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2020 JazzFest White Plains – Virtual Celebration!

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         The Sarah Jane Cion Trio © Kevin R. Mason

As it has been with most jazz festivals this past summer, the 9th JazzFest White Plains was presented virtually, apart from three live outdoor performances.  This growing festival took place from September 8 to 13, and over the years, it has been attracting music lovers from all over the New York tri-state area and beyond. It was jointly presented by ArtsWestchester, The City of White Plains, and the White Plains BID (Business Improvement District).

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

An Artbash Virtual Mixology Party

This event started with a demonstration by bartender Nate Laird of different drinks that featured Jägermeister, including the “Jägermeister Cold Brew Colada” and the “Pistole Parabellum.”

     Janet Langsam © Kevin R. Mason

Aaron Paige, the Co-Artistic Director of White Plains JazzFest and Director of Folk & Traditional Arts at ArtsWestchester, introduced the Rico Jones Quartet, with saxophonist Rico Jones, pianist Dave Kikoski, drummer Johnathan Blake, and bassist Dezron Douglas. Alas, there were some technical difficulties, so Janet T. Langsam of ArtsWestchester returned to bartender Nate Laird, who eloquently gave more details about the liqueur Jägermeister, which has 56 ingredients (!), including real coffee.

They returned to the Rico Jones Quartet, who luckily had better sound and video, and the group played with gusto. Then, Westchester County Deputy Executive Ken Jenkins sent greetings from his parked car, and he said how thrilled he was to be part of the celebration.  Wayne Bass,     Commissioner of White Plains Recreation and Parks and co-curator of  the JazzFest, welcomed the viewers and talked about the upcoming events in this 9th edition of the JazzFest. The Rico Jones Quartet finished the event with their resounding bebop rendition of “Cherokee.”

Presenting Jazz in the Time of Covid

      Mark Morganelli                                © Kevin R.  Mason

Aaron Paige introduced the program and praised New York State Council for the Arts and JazzFest Presenting Sponsor, Bank of America, for their support.  Paige introduced Mark Morganelli, trumpeter/flugelhornist and co-founder of Tarrytown’s Jazz Forum club with a recounting of Morganelli’s biography. Aaron stated that Mark was in a unique position to talk about this subject as both a musician and a jazz promoter. Morganelli, whose nightclub, Jazz Forum, had become quite a go-to destination before the pandemic, said the only thing that comes close to what we’re seeing now is the time right after 9/11. It was difficult to get people to come out to hear live music then, and he thinks it’s even more difficult now. Even though they’ve instituted safety procedures at Jazz Forum, he doesn’t know when they will be allowed to open. In the meantime, Mark and other talented local musicians have been part of several socially distanced outdoor jam sessions and free performances. Mark’s wife, Ellen Prior, who is co-founder of Jazz Forum, does some much-needed fundraising, including memberships and sponsorship, which helps to keep them going. Their organization Jazz Forum Arts is also presenting virtual concerts and programs for children. For more information go to

John Brathwaite, President of the PJS Jazz Society, was the next panelist, and Aaron Paige gave the highlights of Brathwaite’s bio. Because PJS Jazz Society’s activities have been held in Mount Vernon’s First Presbyterian Church, and many church gatherings are off-limits now, they are looking for alternatives. John said that many of their participants are older, lovers of bebop, and he is concerned about finding the safest way to present jazz to them without endangering their health. He talked about the excellent ambience, the great music, the outstanding food they served, and how many people have come back again and again. Many participants say the PJS concerts made them appreciate jazz more than ever. Brathwaite is really looking forward to the time when the pandemic is over, and things get back to normal. To learn more about PJS Jazz Society, go to:

          Aaron Paige © Kevin R. Mason

Aaron Paige next gave the bio of Elizabeth Sander of the Westchester Center for Jazz & Contemporary Music. Elizabeth talked about the challenges they’ve faced with their performance/teaching space. She showed a video featuring her husband, Paul Sander, where he revealed all the updates they have made to the space, including distancing and a new ventilation system. Paul also introduced Director Joey Berkley, who talked about the obstacles they have overcome because of the pandemic.  Elizabeth said that although she is not thrilled about having performances without audiences, she is happy to be able to live stream and keep everyone safe. For more information, go to:

