Beantown, Part 2: What to listen for onstage
by Kevin C. Peterson, Guest Writer
This weekend’s Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival features a remarkable menu of talent that offers the full richness and range of the music.
Spanning the vibrant categories of the genre – from jazz funk to the African American songbook – listeners should expect a cornucopia of sounds that recall the blues sensibility of the music’s origin.
The day of jazz begins at noon, Saturday, September 29, with activities stretching from the corner of Massachusetts and Columbus Avenues to Burke Street in lower Roxbury. The festival has become one of Boston’s autumnal gems, never failing to deliver on established talent and rising stars.
“A lot of great music and great talent will be a part of this year’s festival. We think of the festival as a gift to the community. We are giving back,” said Terri Lyne Carrington, the festival’s Artistic Director. “The event really pulls upon the great talent in the Boston area.” Carrington, a multiple Grammy-winning drummer, composer, and bandleader, is Zildjian Chair in Performance at Berklee College of Music and also Founder and Artistic Director of the new Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice. Her musical career includes touring with Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau, Clark Terry and Dianne
Now in its 11th year, the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival has become a mainstay event for music listeners, a part of the city’s cultural choices that thousands flock to from across the region. The event is free.
Listeners this year will witness the stunning improvisational talent of the Gregory Lewis Trio. Few jazz artists command the Hammond B3 organ like Lewis, who creates an unmistakable lyricism that evokes the black church and the Civil Rights protest era, sounding a little bit sacred and freedom-seeking at the same time. Influenced by Thelonious Monk, Lewis pulls from the organ keys a sonic sophistication that easily makes you want to tap your feet. Lewis says his style also taps into the musical legacies of Fats Waller, Jimmy Smith, Larry Young and Chester Thompson.
“The first time I remember wanting to play is in my teens … all of sudden, while I was playing I realized I … was trying to emulate or imitate what [Monk] was doing on the piano,” said Lewis in a 2013 interview on Youtube.
Drummer Ralph Peterson’s band, Aggregate Prime, brings a rhythmic, percussive swing to his performance. His driving sound holds little back, producing a quality of music that is reminiscent mostly of the bebop era. Peterson’s solos, as heard in his performance “Essence of a Wizard,” carry the listeners on a ride that is pleasantly bumpy, aggressive and charming at once.
Jason Palmer’s artistry on the trumpet is mesmerizing. He can be heard at Boston’s Wally’s Cafe throughout the year on most Friday nights. His clear burst of melodic output is forceful and possesses an intelligence and a carefully crafted style of portraying past giants like Louis Armstrong, or Clifford Brown.
Tia Fuller’s band, Diamond Cut, highlights her capacity as a captivating vocalist. Her interpretation of Body and Soul on her 2012 album, Angelic Warrior, demonstrates how she can brilliantly reinterpret an old jazz standard for a new generation of fans. Her lilting voice is ripe for conveying old ballads that reach for explaining feelings associated with disappointment or death, the loss of a friend or the blues that can come crashing down in the aftermath of a romantic break-up.
Aside from musical performances, listeners can also visit the event’s Instrument Petting Zoo for a hands-on experience with many of the instruments they have been listening to onstage. Tinkling on the electric piano or blowing into a saxophone is sure to appeal to the youngest and the most sophisticated attendees.
Kevin C. Peterson is a writer who lives in Boston. His love and appreciation of music dates back to his experiences in the black Pentecostal church in Philadelphia. After hearing Billie Holiday’s performance of Jimmy Van Heusen’s and Johnny Mercer’s, “I Thought About You,” at age 13, he became a jazz devotee for life.