ve appeared in past festivals, the groups themselves are new.

Performances begin each day on the Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery” Stage at 11 a.m. and the Amphitheater Stage at 12 p.m., and generally are staggered to allow fans to sample all the artists performing.

Saturday, June 25
Amphitheater:
Booker T. Presents: A Stax Revue*
Robert Glasper
Galactic featuring Anjelika Jelly Joseph*
Con Tumbao* featuring Issac Delgado, Robby Ameen, Oscar Hernandez, Conrad Herwig, Pedrito Martinez, Juan Munguia, Alain Pérez, Mike Rodriguez, Tony Succar & Miguel Zenon
Ozmosys Band featuring Omar Hakim & Rachel Z
Amina Figarova Sextet plus Strings*
Hot Club of Saratoga

Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery” Stage:
Red Baraat*
Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt with Dawn Thomson, Nadje Noordhuis, Jeff Lederer & Martin Wind
Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith*
Connie Han Trio*
Emmaline*
Dan Wilson Trio*

Ledisi (Photo provided)

Sunday, June 26
Amphitheater:
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Ledisi*
SuperBlue: Kurt Elling featuring Charlie Hunter
Eliane Elias
Matthew Whitaker*
Garland Nelson’s Joyful Noise

Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery” Stage:
Cha Wa
Tiempo Libre*
Carolyn Wonderland*
Ryan Keberle & Catharsis*
Skidmore Jazz Institute Faculty All-Stars celebrate George Wein* featuring Mike Rodriguez, Steve Davis, Jimmy Greene, Bill Cunliffe, Dave Stryker, Todd Coolman & Dennis Mackrel

George Wein founded the jazz festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in 1978, presenting the two-day event with various named sponsors including Kool. Wein also founded the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival and helped found the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Tickets go on sale on March 7 to SPAC members and March 16 to the general public. Tickets start at $65 per day. Two-day passes are also available for a savings of $10 per ticket; this discount ends May 1. Children under 12 and students with school IDs: $20 for amphitheater seats. Lawn seats are free for children 12 and younger.

The Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival is co-presented by SPAC and Absolutely Live Entertainment, LLC.

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