Mwenso & The Shakes © Kevin R. Mason

The 2019 JazzFest White Plains took place from September 15 to 19 in White Plains, New York, a city in Westchester County located about 45 minutes north of New York City.  From Wednesday to Friday, there were several free afternoon shows, including singer/multi-instrumentalist Danny Assis, vocalist/composer Kristina Koller, The Eunha So Quartet, The Marcio Garcia Trio, and Kotoko Brass.

In its eighth year, JazzFest White Plains was presented in collaboration by White Plains BID (Business Improvement District), White Plains Recreation and Parks, and ArtsWestchester. In the festival program, it says the following: “Our 2019 JazzFest lineup presents a diverse roster of path-breaking artists, from young rising stars like Joel Ross (vibes). Melissa Aldana (sax), Emmet Cohen (piano), and Camille Thurman (voice/sax) to jazz legends George Coleman (sax) and Jimmy Cobb (drums). Featured festival artists are known for their work as performers and composers, putting jazz in conversation with Afro-Brazilian music, Colombian folk rhythms, Cuban charango and Ashanti drumming, as well as hip-hop, funk and reggae. There’s truly something for everyone at JazzFest White Plains.”

Wednesday, September 11

Jazz Stroll

On the first evening of the JazzFest, there was a Jazz Stroll, with concerts throughout downtown White Plains.

The Albert Rivera Quartet at Mediterraneo White Plains

   The Albert Rivera Quartet   © Kevin R. Mason

Saxophonist Albert Rivera was accompanied by bassist Zwelakhe-Duma Bell le Pere, pianist Damian Curtis, and drummer Ian Carroll. The set was chock full of great music, and the playing was tight. Each player had stand-out moments with excellent solos. The concert included “The Chicken” and Albert’s lively, high-energy composition, “Me, Myself, and I” that really had toes tapping. Then, they performed a sublime, heart-melting rendition of “The Nearness of You.” Mediterraneo White Plains is a charming restaurant with delicious food and excellent service. Between the delectable cuisine and the outstanding music, this first stop on the Jazz Stroll could have gone on twice as long as it did. Actually, the set did last longer than the hour officially allotted. Although some people left for the next stop on the Stroll, there was still a full house as their set continued, because Albert, Zwelakhe-Duma, Damian, and Ian were just killing it! They played a festive, Latin-infused rendition of “Green Dolphin Street,” that was an utter delight. They finished their show with a lush romantic version of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” This was a stellar start to the Jazz Stroll!

Pablo Mayor’s Folklore Urbano NYC Trio at Morton’s The Steakhouse

     Pablo Mayor’s Folklore Urbano NYC Trio                     © Kevin R. Mason

Pianist/composer/arranger Pablo Mayor is one of the leading lights in contemporary Colombian music. Joined by drummer Franco Pinna and bassist Dave Hertzberg, Pablo Mayor’s excellent Latin-infused set included “La Canoa Rancha,” “Chandiez,” “Cumbia en NY,” “San Pedro en El Espinal,” “Todo Tuyo,” “Conversación,” and “Zapateo.” It was a riveting and rhythmic stop on the Stroll.

The Jazz Stroll concluded with The Brian Carter Quartet at The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester, and Gilberto Colon & Ensalada De Pulpo at Sunset Restaurant Bar.

Thursday, September 12

Keyon Harrold

      The Keyon Harrold Quintet
       © Kevin R. Mason

Trumpeter Keyon Harrold’s concert started with a beautifully plaintive and melancholy song, “Voicemail,” that segued into a percussive crescendo that really stirred up the audience. Keyon was joined by bassist Carlos Henderson, guitarist Nir Felder, drummer Amaury Acosta, and pianist Shedrick Mitchell.  Then they played the title song from the CD, The Mugician, and Keyon did a bit of singing, in a very fine voice. Harrold talked about playing all the trumpet parts that weren’t performed by Miles Davis, in the biopic, Miles Ahead. Next in the set was “Her Beauty Through My Eyes.” They followed with a powerful protest song, “MB Lament (When Will it Stop?),” which Keyon composed in memory of Michael Brown, who died from police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri. He said the song was written from the perspective of a citizen, a parent, and a young black man in America. He added, “Someone once said that music shouldn’t be political, but I think everything is political!  Since I have a platform and the opportunity to share my thoughts and heart with people, I am always going to do that…One day, we’ll overcome racism, sexism, and bigotry. Anybody up for that?” The song was indeed an emotional lament, a stunning minor-key dirge that really touched the crowd. Next was a change of pace with “Ethereal Souls,” which was about love. “I like to write about love,” Harrold said, “and this song is about spreading love.” It was quite a lovely romantic ballad. The concert continued with “Stay This Way” and a song Keyon wrote for his son titled “Bubba Rides Again.” His son is a Junior, but his nickname is Bubba, he said, “Because he’s cool like that.” This excellent concert had the audience riveted from start to finish, and these talented musicians played for all they were worth!