   Wayne Bass  © Kevin R. Mason

The final panelist was Wayne Bass, Commissioner of White Plains Recreation and Parks, and Aaron Paige spoke of his many achievements, including the creation of the JazzFest White Plains. Wayne said, “Needless to say, it has not been a normal summer.” He said they had to cancel many of their outdoor events, including concerts and Shakespeare in the Park, but they were still able to present some sports outings and pool openings, all while adhering to stringent safety protocols. He reflected on the past JazzFest editions, and the dawning recognition that the 2020 JazzFest would have to be virtual. Wayne applauded Aaron Paige’s enthusiasm and encouragement from the beginning. He talked about all the challenges involved, and he thanked the committee and the musicians for all their understanding. To learn more, go to:

All four panelists returned to answer questions. One viewer asked Mark Morganelli if he would consider an outdoor event with people sitting in cars, and Mark stated all the drawbacks, including the cost of the musicians, staff, food, and renting the parking lot near Jazz Forum. So, he concluded that it wasn’t feasible right now. Then the panelists discussed the prospect of the re-opening venues. Elizabeth wondered how long live streaming could last. Mark pointed out that several jazz performers are older, stressed the importance of their safety, and noted all the confusing information the public receives about the pandemic. Morganelli thinks it won’t really be safe until there is a proven, vetted vaccine.

Elizabeth discussed what might happen once things do get back to normal. Wayne expressed hope for the future, despite the uncertain times. John noted that some older audience members aren’t as computer-savvy as younger ones, which is an obstacle to virtual viewing. He also lamented the loss of live interactions between the audience and the artists. Mark said he’s planning to rent out the Jazz Forum for live streaming.

Elizabeth observed that many musicians are really struggling financially, and Mark mentioned promoting Venmo and PayPal to help artists make money. Due to live streaming, John questioned people’s willingness to pay for jazz once the pandemic is over. At the end, Aaron said to all the participants, “Thank you for your service to art and artists.”

Westchester Jazz, Then and Now

    Tom van Buren                               © Kevin R. Mason

Aaron Paige introduced moderator Tom van Buren, detailing Tom’s multi-faceted background, including ethnomusicologist and folklorist. Tom is currently the President of the New York Folklore Society, and he’s a longtime saxophonist. Tom noted that the main documented history of jazz took place in the century between the two pandemics, the 1918 flu pandemic, and the current Covid-19 pandemic.

This event was a combination of discussions and performances by musicians with deep ties to Westchester County. The featured musicians were saxophonist Art Bennett, pianist/vocalist Kathryn Farmer, trumpeter Kenny Lee, and bassist Rocky Middleton.

Tom introduced pianist/vocalist Kathryn Farmer, describing her extensive career. Kathryn performed a passionate version of “Here’s To Life,” which she said was very appropriate for what we’re going through now. Tom said she might be the most traveled of the evening’s musicians, taking her music all over the world. Kathryn discussed taking piano lessons as a child, her father’s experience as a musician in the Army band, and his restaurant/nightclub, Farmer’s Midway. She talked about the different people she has worked with, and those who have influenced her.

      Kenny Lee © Kevin R. Mason

Tom next introduced trumpeter Kenny Lee, noting that he is a retired police officer who now devotes all his time to performing jazz.  Kenny was joined by Hiroshi Yamazaki on keyboards, and they performed a lively, “Secret Love” in his playroom, which he has set up as a performance space. Kenny praised his mentor, saxophonist Jimmy Hill, saying how much Hill encouraged him. He contemplated his four years with the Marine Corps Band, and discussed the challenges of performing during the pandemic. Lee said he’s teaching students via Zoom right now, but misses being able to teach in person.

Art Bennett © Kevin R. Mason

The third musician was saxophonist Art Bennett, and Tom van Buren noted that he was a big part of the Loft jazz scene in the 1970s in Manhattan. Bennett is a composer/interpreter, as well as a saxophonist. Art’s solo performance of “You Taught My Heart To Sing” was rich and full of feeling, and paid homage to the recently deceased McCoy Tyner, who composed the song. Bennett recalled meeting Duke Ellington, commenting that Ellington was very down-to-earth. He talked about all the people who taught and inspired him, and how much he learned from a “Who’s Who” of musicians. Art mentioned the New York Musicians Association and his many collaborations, including working with George Wein when the Newport Jazz Festival was briefly in New York. He recalled Farmer’s Midway, and meeting Kathryn Farmer there. Tom said that Art was looking well and asked how he’s coping with the pandemic. Art reminded the audience of a time during WWII when they didn’t make records for two years. He thinks this is the same kind of thing, and we’ll weather it. Bennett said, “Art always tells what’s going on in the present.”

