Rochester, NY – June 8-16, 2007 – The East End Cultural District was definitely the place to be during the annual Rochester International Jazz Festival. Performances by several world famous and emerging artists took place over nine days. West African, Nordic, European, American and Latin sounds could be heard in18 downtown venues and at several free outdoors concerts. Over 100,000 people were in attendance throughout the week to catch acts such as Wynton Marsalis with JLCO (Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra), Yacub Addy’s Odadaa, Toots and the Maytals, Jerry Lee Lewis, Madeleine Peyroux, Rusted Root, Dave Brubeck, Mamadou Diabate, Omar Sosa, Soul Rebels among many others. Being new to Rochester, my spirit felt alive with the energy that connected the community through music.
The festival contained a range of options for a diverse group of music lovers. I looked forward to both the familiar artists on the bill and for the opportunity to explore different styles of new music
I was eager for Monday’s Mamadou Diabate ensemble performance at Kilbourn Hall. Playing to a packed house, the sounds of Mamadou Diabate on Kora (a west African instrument akin to a harp), Balla Kouyate on Balafon and Baye Kouyate on talking drum, took us all to Africa and had everybody on their feet. The Kora is one of my favorite instruments and I felt blessed and grateful to absorb the energy of this beautiful instrument first hand.
On Wednesday the world famous Dave Brubeck Quartet played at the renowned Eastman Theater. This 86 year-old jazz pianist did not disappoint and he proved his fame is well deserved. The group performed several classics that warmed the crowd. Dave Brubeck shared a touching story about how he was encouraged to begin composing right there on that very stage some 45 years ago. I was intrigued by the beautiful sounds he created as his fingers drifted across the keys of his piano. I felt honored to witness a performance by this legendary artist.
One of the highlights of the festival was Thursday night’s concert at the Eastman Theater featuring Wynton Marsalis with the JLCO and Yacub Addy’s Odadaa performing Congo Square. The orchestration of both genres was fluent, original and faithful to the communion of international music. On the right side of the stage Wynton Marsalis conducted the JLCO, while on the left side Odadaa brought the sounds of Ghana to the theatre. The flow from one style to another was seamless. This show was spiritually energizing and inspired us to dance to the rhythms.
Friday night Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (Rochester’s homegrown reggae band) opened for Toots and the Maytals at the East Avenue and Alexander Street stage to a jam-packed and diverse crowd. The reggae legend Toots Hibbard brought Jamaica to the streets of Rochester, and levitated the audience with classic songs like Monkey Man and 54-46.
Wrapping up Saturday night were Soul Rebels, Omar Sosa and the Jens Winther European Quintet among others. The Soul Rebels, dubbed as “New Orleans Finest brass band”, brought the heart and soul of the French Quarter to the Big Tent on East Main Street. This band of seven college-trained instrumentalists brought the party with their blend of jazz, funk and hip-hop soul. I suggest if the Soul Rebels come through your town…do not miss them! I guarantee you’ll be on your feet, clapping your hands and shaking your booty.
I thoroughly enjoyed this festival. Thank you to festival Producers, Mark Iacona and John Nugent, who proved that Rochester can turn out in a big way, there were over 100,000 in attendance, and support a nine day festival with over 600 performers and more than 200 shows. It was very well organized and brought a festive atmosphere to a large part of the city. The festival seemed to go off without a hitch. I look forward to discovering what else Rochester has in store for me this summer!