“This is a big city, free jazz festival being held in Montclair,” said performing vocalist Melissa Walker, Founder and Executive Director of Montclair-based Jazz House Kids. “It’s music you would hear at a New York City or Detroit festival–it’s just going to be an incredible day for families and for jazz lovers.”
Walker is talking about the upcoming 2nd Annual Montclair Jazz Festival, a six hour, free event being held—weather permitting—in Nishuane Park from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 20. And, in case it dares to rain, the event moves indoors to the Salvation Army Building, 3 Trinity Place in Montclair, which is where Jazz House Kids (JHK) holds their year round, youth jazz education program and their every August, two-week, all day Summer Jazz Workshops summer camp.
Walker knows what she is talking about. Both she and famed, Grammy winning husband, bass virtuoso Christian McBride, perform worldwide. McBride is on tour most of the year with his Inside Straight Band, his Christian McBride Big Band and as part of Super Trio made up of Chick Corea on piano, Steve Gadd on drums and McBride on bass. He is also a frequent guest artist with other groups. When home, McBride is an instructor at the not-for-profit Jazz House Kids where he also serves as a board member, artistic director and hosts a fundraising interview/duo performance with a jazz great each spring.
Heading the August 20th line up is the highly regarded pianist Monty Alexander with Christian McBride and young drummer Ulysses Owens of McBride’s regular group. Count on Melissa to lend her considerable vocal talents. Among the other international and national performers is the legendary, Montclair-based drummer Billy Hart as well as many musicians who live in this area and are part of JHK summer and/or year-round faculty: trumpet and flugelhorn player Freddie Hendrix (it seems like yesterday when Hendrix was the young lion), guitarist Dave Stryker, organist Radam Schwartz and pianist Oscar Perez.
Author, speaker and WBGO Jazz Radio 88.3 host Sheila Anderson will host the afternoon. The personable Anderson, who guest produces the summer “Jazz in the Garden” series at the Newark Museum, is also assisting with the festival production.
Montclair-ites take note of some father/son participation: Mike Lee, an accomplished tenor saxophonist who is the JHK camp director and also leads Cecil’s Big Band at Cecil’s Jazz Club nearby in West Orange, will perform as part of the Lee-Johns & Sons Band, with son Julian, 16, a national jazz award winning junior from Montclair High School, on alto sax and JHK instructor and in demand, in the pocket drummer Steve Johns with John's award winning son Daryl, 15, a secondary school sophomore in Bergen County, on bass. The group recently recorded their first CD, and full disclosure: Steve is the drummer in my husband’s group, and I have known Daryl since he was eight. In jazz circles, Daryl has more buzz than a hornet’s nest.
"Playing with great musicians is always an amazing experience,” Julian Lee said. “When those great musicians also happen to be my father, one of my best friends, and his father, the joy infinitely multiplies.”
Both Daryl and Julian are in workshops at the camp this summer and Julian is an outstanding soloist with the Jazz House Kids Big Band. The special appearance of the Lee-Johns & Sons Band is part of the multigenerational theme of the afternoon.
“We have 105 musicians from age 9 to 20 studying with Jazz House Kids this summer camp season and they will be performing throughout the afternoon in big band and large ensembles,” Walker said. “Many of these students are well on their way to being tomorrow’s rising stars; there will be a real dialogue among the levels of players.”
Walker reflected on Jazz House Kids, now in its ninth year, the festival and the Montclair community:
“We call ourselves Jazz House Kids, as all performing starts from the same source, the same foundation and builds up,” Walker said. “This is what the Montclair community is all about; the support we receive from the community is invaluable. This free festival, this day for families, is our gift to Montclair at a time when many are feeling tough economic straits.”
Contributions from residents in the area help support Jazz House Kids and make it possible for many students to participate. “Thirty-eight percent of this summer’s students are on scholarship,” Walker said. “We have one young man staying with a host family in town.”
In all, about 20 towns and 15 New Jersey counties are represented. In addition to the professional faculty, there are 7 teaching assistants. Foundation grants from the Prudential, Montclair and ASCAP foundations helped make the Summer Jazz Workshop and festival possible.
JHK and Montclair’s Chris Drukker talked about the students and the program:
“It’s an incredible experience to watch these young musicians evolve,” Drukker said. “There is so much enthusiasm, so much engagement and a real camaraderie.”
Bring lawn chairs or blankets and a picnic or purchase food from a variety of Montclair vendors. Nishuane Park is on Cedar Avenue off Harrison Avenue in Montclair. The rain location is the Salvation Army Building is at 3 Trinity Place.
And, in case you can’t make August 20 festival, there are also free weekday mid-afternoon Community Showcase Concerts in downtown Montclair.
Learn more about JHK at http://www.jazzhousekids.org/ or call 873-744-2273.