Tom reviewed bassist Rocky Middleton’s music experiences, including working with Jazzmobile in New York City. Rocky was joined by David Janeway on piano and Tim Armacost on saxophone, and he noted that the song they played was influenced by Miles Davis and James Brown. Rocky talked about his experiences, and reminisced about Ruth Brown, Nina Simone, and Ahmad Jamal, and what he learned from the many artists he encountered. He found that the bass came naturally to him, even though he started later.

The musicians came together at the end to discuss the future, and Rocky Middleton did an off-the-cuff bass performance to play them off. He said, “I’m going to improvise, and play from my heart and soul. I hope you enjoy it.” It was an excellent way to end an entertaining and informative evening.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Isabella Mendes & Flavio Lira Duo

Aaron Paige introduced Tim Lewis, Artistic and Managing Director of Downtown Music at Grace, a series of music performances in its 33rd season at Grace Episcopal Church. Tim said he was happy to be a part of this, then introduced Isabella Mendes and Flavio Lira. Isabella is a singer/songwriter/pianist whose work is rooted in Brazilian jazz and bossa nova, and Flavio is a guitarist/composer who explores the musical traditions of Brazil, Colombia, and Cuba.  They presented a special set of all-original material, and they started with a song sung in Portuguese about how Isabella’s parents met. Next came the vivacious “Fairy Tale” sung in English, which talked about relationships, and about how life is not like fairy tales. Isabella’s compositions are always about her experiences.

She wrote the next song when she first met Flavio, and she knew she was in love with him before he even knew! In English, the song is called “From Beginning to End,” but it was performed in Portuguese. The romantic number detailed how she kept asking Flavio to play gigs with her, when she really wanted to go out with him. Isabella was so taken with another of Flavio’s compositions, and thought, “This needs lyrics.” It’s another song about their mutual love, in both English and Portuguese, very sensual, with an unusual time signature. Flavio said it took him a while to really listen to the lyrics and realize it was a love song dedicated to him, because instrumentalists don’t always listen that closely to the words, more to the notes of a song. Flavio said “Still in Movement” was based on a play on words. Isabella said the beautiful ballad “Blame Destiny” was written in college about blaming destiny for things that happen, but it’s also romantic, asking how you know you’re in love.  Isabella said the final song was a conversation between her emotions and herself. It didn’t really have lyrics, but was more of a bossa nova scat with a delightful vibe. Throughout the set, this duo was full of smiles and laughter, and seemed to be in the best of moods.

A discussion followed, and Tim said that he wanted to applaud after every song, but reminded himself that in this virtual setting, he couldn’t directly respond the way he is accustomed to. He asked how they felt about putting out this wonderful energy, without having the normal response from a live audience. Isabella said it took some adjusting at first, but with comments on Facebook and texts, they know that people are listening. Isabella was asked about her composing process, and said that when she was very young, most of her songs were instrumental, and even now, the melody comes first, then the lyrics, then the harmony. Flavio thinks structure is especially important, and he’s always looking at the end product. Isabella finds some songs easier to fit the melody in English, while other melodies are more suited to Portuguese. When asked if Astrud Gilberto was a big influence, she said that she hears that all the time. Although Astrud was a bit of an influence, Isabella was also influenced by other singers, including Billie Holiday. She said her music is a hybrid of the many different elements that have inspired her. Isabella said her sister is a strong activist, who has encouraged her to start expressing political and social issues in her music. Flavio was asked about his six-string bass guitar, made by Fodera Bass Guitars in Brooklyn. He’s immensely proud of the instrument and said, “It’s a beautiful bass, and I love it!”

For more information about Downtown Music at Grace, go to:

Jazz Education in Westchester

     Aaron Paige © Kevin R. Mason

Aaron Paige once again thanked the sponsors and the JazzFest Committee members for organizing such an amazing program this year. Aaron gave special acknowledgement to the White Plains Public Library and to Programming Librarian Kristy Bauman, who co-produced this program as part of the Library’s recent initiative to document multicultural activities taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Kristy Bauman discussed the Library’s project, “Documenting Covid-19: White Plains Experiences.” Tom van Buren was the moderator for the evening. The participants were multi-instrumentalist Tim Veeder of White Plains High School, saxophonist Ray Blue of the Cross-Cultural Connection, and pianist Hiroshi Yamazaki of the Music Conservatory of Westchester.

