The 3rd annual Sunset Jazz Festival–held in Atlanta, GA–did once again raise the bar. I’ve attended the jazz festival all three years, and I’m always enamored by the line-up and even more so by their performances. Tucked beautifully away and where all the magic happens is Chastain Park. It is by far one of the best outdoor venues I’ve seen. The list of performers this year included chart-topping, Grammy-award-winning artists. Jonathan Butler, who recently released “Living My Dream,” shared the stage with Norman Brown and Alex Bugnon also know as the Summer Love Tour. They were followed by the lady of the evening, Grammy winner Dianne Reeves. She too recently released a new album titled “Beautiful Life.” As the sun faded and night fell over the park, Brian Culbertson lit up the stage with an electrifying performance that had everyone on their feet. Culbertson’s latest album, “Another Long Night Out,” is quite indicative of how an evening at the Sunset Jazz Festival feels–a long night out and certainly a night to remember. Headlining for the evening was the man with a sax that everyone loves: Boney James. Boney delivered everything and more of what his fans love.
The producer of the Sunset Jazz Festival–amongst other titles–Kyle Newport has created an event that is not to be missed. Each year, he exceeds expectations and brings forth a show that is unlike any other. With so many choices for jazz lovers to choose from, no matter where you’re from, the Sunset Jazz Festival is one you don’t want to miss.
The year of 2014 is off to a great start for Eric Essix. He is enjoying a multitude of success from his latest release “Evolution” and planning an event with a purpose. The Eric Essix Jazz Escape will be held in Birmingham, Alabama on August 29-31 this year. This will be the first year of the Escape that Essix plans to have annually–very appropriately named an Escape versus a festival because that is what Eric intends the experience to feel like. The Jazz Escape will be held at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa. The line-up for the three day event will include Brian Culbertson, Rick Braun, and Essix’s own band just to name a few. All the proceeds from the Jazz Escape will go directly to Eric’s non-profit foundation, The Eric Essix Foundation for the Arts and Education.
Eric talks with me about his vision and plans for Jazz Escape.
The John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival in High Point, NC was a wonderful way to spend part of the Labor Day weekend. The festival was jumpstarted by the Coltrane Youth Workshop, followed by The Coltrane All-Star Band. Next up was acclaimed trumpeter, Christian Scott. His performance displayed just how talented a musician he is. He and his band were fantastic. It was about that time when the skies opened up, followed by a brief storm. Although the storm caused a delay in the performances, it also made the temperature about 15 degrees cooler. It was the perfect formula for a beautiful evening, and as the rain stopped, the crowd once again filled the park. Before the show continued, some very talented winners who attended the Coltrane Institute of Jazz and wrote essays were awarded instruments so that they could continue their musical endeavors.
The rain had ceased, and the park was full again as Music Maker Revue came to the stage and showed us how Blues is done in Louisiana. Afterwards, the stage was set for Summer Horns comprised of Dave Koz, Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair, and Richard Elliot. They came out to a huge round of applause and an audience that endured a storm to see them perform. They opened with “Serpentine Fire,” grooving in harmony with the crowd on their feet. The four were playful and entertaining during their thrilling performance. They did amazing covers of Sly and The Family Stone’s “Hot Fun In The Summertime” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” The foursome ended their performance with a medley of old funky tunes and a standing ovation. Last and most certainly not least, the most anticipated artist of the night, the legendary Al Jarreau, made his way to the stage. Without making a sound, he had the crowd on their feet and clapping for him. With cameras flashing and roaring applause, Al greeted the crowd. He sang songs of old and shared a couple of his new ones. As I sat mesmerized and elated, my body never stopped swaying and moving to the sound of his voice. Al and his band of fine musicians were absolutely incredible. It’s a night that I will always remember and treasure. Afterall, I had been graced with a performance by the legendary Al Jarreau.
Al and I
Braxton and Christian Scott
Music Maker Revue
Summer Horns…Gerald Albright, Dave Koz, Mindi Abair, Richard Elliott
June 21st at the Time Warner Cable Uptown Ampitheatre the line-up for a night a smooth jazz was stellar. The sky was blue and sun was bright. Local group 5th and York kicked the show off. Peter White and Euge Groove took to the stage and grooved us into the sunset. Peter played a couple of his songs as Euge grooved with him. Then the “House of Groove”, Euge that is, played his saxophone and drew the crowd in with hand clapping high energy. Peter and Euge complimented one another extremely well. Their chemistry was outstanding. They sent the crowd into a “chillaxin” mood perfectly indicative of the sun setting overhead. Night fell, darkness filled the sky, and the Charlotte sky line was beautifully lit up as Brian Culbertson graced the stage. He did so in classic Brian Culbertson style. He jammed with his new band from start to finish. His incredible vocalists Selina Albright and Jason Morales showed off their skills with duet’s and solo’s. WHEW!! The sound coming form the speakers kept the energy high and the crowd grooving. He slowed us down with “It’s On Tonight.” Then the unexpected as well as my favorite moment of the night happened. He took us down memory lane in Brian style and performed “Secret Garden.” It was for me the highlight of his show. He took his time and played his keyboard with pure passion.
June 22nd, night 2 under the sun, the moon, and the stars was jumpstarted by Gregg Karukas. He started the show off nice and easy. He opened with “Wild Wood” from his latest CD. Vincent Ingala joined him on stage and accompanied him on a few songs. Gregg’s working on his 12th CD. He played a few of the songs and asked the crowd to help him come up with a title. Guests were able to write down their suggestions and give them to him during the meet and greet session. That was pretty cool. Marion Meadows, Paul Taylor, and Vincent Ingala came to the stage playing 3 saxophones and heated things up a bit. They each shared music from their individual projects, and of course they jammed as a trio. Joe McBride wooed the crowd with his amazing vocals while playing the keyboard. During which, Vincent put his saxophone down and picked up a guitar and started playing. The entire band was electrifying and energizing. Ending the evening for us was Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum, and Rick Braun aka as BWB. What a combination they are. They grooved, they sang, and engaged the crowd from start to finish. Each artist played individually taking us down memory lane with some of their songs. When they began to play songs from their new release “Human Nature”, all everyone could do is sing along. That was quite amazing being that it was a couple of days away from the 4 year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. What a beautiful tribute to an unforgettable legend.