Later that evening, there was a concert at the ArtsWestchester venue titled Pete Malinverni’s Jazz-Chester, which was followed by a Jazz Jam that was led by Jake Robinson of the Music Conservatory of Westchester, Ed Palermo of the Hoff-Barthelson Music School, Bob Gingery from Concordia Conservatory, and Pete Malinverni from SUNY Purchase College.

Friday, September 13

Joel Ross “Good Vibes”

       Joel Ross “Good Vibes”   © Kevin R. Mason

Didi Nicolas from Merrill Lynch, a division of presenting sponsor Bank of America, told a funny story about the Pope’s visit in New York, then he read Joel Ross’ impressive bio as an introduction.  Vibraphonist Joel Ross was joined by drummer Jeremy Dutton, bassist Or Bareket, and pianist Jeremy Corren. The group began with a jaunty, syncopated number, “Blued.” Next came a song that slowed the pace, a beautiful ballad that began with a gorgeous piano solo by Jeremy Corren. When the other musicians joined in, the song became progressively more up-tempo and driving, with spotlight solos by each artist.  The concert included Ambrose Akinmusire’s “Vartha” and Joel’s compositions “Marshland” and “Freda’s Disposition.” Joel introduced the band, then they finished the first part of the set with a somber, introspective, and elegant song.

Melissa Aldana

    Joel Ross ‘Good Vibes’ with Melissa Aldana                  © Kevin R. Mason

Janet T. Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester, came to the microphone and said, “People say that arts are a frill, but they are not a frill.” She expounded on all the important things that the arts do for people and their well-being. Then she brought Didi Nicolas back to the stage, and he told another funny anecdote, which really cracked up the crowd! Then he read saxophonist Melissa Aldana’s bio, and brought her to the stage along with Joel Ross and his group, with some well-deserved fanfare. The musicians seemed to be really enjoying themselves, especially Joel Ross. When he stepped to the side to give a soloist the attention, he was in almost constant motion, bopping to the music with great appreciation. They continued with “After the Rain,” “Touched By an Angel,” “Home,” and “KingMaker.” Although many people consider Friday the 13th a bad-luck day, it was a charmed evening for the patrons who had the good fortune to go to ArtsWestchester for the Joel Ross concert with guest star Melissa Aldana.

Saturday, September 14

The Emmet Cohen Quartet Featuring George Coleman and Jimmy Cobb

    Emmet Cohen Quartet    © Kevin R. Mason

At the White Plains Performing Arts Center, pianist Emmet Cohen, winner of the American Pianists Association’s 2019 Cole Porter Fellowship, was backed by bassist Russell Hall and two jazz giants: drummer Jimmy Cobb and saxophonist George Coleman. Wayne Bass, Commissioner of White Plains Recreation and Parks and co-curator of the JazzFest said, “I have butterflies, because we have legends in the house tonight!” Wayne also talked about the festival, and how it has grown over the past eight years, from a one-day, four-set event, to 23 acts over five days! Aaron Paige of ArtsWestchester took the microphone and talked about this concert being a meeting of the generations. Emmet Cohen came on stage and told Aaron and the audience about the importance of the intergenerational relationships in jazz. He added, “These relationships are especially important now, in light of all the negativity and hate we see in the news.” Emmet feels that this is partly due to ignoring the lessons of the past and disregarding the wisdom of the elders. Cohen thinks that multigenerational concerts like this one are a way to pay tribute to jazz history and honor the icons who are still with us. Aaron Paige then read the bios of each of the four artists. Individually and collectively, they are exceedingly accomplished. Paige then brought the rest of the group on stage to much applause.