Tom introduced Ray Blue, and Ray thanked Tom for such a wonderful intro. Ray started by playing a warm and charming ballad, “Our Very Own.” He chose a ballad, because he thinks it‘s one of the most difficult styles of music to play. Many students hear musicians play fast and do wonderful things with speed, and they want to emulate that. However, Ray thinks it is important for them to play ballads and the blues, to practice slowly, building up their technique. Ray also thinks all students should be familiar with the Great American Songbook, as well as jazz standards. He also discussed his 15-year-old, non-profit, inter-generational organization, Cross-Cultural Connection, and how it connects with the local community businesses and schools. They showed a short clip about the work of the Cross-Cultural Connection, and Ray expounded on mentorship and what he has learned from older musicians. For more information, go to:

Tom’s introduction of Hiroshi Yamazaki came next.  Hiroshi, who splits his performing time between his native Japan and New York, has been teaching at the Music Conservatory of Westchester, as well as private classes. Yamazaki played a spirited solo piano performance of Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud.” He said Clifford Brown was one of his favorite musicians, and he encourages students to listen to musicians who play other instruments. Growing up, Hiroshi was inspired by Dave Brubeck’s seminal album, Take Five, and he was particularly taken with the drum solos by Joe Morello. He recalled that on his first tour, he met several eminent artists, including Art Blakey and Elvin Jones, and saw drummer Leroy Williams at the Blue Note Club. Yamazaki spoke of his experiences after moving to New York, and how working with so many musicians helped him, an only child, feel like he had “many brothers.” He feels it is important to impart that aspect of jazz to his students. To learn more about the Music Conservatory of Westchester, go to:

Tom presented saxophonist Tim Veeder’s bio. Veeder has shared the stage with many artists, including guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, saxophonist Richie Cannata, and guitarist Jay Azzolina. He performed “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” with rich, warm tones.  He considers himself a player who also teaches. He loves seeing how his students at White Plains Public Schools progress, and he tries to be as supportive as possible. Tim likes playing a wide range of music, from bebop to contemporary jazz, and if he played only one type of jazz, he would get very bored, very fast. Tim is now broadcasting his lessons remotely from school, with studies morphing into a hybrid model where 25% of the students will be socially distanced in the classroom, and the classes will be broadcast to the other 75% of the students. Since all the school’s concerts have been cancelled, he is focusing on the nuts and bolts of music, technique, etc., as opposed to previously focusing on performance preparation. Veeder calls the current situation a “double-edged sword.”

Tom, Ray, Hiroshi, and Tim all got together at the end. Moderator Tom noted that when the pandemic struck, there was panic in New York. Tim said that despite the school building being closed, he‘s been busier than ever.  Ray was in Europe when the pandemic shutdown began, and he had to quarantine at first, but he stayed in touch with people online, as he continues to do. Asked about social distancing when he teaches an in-person class, Ray said, “We use our better judgment, and we pray. Because we sure…need that divine intervention!” About continuing education, Ray said there’s always another level to reach, and added, “The more we learn, the more we realize that we need to learn more.”

Hiroshi said things were confusing when the pandemic began, because he had to adjust to virtual teaching and performing. But now, the Music Conservatory of Westchester is fully immersed in virtual classes.

Tom and Aaron thanked the participants and said how much they appreciated the lessons they imparted.

Jazz From One Generation to the Next

Pete Malinverni © Kevin R. Mason

Aaron Paige introduced the moderator for the night, pianist Pete Malinverni of Purchase College, and talked about his background, his worldwide travel, and his many honors. Malinverni discussed the origins of jazz and how it developed, and stressed the importance of mentors in jazz. The event featured three pairs of mentors and their students, Alexis Cole and Lucy Wijnands; Bobby Sanabria and Gabrielle Garo; and Ulysses Owens, Jr. and Aaron Jennings.

   Alexis Cole © Kevin R. Mason

Singer Alexis Cole got things started, playing the piano and singing a sprightly song, “Joy Spring” by Clifford Brown with lyrics written by John Hendricks, where she did some excellent scatting. Then Alexis performed a mellow original song, “What About the Rest of Us.”  Alexis’ mentee, singer Lucy Wijnands gave a winning rendition of “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You,” accompanied by her father, stride piano master Bram Wijnands.

