Now that I’ve had a chance to pore over the schedule a bit, I thought I’d write something to get Jazz@Rochester’s coverage of the Rochester International Jazz Festival started. I’ve been procrastinating (what else is new…?) as I wasn’t sure how to approach coverage this year. I’m still not sure, but as of today, with the XRIJF only one month out and I have to start somewhere. So hear goes ….
On first glance during and shortly after the press conference in March, I was thinking “geez, there’s not much here that I want to hear this year,” but as I have spent some time (and some listening), I’ve revised my thinking. Festival music producer John Nugent’s oft-quoted aphorism, “it’s not who you know, it’s who you don’t know” has always worked for me. While there were few “bucket list” jazz artists appearing during the XRIJF running from June 19th to the 27th, there are a lot of artists and music that I’m going to check out. In the past, some music I still have on my version of "heavy rotation” (given that I haven’t heard many of my CDs and LPs in the past 10 years, any artist I play more than once or twice a year fits that definition) is by artists I “took a chance on” during a previous RIJF. Indeed, making sure your schedule gets you in to hear the “bucket list" artists can crowd out the opportunity for serendipitous discovery of new sounds. Fewer on the "bucket list," more opportunity....
As is typical for XRIJF, in the 2015 lineup there are a number of artists returning who have appeared in recent editions of the festival. I’ll let someone else do the math (and I’m sure someone will) as, for me, that isn’t automatically a black mark. That’s the thing with jazz and other types of music that involve improvisation—what you hear in 2013 or 2014 is unlikely to be what you’ll be hearing in 2015, even from the same artists. A change in venue or exposure to a bigger or different audience can lead to a completely distinct experience. There are some artists who appear many times who bring something fresh every time they come. If they ARE doing the same old thing over and over, then that’s another story… and I'll leave and listen to something new.
There are some new venues at XRIJF this year, which I think starts to show hints of the coming development of our hometown jazz festival and its future growth, hopefully along with a resurgent downtown Rochester. First, there is the Lyric Theatre, 440 East Ave (just east of Alexander). This former church is on the way to becoming a major arts venue across the musical spectrum, but as I understand it, XRIJF Music Director John Nugent and Festival Producer Marc Iacona will be doing programming for the venue. During this year’s XRIJF, that solo concert venue will feature one show daily from 4 to 5 pm Sunday, June 21 through Thursday, June 25. I haven’t confirmed, but I hope there will be a shuttle bus available as there has been in the past for some venues. The second new venue is a combination of two former venues in a new space. Abilene will no longer be an XRIJF venue, with its Americana music is being pulled together with the more straightup local rock/pop of the Squeezer’s stage that has recently been in a tent at the Inn On Broadway, to become the Squeezers Roots & Americana Stage at the Sibley Building, 25 Franklin Street (entrance on Main). This appears to be the beginning of moving the XRIJF footprint toward the developing Midtown area, with both Sibley and the Midtown Tower (along with other nearby properties) to be occupied in the next two years. Other venue news includes that the Harro East Ballroom Club Pass Venue will be open for two additional nights this year with two shows nightly all nine days. Additionally, the 6:00 pm shows at the Rochester Regional Health System Big Tent will be free, featuring regional big bands, with the later shows being Club Pass shows.
So, back to the music…. In the Big House (Eastman Theatre), the main jazz attractions (plural for the headliners is sometimes unusual) will of course be Steve Gadd 70th Birthday Celebration, with a “special guest” (June 26th), Diana Krall (June 19th), and if you stretch a bit, Herb Alpert & Lani Hall (June 20th).
In closing, I still don’t know how I will be covering the festival itself in these pages. Before the festival I’ll try to write some posts about some of the artists I want to see and why. Not sure whether I’ll do the day-by-day that I've done in the past, however. During the nine days of the XRIJF, as I’ve told many of you before, I have found myself more focused on being a listener, not a blogger. When I started covering this festival in 2006, there was not a lot of coverage by the mainstream media. Now it seems more like saturation coverage (at least for Rochester). Despite my little blog’s focus on jazz in Rochester, surprisingly, we don’t get a lot of traffic during the XRIJF itself as we struggle to be heard above the din of the other coverage. That’s OK! Really! I think that’s a sign of how successful the Festival is. If last year is any measure, you’ll find me on Twitter and Facebook more than on these pages. There I will be able to share things I hear and experience in real time. I will, however, be focused on the jazz at the festival (although from time to time, I reserve the right to listen to those that cross over into other "genres" since jazz is not my only passion).
Let us know what you think about the lineup and whatever else you want to discuss about the coming XRIJF in the comments below, on other posts as I publish them, or on Twitter and Facebook. I’d love to have a conversation with you … or you can talk amongst yourselves! Let others know what we're doing here so that they join in the conversation, too.