Blues and Jazz Fest 2015
The schedule for Erie Art Museum's Blues and Jazz Fest is packed and loaded, and ready to jazz.
BLUES — SATURDAY, AUGUST 1
Noon // M4 and the Rock School
The Skinny: On a day that will feature several old-school artists, young up-and-comers M4 and the Rock School will kick off Blues and Jazz Festival with a performance starting at noon on Saturday.
On Radars Because: The Rock School at World of Music has been a hotbed for young artists since the program started in 2009. More than 50 acts have had a chance to develop under the tutelage of local rocker and program founder Ryan Krysiak, including Saturday's opening act M4. The teenage quintet recently won the Tri-C High School Rock Off in Cleveland, an event sponsored by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and now they'll be looking to get the Blues and Jazz Festival off to a good start.
You Should Attend Because: You get a chance to catch some of the brightest young talent in Erie. It's also helps that it's easy to support the Rock School's acts when they can legitimately rock out so early in their lives. The Rock School is giving young Erieites a chance to shine on stage and create their own sound, so this is a great chance to check out just what the future of Erie sounds like right at the beginning of Blues and Jazz Fest. – Alex Bieler
2 p.m. // The Breeze Band
The Skinny: Second-up in the day's lengthy lineup, hometown R&B/soul virtuosos the Breeze Band take the stage at Frontier Park at 2 p.m. Saturday.
On Radars Because: Featuring five well-known local musicians, all with well-honed chops, the Breeze Band is among Erie's musical favorites, regularly playing shows at various locales and events (including a stop this summer at the Erie Art Museum's Mid-day Art Break).
You Should Attend Because: With influences ranging from Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Breeze Band has a whole lot of versatility, and the abilities to match up to the task of covering a wide range of classics across several genres. Whatever sound hits you, at one point or another, the Breeze Band will make you want to move and groove. – Ryan Smith
4 p.m. // Travis "Moonchild" Haddix
The Skinny: Tennessee-bred, Cleveland-based blues guitarist Travis "Moonchild" Haddix will grace the Blues and Jazz Festival stage Saturday afternoon, bringing decades of experience to electrify the Frontier Park crowd starting at 4 p.m.
On Radars Because: Ever since Haddix ditched the piano for guitar at age 8 after seeing B.B. King perform, the axe man has been on a path to wow fans with his electric, horn-driven style of blues. The veteran musician has recorded more than 20 albums and DVDs over his career, even creating his own label Wann-Sonn Records in 1989 to further showcase his craft.
You Should Attend Because: Moonchild knows how to fire up a crowd. Haddix has made a career out of electrifying crowds with his music, touring across the United States and Europe. His releases have earned high praise from Living Blues and Big City Blues, and he hasn't started slowing down yet, releasing a new album called Love Coupons just last year. Now you can see the music veteran display his award-winning blues sound for yourself at Frontier Park. – Alex Bieler
6 p.m. // Grady Champion
The Skinny: Celebrated Mississippi-based blues man Grady Champion takes one of the top spots at the 23rd annual Blues and Jazz Festival, performing onstage at Frontier Park at 6 p.m. Saturday.
On Radars Because: Singer/harp player/guitarist/songwriter Champion has been around the musical block, playing his take on American blues for audiences across the country for the better part of the past couple of decades. Signed with the legendary Mississippi-based blues label Malaco Records, Champion released his first full-length album, Bootleg Whiskey, in 2014, and has been nominated for several industry awards over the years.
You Should Attend Because: In his style and approach to the craft, Champion's been compared by critics to legends and revolutionaries like Sonny Boy Williamson, Junior Wells, and Howlin' Wolf. When it comes to the blues, that's some good company to be keeping. "I play what I feel," Champion states in his press bio. And, he adds, "I think blues has a bright future. ...You just gotta be able to hang in the game."