     Ulysses Owens Jr.  © Kevin R. Mason

Malinverni introduced drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. with high praise for his many achievements, and up-and-coming drummer Aaron Jennings. Owens and Jennings discussed how they met, and how their mentor-mentee relationship developed. Ulysses said that it’s important for a mentor to be only a phone call away, and a mentee should always have clear goals. Ulysses said that the relationship has gone beyond music, that Aaron has even helped him to move! The two played some striking drum solos.

Pete said that drummer Bobby Sanabria is one of the nicest people he knows, and the same for all the participants. He spoke of Sanabria’s extensive career, and the people he has performed with, including Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie. Bobby was joined by his mentee, multi-instrumentalist Gabrielle Garo, and they performed a delightful Afro-Cuban song with Gabrielle on flute. They followed with another high-energy number. Although the acoustics weren’t the best for this segment, their talent came through loud and clear.

The participants answered questions. Alexis and Lucy discussed avoiding the trap of a mentor turning the mentee into a clone, and helping the mentee to blossom in their own right. Ulysses Owens, Jr. talked about the business end of jazz, and the importance of always being a consummate professional. He stressed the value of overseeing one’s career, so you aren’t completely at the beck and call of other people wanting to hire you. Aaron Jennings said, “Developing a business mindset is extremely important,” and he mentioned knowing about contracts, scheduling, etc. Pete and Ulysses discussed “playing time,” which Ulysses called a sign of greatness in different musicians.

Bobby Sanabria talked about his multicultural upbringing, the varied music his father listened to, and how his father was his first mentor. Bobby mentioned several other mentors he had when he started performing. Pete noted that a flute/drum combo is not the usual thing, but that it was great, and he asked Gabrielle about it. She expounded on her experiences with Sanabria.

The mentors discussed how to keep supporting mentees after they graduate. Ulysses reiterated that he always keeps the door open, not only with mentees, but anyone he has worked with. Bobby Sanabria said that he recommends mentees for gigs. Sanabria also discussed misogyny in jazz, and how jazz musicians are often snobby about other types of music. Aaron Paige thanked everyone for their participation in an illuminating evening of insightful conversation and fine music.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Jazz at the Intersections

Aaron Paige welcomed the viewers and introduced Tony Pankhurst of Bank of America, who expressed his appreciation for everyone involved in the JazzFest. Then, Aaron introduced Naomi Sturm-Wijesinghe, a folklorist and ethnomusicologist of The Philadelphia Folklore Project, who moderated the event. To learn more about the organization, go to:

       Amir ElSaffar © Kevin R. Mason

Naomi discussed the program, fusion, social change, and activism. She brought on multi-instrumentalist/singer Amir ElSaffar, who performed a hauntingly lovely Middle Eastern song on a santur, which is a hammered dulcimer, and he sang in maqam vocal style from the Sufi tradition. It was like a musical trip across the world. Then he played the trumpet on a striking  “The Blues in E Half-Flat.” Naomi said that some sound issues that caused an echo really gave a great extra dimension to Amir’s music. Amir grew up in Chicago, and he was exposed to a lot of music early. He was influenced by the Beatles and The Blues Brothers, and then he heard Miles Davis for the first time, and said it changed his life! He discussed Middle Eastern music, and his travels throughout the world, and he talked about getting in touch with his Iraqi heritage. Amir also discussed the changes that Covid-19 has wreaked on the jazz world.

      Pablo Mayor © Kevin R. Mason

Next, Naomi gave the background of keyboardist Pablo Mayor of the group Folklore Urbano NYC. Pablo was joined by Franco Pinna on percussion, playing the atmospheric “Chalupa NY.” They followed with a lovely minor-key song. Naomi and Pablo discussed how dance music and popular music were some of his earliest influences. He also loves the richness of Brazilian music. He left Colombia to study in the U.S. He has exchanged ideas and found great support from other musicians. Ironically, it wasn’t until he came to New York that Colombian music became his focus.

Jomion & the Uklos is a family band from Benin, West Africa, which combines Voodoo culture with reggae, salsa, and jazz. They performed with so much joy that they all laughed out loud at the end! Naomi asked group member J.B. Gnonlonfoun about his family history, and he said growing up, music was one of the first things they did together. J.B.’s brother, Samuel “Jomion” Gnonlonfoun, was the founder of the internationally renowned Gangbé Brass Band. J.B. gave a demonstration of some different aspects of his musical style via singing and keyboard, and it was quite beautiful. They touched on the influence of Voodoo, and J.B. acknowledged it is sometimes viewed in a negative light, but Naomi assured him that she sees it as a spiritual tradition.