        George Coleman and Jimmy Cobb                                     © Kevin R. Mason

The group started the set with a lovely “Autumn Leaves,” followed by a swinging rendition of “Green Dolphin Street.” All the musicians did a great job, and a particular stand-out was Russell Hall’s brilliant bass solo, where he also scatted quite charmingly. Emmet welcomed the crowd, saying, “It’s such an honor to be here, with these great American masters!” He talked about how much he has learned from Coleman and Cobb, and he also said they are two of the nicest people ever. He has greatly enjoyed their conversations and sharing meals with them. Emmet also mentioned driving up the interstate from New York City to White Plains and singing along with George Coleman’s solos on a CD. Although George Coleman was assisted to the stage, once he started playing, age ceased to matter. You could have been listening to someone decades younger, and the same could be said for Jimmy Cobb. Neither of these musicians have lost a beat. When you take Coleman and Cobb’s talent and years of experience, and put them together with the gifts of the young virtuosos Emmet Cohen and Russell Hall, you have a winning combination! After a short intermission, the group returned to thrill the audience with “All Of You,” “Cherokee,” and finished with a superb, emotional rendition of “Round Midnight.”  This concert was a truly wonderful collaboration between the musicians and a joy for the audience.

Sunday, September 15

White Plains Jazz and Food Festival

       Lev Butler       © Kevin R. Mason

This FREE outdoor afternoon of jazz and food was the closing event of the 2019 JazzFest White Plains, and it featured five concerts and an array of delectable food from local businesses. The weather was beautiful, and the closed-off street in downtown White Plains was packed with festival-goers. The day got started with a surprise guest – Lev Butler, a 13-year-old pianist from New Rochelle, New York. The young artist was introduced by Joe Boykin, a talented vocalist who has appeared himself at the JazzFest. Lev Butler is already quite accomplished, and he got things started on the right note!

Lagond Music All-Stars

      Lagond Music All-Stars    © Kevin R. Mason

Charlie Lagond, tenor saxophonist and co-founder/Musical Director of Lagond Music School, was accompanied by baritone saxophonist Steven Salcedo, guitarists Nicky Barbato and Audrey Pretnar, alto saxophonist Ryan Finegan,  bassist Lucas Aney, trumpeter “Hot Lips” Ethan Lin, drummer Will Comora, keyboardist Mark Wong, percussionist Jonah Weinstock, and guitarist/vocalist Sam Neesin. Their high-energy music was matched by their enthusiastic choreography. They started with “Afro Blue,” then Charlie said, “We believe in diversity so we’re going to play something by Stevie Wonder.” They really tore it up on “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” They followed up by going back to their jazz roots on “Sweet Georgia Brown.” On Joe Henderson’s “Mamacita,’ they played so hard, that the end of the song, that they all fell out on stage in a comical faint! At one point, some of the band members came out into the crowd, and the set included “Latin Sagebrush” and Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” The Lagond Music All-Stars really did themselves proud with an excellent set.

Art Bennett & The Organic Ensemble

        Art Bennett & The Organic Ensemble                               © Kevin R. Mason

Saxophonist/flutist Art Bennett was active in the “Loft Jazz” movement in New York City in the 1970s, and he is still playing with style and elegance. He was joined on stage by percussionist Baba Kazi Oliver, drummer Baba Abishai, bass guitarist Mark Hagan, keyboardist Hiroshi Yamakazi, and drummer Graciliano Zambonin. The group started with two sweetly mellow songs, then they were joined by songstress Genie Swinson, who beautifully sang “Here’s to Life.” Next came a Latin-flavored number that perfectly blended with the gorgeous late-summer weather. Art addressed the audience, saying, “We all know about the animosity that is pervading the world today. We want to do this song so we can reflect on more positive thoughts and more positive lifestyles.” So, Genie Swinson returned to the stage and was joined by vocalist Joe Boykin, and they sang a lovely duet of “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” The show also included a gorgeous “Triste” by Antônio Carlos Jobim.

Mwenso & The Shakes

       Mwenso & The Shakes    © Kevin R. Mason

This group brilliantly blends several genres and stylings. Their influences range from Fats Waller to Muddy Waters and James Brown. They bring everything to the stage: fine singing, expert instrumentals, and great choreography. Lead vocalist/dancer Michael Mwenso was backed by bassist Russell Hall (who played the night before with Emmet Cohen), keyboardist Mathis Picard, saxophonists Julian Lee and Ruben Fox, vocalist/dancer Vuyo Sotashe, drummer Kyle Poole, and dancer Michela Marino Lerman. The set included “Resolute,” “Know the God in You,” and “You Can Do No Wrong, with fabulous vocals by Vuyo Sotashe. Mwenso called Michela Marino Lerman “a premium tapologist” and she did a mesmerizing tap dance, accompanied by Mathis Picard on piano to “Handful of Keys.” The set continued with “No Regrets” and “Strength Will Keep You Here.” This electrifying group really lit up the stage in White Plains!  They ended the show with a dazzling version of “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity.

