Lewiston Jazz Festival
New York-based ensemble The Hot Sardines
Photo by LeAnn Mueller
The 16th annual Northwest Jazz Festival takes place in Lewiston on August 25 and 26. Given the massive success of the 2016 festival, the 2017 festival is sure to be another weekend of excellent jazz music, amazing food, great wine, and pure class.
There are few things in life more powerful than sitting across the table from someone with pure passion and dedication. Tony Zambito is one of those people. As the music director of the festival, the founder of JazzBuffalo.org, an accomplished jazz percussionist, and a dedicated advocate for the local growth of jazz, Zambito exudes enthusiasm for the genre and the local jazz scene.
Heavy lies the crown, as the old saying goes. Zambito is responsible for booking all the talent for each of the festival’s five stages. According to Zambito, “For the 2017 festival, thanks to our improved application process, our number of applicants has tripled.” For a jazz hound like Zambito, the upside is the amount of amazing talent sending him CDs and having artists seeing the festival as one of the great places to come play. However, just because an artist has an amazing performance does not mean the artist will be a great performer. “I then have to go on the Internet and watch them play, see how original they are, how they look, sound live, their presentation, and how well they would fit in the festival,” he says. Much to Zambito’s chagrin, a lot of amazing talent has to be turned away, but that leaves festivalgoers with the best of the best performances.
Friday night at the Main Stage, from 8:30-10:15 p.m., the Dave Stryker Quintet with Eric Alexander performs. This is a true all-star band in that each member was listed in the top five of Downbeat Magazine for their respective instruments. This is the perfect booking for the Main Stage since the group appeals to fans of all musical genres, even taking eight-track hits and arranging them into jazz grooves.
Each of the five stages has a theme. The Rising Star Stage’s name says it all, for here newer, younger jazz fusion-like acts have a chance to show off their chops. One Friday night act, Young Lions of New York, consists of all New York City players and is led by East Aurora native and trumpeter John Hasselback III. On Saturday night, this stage will show off the talents of Walter Kemp 3oh! The resume of the three members of this band consists of being Charles Mingus protégés to touring with Grammy-nominated artists. According to Zambito, “What’s most impressive is their ability to draw in the audience while only playing original music. This headlining slot on this stage will really show off Kemp’s ability to arrange songs.”
The Frontier Porch stage spotlights bands devoted to the true jazz groove. Here, many of the bands are organ based and will get your foot tapping to the groove. Friday night has Buffalo’s own The Frontstreet Men at 5 p.m., bringing their high-energy original songs and unique twists on classics. After that, Brotha Perry will be taking the stage for a groovy jazz/soul set at 8 p.m.
The women of jazz will be celebrated in the DiCamillo Courtyard throughout the festival. Zambito is especially proud that this venue will give amazing female singers a chance to shine. On Saturday, I am most excited to see Becky Davis open the Courtyard’s festivities at noon; recently critics have lauded her unique twists on standards and her sultry delivery. Additionally, local singer Sharon Bailey will play the courtyard from 6 to 8 p.m. Every time I see Sharon perform, I am more and more impressed.
The Peace Garden will be hosting one of the most buzzed about local bands, Carina and the Six String Preacher, on Saturday from 6 to 7:45 p.m. Carina Mastrantonio, her husband Vince, and drummer John Brady create a sound and look that demands your attention. The musicianship and songwriting are both top notch. Plus, their cover of Les Paul’s “How High the Moon,” was undoubtedly the best thing I saw at last year’s festival.
According to Zambito, the festival doesn’t really have the room to get much bigger, so its focus is on getting better. The atmosphere is clean and classy. Parking is very simple. Bathrooms are readily accessible. This is the safest and most well thought out festival I have ever attended. In fact, the local hotels and bed and breakfasts are booked solid for the festival almost eight months in advance. Go eat, drink, and be merry. Even if you are not a jazz lover, you can appreciate the talent and atmosphere. I will see you there!
Anthony Chabala is a local attorney, educator, and musician.