The participants got together, and Amir discussed grappling with finding his place in the African American origins of jazz, and how to be authentic within it. J.B. said when he considers jazz, the first word that comes to mind is “freedom.” J.B. also discussed blues in detail. He said that although he loves classical music, he doesn’t feel the same freedom he feels with jazz. Pablo said he really enjoyed both J.B.’s and Amir’s music, and he gave a shout-out to percussionist Franco Pinna, who had performed with him earlier. Pablo noted that his music is influenced by jazz, but it isn’t strictly jazz; it is danceable, but it isn’t just dance music. Amir chimed in that the upside of the having to use so many digital resources right now is that it breaks down barriers to who has access to the music. Naomi noted that are many types of jazz in the world today. “It is a tree with many branches.” At the end, the artists discussed improvisation, and how they incorporated jazz into their cultural backgrounds. All the musicians were very honest with the audience, and it made for an enlightening evening.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Jazz’s Rising Stars

This event featured some of the brightest up-and-coming jazz artists on the scene. Aaron Paige returned as host, and he introduced Didi Nicolas of Bank of America. Nicolas thanked Aaron and the JazzFest and said how thrilled he was to participate. He said, “Our commitment is unchanged.” Didi read the impressive bio of Keanna Faircloth of WBGO Radio, who was the moderator for the evening. Keanna talked about the participants: pianist Connie Han, pianist/organist Matthew Whitaker, vocalist Veronica Swift, and vocalist Alicia Olatuja.

The first performer was pianist Connie Han, who played an intense and percussive piano solo. Her virtuosity is exciting to watch, and you should check her new CD, Iron Starlet.

     Alicia Olatuja © Kevin R. Mason

Next came vocalist/arranger Alicia Olatuja, accompanied by guitarist David Rosenthal, and they performed a lush and lovely version of “So Good, So Right,” from the CD Intuition: Songs from the Minds of Women. She said she meant every word of the song, that she was so happy to be with the viewers, and she thanked them for tuning in. She spoke about the pandemic and the uncertain times as introduction to a poignantly beautiful “Everything Must Change” that expressed both melancholy and hope at the same time.

Veronica Swift © Kevin R. Mason

The child of musicians, vocalist Veronica Swift has been performing since she was very young, and her newest CD is Confessions. Veronica sang a moving “This Bitter Earth,” and Matt Baker provided excellent back-up on piano.  She picked up the pace with the next song, a sparkling “Love is Just Around the Corner,” with some fine scatting. Keanna noted that Veronica looked like she was having a ball! Veronica said she was honored to share the virtual stage with such talented artists.

    Matthew Whitaker © Kevin R. Mason




Matthew Whitaker, an incredibly talented prodigy and blind from birth, lists his influences as including Dr. Lonnie Smith, Stevie Wonder, and Chopin. Matthew’s newest CD is Now Hear This. He started his set with a jumping song that he composed, “A New Day,” and followed with a delightfully syncopated number.

After the performances, all four of the musicians joined Keanna for a chat, and she asked about creating music in a pandemic. Matthew said once he got used to performing virtually at home, it got easier. Veronica said the hardest part of the pandemic is missing the interaction with fans and other musicians, and being able to travel at will, but she has taken the time to work on other projects. Alicia misses the energy she gets from the audience, and the on-stage camaraderie with her fellow musicians. Connie said she always tries to view any problem as a challenge. Although she misses her band, she finds the solitude beneficial in several ways. Although the pandemic’s timing was bad for her, since she was getting a lot of international gigs, she has taken advantage of the time alone, and calls herself a “practice junkie.”

The musicians discussed developing their own sound and maintaining their individuality, while blending in other influences. They talked about the challenge of connecting with other people during this time. They also talked about the issues of race and gender that have come to the forefront recently, and how those issues have affected them personally. They also discussed the possibilities for the future of jazz, moving forward while maintaining respect for the history of the genre, and divulged projects in their immediate future. This was a heartfelt evening of outstanding music and powerful conversation.

