LEWISTON – A great summer of free music and summer festivals in the Village of Lewiston culminates Friday and Saturday in one of the summer’s most anticipated events – the Lewiston Jazz Fest.
The annual event boasts free music on five stages, featuring top names and new discoveries in jazz. Also on tap are a display of classic jaguars cars, jewelry, regional wines and culinary offerings that go beyond the ordinary fair fare.
Bobby Militello will headline the festival Friday night and will receive the first Western New York Jazz Ambassador of the Year Award, recognized for his outstanding international success as a jazz musician and for his efforts to promote and celebrate jazz, according to Carol Calato, chairwoman of the Lewiston Jazz Festival board of directors.
This year’s festival will feature more than 100 musicians and more than 40 performances on the stages along Center Street in the Village, as well as in local restaurants. The festival gets under way at 5 p.m. Friday and continues, at outdoor venues, until 10:30 p.m. On Saturday, the music begins at noon and continues through 10 p.m.
“The historic Lewiston Jazz Festival has grown each and every year with a unique blend of national, international and local musicians to become an end-of-summer festival for both residents and visitors from Western New York, southern Ontario and other regions,” Calato said.
“What started out as a sweet, little festival has really grown to become a premier Western New York music festival,” said Sandy Hays-Mies, the festival’s executive director. “Also Lewiston’s reputation as a hip, little village has gotten out and people have discovered Lewiston over the past five or six years, and that has helped to grow the festival.”
Approximately 40,000 people attend each year. Hays-Mies said there has been a real effort to make the event a first-class festival.
“We pay very strict attention to the kinds of vendors we allow in. We make sure the food is not your traditional festival food. We have a lot of gourmet foods that we offer from our restaurants. We pay a lot of attention to sanitation to make sure that there isn’t trash on the street, which can easily get out of hand with that many people, to make sure the event always looks pristine,” Hayes-Mies said. “We also require vendors to have tablecloths on their tables to make their booths look like a cabaret instead of a festival stand.”
She said support from sponsors and the community has also helped grow the festival, which is free to the public but costs about $150,000 to produce. Costs include hiring professional stages and sound people, and more than 150 musicians that are handpicked by music director Ron Corsaro and a committee.
When the New York Power Authority, as a public commission, was not allowed to sponsor the event about seven years ago, the festival’s organizers had to appeal to the private sector to keep the festival alive.
“At that time we only raised about $1,000 from the private sector. Today a festival that costs us $150,000 to execute is fully funded because of sponsorships. It’s wonderful,” she said.
The presenting sponsor for this year’s fest is Emblem Health, with secondary sponsorships from Sevenson Environmental Services and M&T Bank and the Town of Lewiston. There also are early 100 other sponsors, from politicians to individuals, to local businesses and area restaurants.
Jazz saxophonist Militello, who will be featured on the main stage at 8:30 p.m. Friday, has been on the Buffalo jazz scene for more than five decades, and toured with the Maynard Ferguson Band, recording and doubling as his road manager. He joined the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1982 and toured major jazz festivals throughout the United States and Canada. He was a member of the touring Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band and has been a staple on soundtracks recorded in Hollywood and New York for movies, commercials and TV shows. In all, he has recorded more than 250 albums.
He also managed Buffalo’s Tralf and owns the Bijou Grille and Militello’s Restaurant in Buffalo.
On Saturday night, the headliner will be M.F. Production’s Celebration of Lionel Hampton on the main stage at 8 p.m., with Kevin Mahogany and Jason Marsalis leading an all star 12-piece jazz ensemble paying memorial tribute to Hampton, one of the most celebrated jazz vibraphonists of his time.
Internationally acclaimed percussionist Jason Marsalis is the youngest of the celebrated Marsalis brothers while Mahogany is recognized as a standout jazz vocalist.
For those who yearn to learn more about jazz, there will be a “show and tell” performance of the Eastman School of Music Jazz Anthology on the Rising Star Stage at M&T Bank at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Coached by professor Rich Thompson, bright young jazz players will serve up a variety of styles, from Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker to Sonny Rollins and Pat Metheny. Musicians will perform along Center Street, with the main stage located at Center and Fourth streets, the Rising Star stage at M&T Bank and stages at DiCamillo Bakery, the Lewiston Peace Garden and the Frontier House porch.
Area chefs will showcase their specialties for purchase along Center Street. Regional wines from the Niagara County Wine Trail also will be available.
Festivalgoers can shop under the big tent for vintage and contemporary jewelry as part of the “Jewelry and All the Jazz Show.” And for those who like their sparkly things on four wheels, there is a classic car show, coordinated by Jaguar of Buffalo and presented by West Herr Jaguar.
Featured are vintage British cars, European collector cars and cars of special interest.
Hays-Mies believes the festivalgoers themselves are key to the event’s successful chemistry.
“There are two kinds of people who come to the jazz festival: There are the real jazz enthusiasts and they can come and see some of the best jazz musicians around [and] those that just love a wonderful festival and enjoy the music,” Hays-Mies said.
A complete list of performers and activities is available at www.lewistonjazz.com. Parking is free and available in the lower level lot at Artpark. Seating for performances is limited, so festivalgoers are encouraged to bring their own chairs.