It’s the annual BeanTown Jazz Festival—a weekend of live jazz uniting some of the best and brightest artists from Boston and around the world in a celebration of that uniquely American musical genre. Now produced by Boston’s own breeding ground for gifted musicians—Berklee College of Music—the eighth installment of the popular concert takes over Boston’s South End September 27–29.
“Darryl Settles [owner of soul food eatery Bob’s Southern Bistro and the Beehive, both in the South End] started this concert, really, as a way to thank his regulars,” says Larry Simpson, Berklee senior vice president for academic affairs and executive director of BeanTown Jazz Festival. “It was a small event on Columbus Avenue that grew and grew. And I think he got to the point where he had too many other business obligations to be the one-man manager of a show that was attracting 40,000 people.”
Which, Simpson says, is when Berklee stepped in. A longtime supporter of the Festival and a supplier of both local artists for the show and connections to bigger-name national performers, the institution seemed a logical fit to take on greater responsibility for Beantown Jazz Festival. In 2006, the school became the concert’s producers, and is presenting this year’s event with help from sponsors Sovereign Bank and Target.
This year, in addition to the free Saturday festival, Berklee is presenting a Friday evening prelude that represents a true dream gig for just about any fan of jazz music. In coordination with George Wein (founder of the legendary Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I.), Berklee is hosting, at Symphony Hall, A Celebration of Jazz and Joyce, a concert to establish the Joyce Alexander Wein Scholarship Fund. This much-anticipated show unites jazz legends like Roy Haynes, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Jon Faddis, Joe Lovano, Lizz Wright, Regina Carter, Kenny Werner and many more together for an all-star jazz jam the likes of which has rarely been seen here in the Hub.
“The show came about through conversations between George and our president, Roger Brown, to try and develop an event that would establish Berklee scholarships in the name of George’s late wife, Joyce,” says Simpson. “Essentially, George just started calling his friends, and we’re thrilled so many of them said they’d love to take part. This kind of lineup is pretty much unprecedented, and we’re tremendously excited about it.”
The main event comes Saturday, with the daylong BeanTown Jazz Festival itself—a free event, taking place from noon–6 p.m., on three stages spaced out over six blocks on Columbus and Massachusetts avenues. The concert features a diverse mix of national acts—including trumpeter Sean Jones and his quintet, vibraphone master Bobby Hutcherson and guitarist Mike Stern and his band—and local talents such as the New England Conservatory Jazz Composers Ensemble, The Berklee Rainbow Band and Cape Cod-based world/jazz fusionists Entrain.
“It’s always been a purpose of the Festival to showcase a wide range of musical styles—everything from traditional jazz to Latin to African-influenced,” says Simpson, “and I certainly feel we’ve achieved that again with this year’s lineup.”
Hutcherson—a San Francisco musician traveling cross-country to perform at the BeanTown—is a newcomer to the event, but not to Boston, a town he says boasts some of the nation’s best audiences for jazz. “I’ve played the Regattabar [in Cambridge] quite a few times, and I’ve always found the crowds to be very knowledgeable about jazz. They know their history, and they have a great sense of humor and a way of really connecting with a performer, to become part of the show. So, I’m looking forward to that.”
Realizing that his audience will likely be a diverse one—full of jazz aficionados and novices alike—Hutcherson compares his anticipated setlist to a blushing bride. “We’re going to have something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue,” he laughs. “I’ll be doing my own original compositions, along with probably some pieces by Nat King Cole, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington.”
And with the jazz side more than covered, Simpson points out that the producers of the show haven’t forgotten the “festival” aspect, either. In addition to all the fantastic music filling the streets of the South End, the neighborhood will also be bursting with vendors selling arts and crafts, and food from area restaurants like Bob’s Southern Bistro, Bukara, Jake’s Boss BBQ and Thai Hut. And for the younger crowd, the Target Family Park will boast activities for kids like face painting, temporary tattoos, rides and an instrument petting zoo.
“We really expect a diverse crowd for the
festival,” says Simpson, pointing out that
last year’s affair drew close to 55,000
people,“and I really do believe we offer
something for everybody.”
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