East Side jazz festivals capture Buffalo sound
Updated 9:41 AM , July 24, 2014
“Down-home blues, down-home blues,” the song goes. “All she wants to hear are those down-home blues ...”
Buffalo’s got them.
Every summer, a new feeling wafts through the air. Well, make that an old feeling. It’s the vibe of bygone juke joints like the Pine Grill, the Moonglo and the Little Harlem Hotel. It’s the honk of a beat-up saxophone, the wail of the Hammond B3. It’s a down-in-the-alley beat that can get even great-grandparents up on their feet and dancing.
“We do have a Buffalo sound,” said Walter Kemp III, who is on the board of the Colored Musicians Club and has been masterminding the Queen City Jazz Festival.
“Cats come back from New York and say, it sounds different. Chicago has a different sound. Buffalo has its own sound. It’s got a half-and-half thing. It’s a little gritty, like Detroit and Chicago, but sophisticated. It’s like the city in the middle. You get an East Coast flair with a Great Lakes blues going on.”
Three free outdoor festivals on the East Side celebrate the down-home spirit that makes Buffalo great.
The Masten District Jazz Festival, which is held on the steps of the Buffalo Museum of Science, takes place on two Sundays in July. The first was July 20; it continues on Sunday. The Masten District festival is so down-home that the information provided to The News is handwritten, and details about who is performing are completely absent. All the more reason to go, and to expect greatness.
Meanwhile, the Queen City Jazz Festival spotlights local performers from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday inside and in front of the historic Colored Musicians Club (145 Broadway) at the corner of Michigan Street. East Side jazz festival season culminates Aug. 3 and 10 with the Pine Grill Reunion, a large-scale, old-style picnic in Martin Luther King Park where the squeals of the Hammond B3 will rise to the heavens along with the smoke of barbecue grills.
Again, to find out details you have to keep your ear to the ground: No press release is offered, let alone pictures, and an attempt to call a performer’s publicist is stymied when her contact number turns out to be 123-456-7890. Hey, that’s the blues.
Here is the lowdown on the three festivals:
QUEEN CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL
The ninth annual Queen City Jazz Festival spotlights the richness and diversity of Buffalo’s musical talent, with 15 performances planned. The Colored Musicians Club dates from the days when the musicians’ union was segregated, and back in the day, it played host to impromptu jam sessions featuring the likes of Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie.
Walter Kemp III, who plays with the band Gruvology, loves the club’s spirit. He wants all Buffalonians to feel welcome to come to the club and keep the spirit alive.
“Our city’s changing,” he said. “You have a lot of folks who do a lot of traveling, they’ve lived other places, they don’t mind coming to the club.” Some locals, though, are hesitant. “You’ve got folks that stay in their pockets. They think, ‘Should I go to the club? I never went to the club.’ Now they’re thinking, ‘It’s a cool club.’ It’s called the Colored Musicians Club, but there are all races on the board.”
The club is getting a new piano shortly, Kemp added, and has farther-reaching plans to bring in national acts. Meanwhile, he takes pride in the Queen City Jazz Festival’s lineup of both up-and-comers and award-winning veterans.
The event will be held on Saturday rain or shine. For the first time, the festival features performances on two stages, with entertainment outdoors as well as upstairs inside the air-conditioned venue.
Performing on the outdoor stage will be: Saxophonist Carol McLaughlin and friends at noon; jazz pianist Michael McNeill at 12:55 p.m.; Rick Holland Productions at 1:50 p.m.; Three Kings at 2:45 p.m.; George Caldwell Quintet at 3:40 p.m.; Gruvology at 4:45 p.m.; Michael King at 5:35 p.m.; the Les Davis Quartet at 6:30 p.m.; and Critt’s Juke Joint at 7:25 p.m.
On the indoor stage will be: Anthony Re and the Flat Five at noon; pianist Ed Chilungu at 1 p.m.; Payazzo at 1:55 p.m.; Sabu Adeyola with Oasis at 2:55 p.m.; JazzWizz at 3:50 p.m.; and DMW Jazz at 5 p.m.
The festival and all concerts are free, and donations are welcome to support the festival and the not-for-profit Colored Musicians Club. Refreshments and vendors will be available. The Colored Musicians Club Museum will be open at reduced admission.
MASTEN DISTRICT JAZZ FESTIVAL
This festival continues from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Martin Luther King Jr. Park behind the Buffalo Museum of Science (1020 Humboldt Parkway). Now in its 19th year, the Masten District Jazz Festival was the brainchild of Pappy Martin, the leader of the Pappy Martin Love Supreme Jazz Orchestra and member of the great family of jazz that also included the late saxophonist John “Spider” Martin.
Four acts make up Sunday’s lineup.
The first is Alassane Sarr. Griots, who could be defined as storyteller/musicians, are important figures in the culture of Senegal, in West Africa. Sarr is a fourth-generation Griot from Dakar, Senegal. He performed with Les Ballet Africains and Silimbo Dance Company, where he was principal dancer, before immigrating to the U.S. He now lives in Buffalo.
Sarr will be followed by Delvin Payton and the Lyfe Band, who have been featured at funk fests around the country.
Pappy Martin and the Love Supreme are on stage next, taking the audience back to the festival’s roots. The finale is a performance by Curtis Lundy of New York. Lundy is a bassist of time-honored jazz tradition. He has performed with artists including Art Blakey, Johnny Griffin, Freddy Hubbard and Clark Terry, and he also performed with the late singer Betty Carter along with drummer Kenny Washington and pianist John Hicks.
PINE GRILL REUNION
This annual picnic, one of Buffalo’s best traditions, takes place at 4 p.m. Aug. 3 and 10 in Martin Luther King Park. The event is impossible to miss. Take Best Street to the wading pool area of the park, and you will see the tents and the crowds. The Pine Grill, the long-gone club on Jefferson Avenue that the free concert memorializes, used to specialize in Hammond B3 vibe, and every year, the Pine Grill Reunion pays tribute to that sound. Also according to tradition, the first Sunday brings in national acts, while the second Sunday features homegrown performers.
Dr. Lonnie Smith, a Lackawanna native and a recognized kingpin of the Hammond B3, leads the lineup on Aug. 3. Three other intriguing acts also are on the bill. Niki Haris – she spells her last name differently from her dad, the late jazz pianist Gene Harris – has worked with Ani DiFranco but is a legend in rock circles as a longtime backup singer for Madonna. (One participant wrote on a Madonna fan page: “I miss the interaction between her and Madonna. Two intense, diva personalities that somehow just ... worked.”) This is a return engagement for Haris, who was a hit at the Pine Grill Reunion a few years ago. For the record, her website is the one that gives the contact number of 123-456-7890.
Making their debut at the Pine Grill Reunion this year will be Saltman Knowles, a contemporary West Coast jazz group featuring bassist Mark Saltman and pianist William Knowles. And finally, the festival features the Danny Mixon Quartet. Mixon, a jazz pianist who is the head of the Lenox Lounge in Harlem, has worked with such musicians as Charles Mingus, Joe Williams, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Grant Green and Frank Foster (who spent considerable time in Buffalo).
The lineup for Aug. 10, according to the African-American Cultural Center, had not been finalized.
But one thing is certain: It will be down-home.