Right on, Champion – see you there. – Ryan Smith
8 p.m. // Rev. John Wilkins
The Skinny: The Rev. John Wilkins will bring a lifetime of blues lessons to the Blues and Jazz Festival stage as the 8 p.m. Saturday headliner, showcasing his take on the sounds of North Mississippi Hill Country and Memphis on his trusty guitar.
On Radars Because: Wilkins has got blues in his blood. John's father was The Rev. Robert Wilkins, who released a series of songs in the '30s. One of those songs was "Prodigal Son," a track that was covered by a little ol' band called The Rolling Stones. The younger Wilkins followed in his father's footsteps, not only because of his ability to enchant with some gospel-fueled blues, but also because he became a pastor in the '80s.
You Should Attend Because: A tremendous musical performance can feel like a religious experience, and Wilkins has both the tunes and the worship down pat. Touring with his band, Wilkins will put on a show that will please both gospel lovers and blues fans, capping off the Blues portion of Blues and Jazz Fest with a performance that will have you feeling like you're right in the heart of hill country as Wilkins lets his guitar strings speak for themselves. – Alex Bieler
JAZZ — SUNDAY, AUGUST 2
Noon // The Four Grads
The Skinny: Guitarist/vocalist Carl Hultman has been a local country music fixture for many years, leading several different bands with partner Barb Schwartz.
But wait a minute. Turns out Hultman isn't just a good ol' country boy.
On Radars Because "For many years I dreamed of forming a vocal-instrumental band modeled after the Four Freshmen (a very popular jazz vocal group in the 1950s-'60s)," said Hultman. "I was especially taken with their complex and beautiful arrangements."
The 72-year-old Hultman, a retired Gannon FEATU chemistry professor of 44 years, is an arranger, plus he luckily came upon some exact transcriptions of Freshmen charts.
"Barb and I could cover the vocals and guitar and percussion parts, but I needed bass and horn players who could also sing," explained Hultman.
It took awhile, but he got his men: tenor saxophonist Stan Bialomizy, in his 70s and generally regarded as the dean of Erie jazz, and Bob Seamon, bassist and high falsetto vocalist.
About three years ago, The Four Grads were born, and they'll be performing for their biggest audience ever at noon Sunday kicking off jazz day at Frontier Park.
You Should Attend Because: Four Freshmen fans should anticipate hearing many of the group's hits — "It's a Blue World," "Poinciana," "Day By Day," et al.
Not a Freshman fan? Don't fret. The Four Grads also do Manhattan Transfer, Beach Boys, Chordettes, and even The Beatles. Oh, and don't be surprised if you get at least a taste of country. – Bob Protzman
2 p.m. // The Monk's Brew
The Skinny: Thousands of young men and women play in jazz ensembles in numerous U.S. colleges and universities, but few become jazz musicians, or it appears, jazz fans.
Well, there's an exception in Erie — four 22-year-olds who call themselves The Monk's Brew. The Monk in the quartet's name refers, of course, to pianist/composer Thelonious Monk.
Members of The Monk's Brew met in music studies at Mercyhurst University. They were drawn to one another and began jamming together outside of regular jazz ensemble class.
On Radars Because: Before long, Dillon Shidemantle, trumpet/vocals; Bobby Lucas, piano; Alex McLaughlin, bass, and Michael Hibbler II, drums, were a band ready to begin a serious, difficult journey.
"We are doing our best to make it as musicians and want to make music our career," said McLaughlin. "We are very serious about our band and our music."
They are scuffling for gigs (what jazz musicians aren't in Erie, especially in summertime?), but enjoyed a recent high spot when they played at JazzErie's Jazz and Blues Walk. "We played at Gigliotti's for two hours straight because we were digging it," said McLaughlin.
Now The Monk's Brew will play for a really big audience at 2 p.m. Sunday for the Erie Art Museum's Blues and Jazz Festival.
You Should Attend Because: They'll be ready, according to McLaughlin. They won't lack for material with a mix of originals by band members, some Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, of course Monk, and other bebop and mainstream jazz artists, a little rock, and more.