Live Events

In addition to the all the virtual events, JazzFest White Plains had three live concerts on the weekend. All three presentations were outdoors, and socially distanced.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Sarah Jane Cion Trio

     Sarah Jane Cion © Kevin R. Mason

At 12:00 noon, Hudson Grille in downtown White Plains hosted the Sarah Jane Cion Trio. Pianist Sarah Jane Cion was the winner of the 1999 Great American Jazz Piano Competition, and she’s the author of the books Modern Jazz Piano and The Pianist’s Jammin’ Handbook. Cion was joined by bassist Jennifer Vincent and trombonist Dave Levitt. What was interesting and beautiful about this group was the way the trombone often carried the melodies. Levitt’s trombone was especially prominent in Antônio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova gems “Triste” and “Desafinado.” Cion played an exquisite solo on “Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s “Just in Time,” with gorgeous accents by Vincent and Levitt. The trio also played superb renditions of Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings,” Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Darn That Dream,” Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” and Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are.” This set was a veritable Great American Songbook with the great Jobim thrown in for good measure! The music was the perfect complement to the lovely weather.

The Brian Carter Septet

     The Brian Carter Septet © Kevin R. Mason

At 2:00 pm, The Brazen Fox presented The Brian Carter Septet. Drummer Brian Carter (not to be confused with the other drummer Bryan Carter) has been affiliated with Bernie Williams, Gil Parris, Eddie Henderson, and many more. Brian’s fellow musicians were tenor saxophonist Gregory Kimble, bassist Rachiim Ausar-Sahu, pianist Danny Dalelio, guitarist George Nazos, and vocalists Tamuz Nissim and Ras Chemash Lamed. The concert started with
My Funny Valentine,” wonderfully sung by Lamed, and he segued seamlessly into “Satin Doll.”  Then Tamuz Nissim joined the group on a  duet with Lamed on “How Insensitive.” Tamuz and Ras both demonstrated excellent scatting prowess on “Moondance.” Tamuz and Ras again collaborated on a duet of “Darn That Dream,” with great harmony, sharing the lead. Tamuz followed with Dexter Gordon’s “Fried Bananas,” exhibiting brilliant vocalese. The band performed a great version of “Smile,” with outstanding vocal exchanges, and all the instrumentalists had outstanding solos throughout the set. The finale was a wonderful rendition of “A Night in Tunisia” that featured some beautiful drum work by Brian Carter.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Samara McLendon Trio

   The Samara McLendon Trio © Kevin R. Mason

Restaurant Via Garibaldi hosted the final event of the 2020 JazzFest White Plains, featuring the winner of the eighth Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, singer Samara McLendon. Samara has already worked at the jazz clubs Blue Note, Smalls, Mezzrow, and Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, and she has performed with such luminaries as Jon Faddis and Barry Harris. Samara introduced herself to the JazzFest brunch crowd as a 20-year-old from the Bronx, and a senior at Purchase College. Her cohorts, guitarist Lionel Miller and bassist Jason Clotter, also students at Purchase, were a perfect fit in this stellar set. Rain threatened the outdoor event, but the great music chased the clouds away.

Brittany Brandwein, Mayor Thomas Roach, & Wayne Bass   © Kevin R. Mason

The group began with “But Beautiful” and the Dinah Washington hit “Only A Moment Ago.”  On Ray Brown and Gil Fuller’s swinging tune, “Ray’s Idea,” guitarist Lionel Miller showed his superlative talents, backed by Clotter’s bass accents and Samara’s marvelous scatting. McLendon did a fantastic interpretation of Billie Holiday’s version of “It’s Easy To Blame the Weather,” and followed with Percy Mayfield’s bluesy “The Danger Zone.” After a break, they started the second half with a sweet, laid-back rendition of Etta Jones’ “If I had You.” Then the group did “The Trouble With Me is You,” “Star Eyes,” “Sweet Pumpkin,” “It’s a Lovely Day,” and Duke Ellington’s “Everything But You.” Samara’s lower tone is reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald, and the group closed with Charlie Parker’s “Back Home Blues” with a beautifully melodic scat. It was a fabulous finish to the JazzFest!


Sponsors who were essential to the presentation of the 2020 JazzFest White Plains are: Presenting Sponsor Bank of America, Indian Point Energy Center, Westchester Medical Center, Galleria White Plains, KITE, Lendlease, Entergy, Galleria White Plains, Westchester Center for Jazz and Contemporary Music, Avalon Yonkers, M&T Bank, Westchester Magazine, Apple Bank, PJS Jazz Society, and New York State Council on the Arts.

For more information about JazzFest White Plains, and ArtsWestchester, go to: