Albany Jazz Festival – 2019
Written by Ed Conway on September 15, 2019
It was a beautiful fall-like day along the Hudson River at Albany’s Jennings Landing. The sun poked in and out among the rolling clouds making for a beautiful setting for the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival, which has been around for 18 years.
A personal obligation kept me from arriving at the festival until the last song from opener Charlie Apicella & Iron City. What I heard, however, made me sorry to have missed the rest. The Eastman Guitrars featured artist, Apicella’s guitar style sounded like something to look forward to hearing them again.
Next up, the venerable Skip Parsons Riverboat Jazz Band. They have been gracing the Albany area for so long, it’s hard to picture the music scene around here without them. Their blend of riverboat and Dixieland jazz harkens back to an era of cruising up and down the Mississippi on a paddle boat. While their accomplishments over the years are impossible to do justice here, suffice it to say the fact that Albany declared September 7, 2019, Skip Parsons Day speaks for itself.
Black Tie Brass explored a Funky side of Jazz. As the name implies, the horn section was front and center to their sound. This New York City band seems to have melded the sounds found all around their neighborhood into a unique sound. While maintaining a musical structure falling into the jazz genre, their use of the horns as accent instruments as well as solo instruments gave it a sound of a full-fledged funk band. At the same time, their brass arrangements gave it a New Orleans vibe making it a perfect transition from Parsons to the rest of the day.
The Dizzy Gillespie All Stars presented a run back to the Big Band Standards. Each song was carefully culled from some of Gillespie’s favorites. To me, though, one of the highlights to the day was when newlywed pianist Cyrus Chestnut, with the band stripped down to just him, bass and drums, played his arrangement of “My Funny Valentine.”
Closing out the day, The Bad Plus brought an experimental edge to what they call “avante-garde populism.” Many times, when someone hears the term “experimental” jazz, they tend to shy away thinking it’s going to be some kind of hard to follow atonal piece, but in their case, while they definitely pushed some of the boundaries, this trio of piano, bass and drums, produced a sound that was very approachable to a casual jazz fan such as myself.
The variable day of sun, clouds, river and a couple of drops of rain, dropped by a rogue cloud, was the perfect symbol for the varying day of Jazz. Each band presented a different side to a style of music the outsider may not realize exists. From the Bop inspired sound of Charlie Apicella & Iron City to the experimental style of The Bad Plus, with Dixieland and Funk thrown in for good measure, the day built logically from style to style, giving even a casual fan something different to appreciate and act as a primer for what is still a vibrant and growing musical genre.