Said McLaughlin, "We're nervous but excited." – Bob Protzman
4 p.m. – One World Tribe
The Skinny: Following the day's first two performances, One World Tribe takes the stage at Frontier Park at 4 p.m. Sunday.
On Radars Because: Based in Pittsburgh but featuring a lineup of colossal musicians from around the world (Erie included), One World Tribe has, over the past couple of decades, developed into a truly multicultural, multi-musical collective of artists with real, and really diverse, chops. And One World Tribe has been no stranger to Erie stages over the years, having played tons of memorable, colorful, cool-as-can-be shows in and around the Gem City.
You Should Attend Because: More than 20-plus years and running, OWT's music has been compared to the elemental sounds of groups and performers like Earth, Wind & Fire, War, and Santana – an earthy, funky, and worldly groove, a musical feast providing plenty of food for thought (and, of course, dancin').
So if that's your kind of thing (and whose is it not?), be sure to check out what's happening smack-dab in the middle of Day Two at this year's Blues and Jazz Festival. – Ryan Smith
6 p.m. // United Trumpet Summit with Dr. Eddie Henderson, Russell Gunn, & Rayce Biggs
The Skinny: One brash, talented jazz trumpeter can turn a concert hall upside down. Dizzy Gillespie did it for decades. Diz's protégé Arturo Sandoval sometimes plays so powerfully these days that he nearly outdoes his mentor.
So what do you think three trumpets — especially in unison – might sound like? You can find out beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday when the United Trumpet Summit takes the stage at Frontier Park.
The group is led by Dr. Eddie Henderson. Yes, he is a retired physician who once had Thelonious Monk as a patient and earned the nickname of Dr. Funk. The prodigious fusionist Russell Gunn and the up-and-coming Jayce Biggs fill out the front line.
United Trumpet Summit has been around for years, but the players have changed – Randy Brecker, Jeremy Pelt, Dave Douglas, Leon Jordan Jr., and others have moved through the band.
Henderson has a solid background that includes stints with pianist Herbier Hancock (1970-73), drummer Art Blakey, and organist Charles Earland.
On Radars Because: The group plays for a number of special occasions, none more important or prestigious than the 25th Annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, named for the brilliant trumpeter/composer who died tragically at 25 in a car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
You Should Attend Because: What can we expect stylistically from United Trumpet Summit? Well, Henderson favors Miles Davis's early electric fusion, but he's best known for his acoustic hard bop playing. Now THAT is quite an exciting combination! – Bob Protzman
8 p.m. – No BS! Brass Band
The Skinny: Most of us have enjoyed a brass band in a parade or struttin' and wailin' and moanin' in a New Orleans funeral procession. But playing music by jazz great Charles Mingus? Not likely… it's the incredibly eclectic No BS! Brass Band.
On Radars Because: This unique ensemble, scheduled for the 8 p.m. Sunday headliner spot at the Erie Art Museum Blues and Jazz Festival at Frontier Park, claims perhaps the most varied playlist of any band out there.
Based in Richmond, Va., the NBSBB has played anywhere they've been asked — from sweaty clubs to the Kennedy and Lincoln centers to National Public Radio and, of course, festivals like ours.
Formed in 2006, the band's members were carefully chosen by founders Reggie Pace (he's the Mingus fan) and Lance Koehler based on their skills and what someone called a "definable unique persona." Also, each player is conservatory trained.
The first group had 11 members, although the number seems to change by one or two players from time to time. Latest published roster includes four trombones, four trumpets, tuba, drums, and, surprise, saxophone.
You Should Attend Because: The NBSBB doesn't play just one Mingus tune. They've done an entire album of nine songs titled Fight Song: A Tribute to Charles Mingus, and are considering doing the same with several other major jazz artists.
But their repertoire offers something for just about everyone with elements of music by James Brown, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, and genres and styles including jazz, funk, R&B, klezmer, calypso, and possibly more.
If you don't find the sound of tuba unbearable, you'll probably enjoy the heck out of the dynamic No BS! Brass Band. – Bob Protzman