Jack DeJohnette backstage @ SPAC during the Freihofer’s Jazz Festival, 6/25/11
Interview and video by Susan Brink
The weather on Sunday hit that sweet spot you rarely see at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival: Just cloudy enough to keep the sun from beating your head in, just cool enough to make you forget it wasn’t the middle of summer. Still, I sunblocked up as I sat down to watch Rebecca Coupe Franks open the Gazebo Stage. Backstopped by sterling pianist Luis Pedromo, Franks has got chops, but she’s also got guts – not only for playing all-original material, but for singing her own lyrics, because as a vocalist… well, Franks is a great trumpet player. Nonetheless, I heard depth and intention in her material, and if she puts as much work into her singing as she put in her playing, something very cool could happen someday soon.
Where the hell was this Tia Fuller on her last disc?! To my mind, the former Beyoncé back-up player was completely overshadowed by the all-star cast on her Mack Avenue debut “Decisive Steps.” But here, dialed in with a tight quartet ram-rodded by drummer/brother-in-law Rudy Royston, the charismatic alto player was an absolute revelation. The bigger news, though, was Fuller’s sister Shamie Royston, who’s as hot on piano as Fuller is on sax. She writes the lion’s share of Fuller’s material, and a little bird told me Royston was recording her own stuff a few days before this show. Shamie Royston: Remember the name!
For me summer officially begins at noon on Saturday of the Jazz Festival at SPAC. I look forward to it all year long, in part knowing that I will be moved by people that I had never heard before.
Opening the festival at noon on the main stage was the Lionel Loueke Trio. Louke’s guitar had many voices and textures. Some of the selections reflected his West African heritage, while others would have fit comfortably in jazz fusion. On some of the songs, he also provided vocals, but not in the usual sense; these sounds seemed to come from another species.
Knowing that I could catch him later at the gazebo, I left his set early to hear Marcus Strickland’s quartet, who wowed the gazebo audience with inventive playing all around. Hilary Kole and her trio followed Marcus at the gazebo. They did a set largely composed of standards. The warmth of her voice and the accompaniment of her band worked well together. Eliane Elias and her group provided a lesson in bossa nova. Working largely from her most recent album “Light My Fire”, her set was enthusiastically received with several standing ovations. Kudos to the percussionist who provided her with great support.