Camille Thurman with The Darrell Green Trio

   Camille Thurman with The Darrell Green Trio            © Kevin R. Mason

Vocalist/saxophonist Camille Thurman welcomed the crowd, saying, “Good afternoon, White Plains! It’s so wonderful to be here on this lovely day!” Accompanied by keyboardist Keith Brown, bassist Devin Starks, and drummer Darrell Green, they started with “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” Camille introduced the next song, proclaiming, “It’s an oldie, but a goodie, and we hope you enjoy it.” The song was “Easy to Love” on which Camille sang and scatted effortlessly. The group put their own spin on Horace Silver’s songbook, including “Won’t You Open Up Your Senses” where Camille again put her vocals to great use.  They finished with sterling renditions of “Love Vibrations” and “In Due Time.”

Alphonso Horne & The Gotham Kings

Recreation & Parks Commissioner Wayne Bass introduced the last group of the day. “I’m so excited to see Alphonso Horne & The Gotham Kings!” Then White Plains Mayor Tom Roach took the microphone and praised the JazzFest and thanked everyone for coming out to enjoy the festivities. He also gave a special shout out to Wayne Bass, Brittany Brandwein of White Plains BID, and Aaron Paige and Janet T. Langsam of ArtsWestchester for all the hard work they did to bring the JazzFest to fruition.

      Alphonso Horne & The Gotham Kings                           © Kevin R. Mason

Then, Alphonso Horne & The Gotham Kings came through the audience to take the stage, playing New Orleans-style jazz all the way! Most of the band members were wearing paper crowns, in keeping with the theme. Grammy Award-nominated trumpeter Alphonso Horne said, “We’re here to celebrate the music of New Orleans, the music of Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and others.” Although Alphonso is originally from Jacksonville, Florida, his music is all about New Orleans. Along with Alphonso, the group was made up of clarinetist/saxophonist Daniel Dickinson, trombonist Cory Wilcox, vocalist Shenel Johns, keyboardist Christopher Pattishall, Philip Norris on tuba and bass, Evan Sherman on drums, and another appearance by tap dancer extraordinaire Michela Marino Lerman. They began with an up-tempo rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” that had some truly outstanding solos. On King Oliver’s “High Society,” some of the musicians once again came out into the crowd to play. Michela Marino Lerman came out to dance with energy and enthusiasm. Then, Alphonso said, “We’re going to take it all the way back to Buddy Bolden.” Buddy Bolden was one of the originators of jazz, and they played a song by Jelly Roll Morton that was dedicated to Bolden, “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say.” Trombonist Cory Wilcox added an outstanding whistling solo, which garnered huge applause from the crowd, and he followed with a fine trombone solo. Alphonso contributed his own fabulous trumpet solo.

        Alphonso Horne & The Gotham Kings leave               the  stage    © Kevin R. Mason

Alphonso said that they have a big church tradition in New Orleans, and they really took it to church on “A Closer Walk With Thee” where Shenel sang in powerful voice and Philip Norris added some fine bass riffs. They continued with “Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man,” a song by cornetist Freddie Keppard, another New Orleans originator of jazz. They then played an emotional “St. James Infirmary” which Alphonso Horne sang with beautiful sentiment and feeling. They closed with a rousing, “When The Saints Go Marching In.” This stirring and inspiring show was a great way to finish the 2019 JazzFest White Plains!

Sponsorship

The presenting sponsor of the JazzFest White Plains was Bank of America. Other sponsors included Apple Bank, Galleria White Plains, AARP, Ivy Realty, Cambria Hotels and Suites, Peckham Industries, Inc., White Plains Hospital, Famous Famiglia Pizzeria, Journal News Media Group, and Empire City Casino. Community Partners included Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, City Center Summer Concert Series, Concordia Conservatory, Hoff-Barthelson Music School, Jazz Forum Arts, PJS Jazz Society, Purchase College, Sleepy Hollow High School, Westchester County Tourism & Film, White Plains Farmers Market, White Plains Library, and White Plains Performing Arts Center. These sponsors and partnerships are essential to providing the free and affordable music of JazzFest White Plains!