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The Ninth Annual Monty Alexander Jazz Festival
By Becca Newell
Jazz enthusiasts rejoice! The energetic, ever-swingin’ Monty Alexander returns to Easton this Labor Day weekend for his eponymous festival, featuring an exciting lineup that boasts some—if not the—best jazz musicians in the country.
The Ninth Annual Monty Alexander Jazz Festival will be held Friday, August 31st to Sunday, September 2nd, at the Avalon Theatre.
The festival kicks off Friday with a favorite, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, who the NY Times calls a “trumpeter of abundant poise”. His most recent Avalon appearance was last November in the theatrical music experience, Modern Warrior Live. The masterpiece wonderfully demonstrated Farinacci’s versatile horn stylings and mix of international rhythms, as well as his mastery of composition and knack for re-imagining familiar songs.
Joining Farinacci is his Modern Warrior Live co-star Shenel Johns. With powerful, yet graceful vocals, Johns is known for her distinctive, eclectic style that sways effortlessly from jazz to R&B to gospel. The duo’s performance, aptly named “Lady Sings the Blues,” will celebrate the music of Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.
Saturday’s packed program begins with a community concert—a free performance that was originally established to provide an introduction to jazz, familiarizing concert-goers with the incredibly diverse and somewhat misunderstood genre.
This year, the stage will welcome a young musician hastily making a name for himself in the jazz world, pianist Matthew Whitaker. Blind since birth, the 17-year-old was recently named one of seven rising stars for 2018 by USA Today network’s 201 Magazine. Adding to the long list of accolades, Whitaker’s debut album Outta the Box, which was released last year, was named “one of the best debut albums of 2017” by New York City Jazz Record. This show starts at 11 a.m.
Saturday’s matinee show highlights an extraordinary range of American and Brazilian musicians, featuring tenor/alto saxophonist Harry Allen. With more than thirty recordings to his name, Allen has been called the “Frank Sinatra of the tenor Saxophone,” renowned for his inventive tone that’s rooted in tradition.
It’s only appropriate, then, that his 2 p.m. performance be a salute to Stan Getz and the Getz/Gilberto collaboration with Antonino Carlos Jobim, which resulted in an album by the same name—it’s the first jazz album to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album’s single “The Girl from Ipanema” won the Record of the Year.
Later that evening, Monty Alexander takes the stage. Considered one of the top five jazz pianists ever, Alexander’s musical expression combines elements of the blues, gospel, calypso, and reggae. Known for his vibrant personality, magnetic charisma, and breathtaking talent, Alexander’s performance is not to be missed.
Unsurprisingly, tickets for this show continue to sell out faster each year, so heed this warning if you want to see this dynamo in action—and believe us, you do.
Wrapping up the festival weekend on Sunday is Brianna Thomas, whose soulful voice is often likened to Mahalia Jackson—a comparison only accomplished by the most gifted singers. The performance will blend two genres, jazz and gospel—a rather fitting theme for a Sunday afternoon.
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