While the days when jazz giants like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and others used to drop in and occasionally cherry-pick a local musician to take on tour are past, that doesn't mean that solid players are no longer on the scene.
That's a good reason to celebrate the 8th annual Queen City Jazz Festival, which took place near the CMC on Saturday. Acts were booked and people braved the potential of rain to come out and see the musicians. The end result was a block party that just happened to be for anyone who happened to drop in.
If you wanted to people-watch and listen, this was as good a place as any to indulge in those activities. Men, women and a few children wandered around, listening to the music and greeting friends and acquaintances with hugs, smiles and stories. Shorts and skirts were worn, as were suits, jeans, dresses, T-shirts, rain jackets, hats and caps. Sartorial choices were individualized, all of them showcasing the wearer's specific tastes, as likely to provoke amusement as admiration.
Vendors prepared food and sold a variety of gewgaws, but there were also a fair number of picnic baskets and coolers filled with goodies from home in evidence. Lawn chairs were scattered around Broadway, which was blocked off for the occasion, and umbrellas were held in readiness to counter any rain.
Precipitation held off for most of the day, only showing up as a lightweight shower (more of a mist than anything else) during the Brotha Perry Quartet set and continuing through most of the Lady's First Big Band set. Most of the hundreds of folks in attendance stayed put, although an emcee noted that if the rain got heavy, the concerts would move indoors at the CMC. That would have been interesting, in a way, because the club wasn't built to hold as many people as were at the Jazz Festival.
Kudos should go out to the folks who took care of the technical and logistical elements for the day. The first four acts on the program – Sol y Sambra, Verse, E-Life 7 and the Brotha Perry Quartet – all hit their mark at the top of the hour. That the fifth act, Lady's First Big Band, missed the appointed hour by 10 minutes was more a function of the volume of equipment that needed to be shuffled onto the stage and the unique sonic needs of a big band versus a smaller outfit. After that minor setback, things managed to run close to the original schedule, a rare thing in these days of incessant backstage delays and artistic egos.
From a music standpoint, the jazz presented at the festival was an idiom that proved to have any number of definitions. The sonic menu included bands playing Latin jazz, funk fusion, soul-inflected, gospel-inspired, big band, show band, etc., etc. All the musicians were received favorably after their sets ended, although some got bigger reactions than others.
In a way, the music mattered, but it might just as well have been an excuse – an opportunity to explore the whole concept of getting together with friends, family and like-minded strangers. As a result, the people seemed to be grooving in their own way – enjoying the music, coping with the pitter-patter of rain and generally having fun. Is there a better approach to making the best of a weekend?