Kurt Elling plus the Kutztown University Jazz Ensemble I / Saturday, April 6, 7:30 p.m./ Miller Center for the Arts
Grammy winner Kurt Elling is among the world's foremost jazz vocalists. Elling has won every DownBeat Critics Poll for the last 12 years and has been named "Male Singer of the Year" by the Jazz Journalists Association eight times in that same span. Every one of Elling's nine albums has been nominated for at least one Grammy. In recent months, Elling has been presented several international Grammy equivalents, including Germany's ECHO Award, The Edison Prize from the Netherlands, and the Scottish Jazz Award (International) and was named Ambassador Jazzu to the City of Katowice, Poland.
Elling's rich baritone spans four octaves and features both astonishing technical mastery and emotional depth. His command of rhythm, texture, phrasing, and dynamics is more like a virtuoso jazz instrumentalist than a vocalist. The New York Times declared: "Elling is the standout male vocalist of our time."
The Washington Post said: "Since the mid-1990s, no singer in jazz has been as daring, dynamic or interesting as Kurt Elling. With his soaring vocal flights, his edgy lyrics and sense of being on a musical mission, he has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz." He has been featured in profiles for CBS Sunday Morning, CNN, on Ramsey Lewis' Legends of Jazz, and in hundreds of publications.
With his new album -- 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project -- Elling celebrates a legendary legacy from outside the jazz world. The CD project honors a locale that the London Telegraph called "the most important generator of popular songs in the Western world." The Kutztown University Jazz Ensemble I, under the direction of Dr. Kevin Kjos, will open the concert and feature several of Elling's big band arrangements.
Esperanza Spalding / Radio Music Society / Tuesday, April 9, 7:30 p.m. / Scottish Rite Cathedral
It has not taken Esperanza Spalding long to emerge as one of the brightest lights in the musical world. Listeners familiar with her stunning 2008 Heads Up International debut -- Esperanza -- and her best-selling 2010 release Chamber Music Society, were well aware that the young bassist, vocalist and composer was the real deal, with a unique and style-spanning presence, deeply rooted in jazz yet destined to make her mark far beyond the jazz realm.
That judgment was confirmed on February 13, 2011, when Spalding became the first jazz musician to receive the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. In early 2012, Spalding released -- Radio Music Society -- her most diverse, ambitious and masterful recital yet. Each of the 12 songs are accompanied by conceptual music videos, which further express Esperanza’s inspiration and story behind each track.
Radio Music Society has earned her three Grammy Award nominations: Best Jazz Vocal Album, Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists for the song “City of Roses,” and Best Long Form Video. “Art doesn’t thrive with too much analyzing and explaining,” Esperanza Spalding notes. “The idea of ‘radio music’ is very broad.” Radio Music Society is destined to expand the concept even further, not to mention the horizons of the music world’s most exceptional young artist.
Gerald Albright & Norman Brown / Friday, April 12, 10 p.m. / Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom
Who could forget the great jazz collaborations between Miles Davis and Gil Evans or Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie? The tradition lives on with the pairing of contemporary jazz icons Gerald Albright and Norman Brown -- two longtim Berks Jazz Fest favorites. Albright-Brown is a match made in jazz heaven: saxophonist Albright and guitarist Brown. They recently released their first collaborative CD Project -- 24/7 -- which features unny melodies, surefire R&B grooves, dovetailing exchanges between two genre stars.
The duo first met in the 1980s while performing at a jazz club in Redlands, California. Albright, who is 14 years older than Brown, got a head start on his solo recording career, releasing his debut album in 1987. In addition to mastering soprano, alto and baritone saxophones, he is equally skilled on keyboards, flutes, percussion and bass guitar. According to Albright, the title 24/7 springs from their dedication to making music.“Even when we sleep we’re thinking about melodies, recordings, concerts and whatever we’re going to do next,” he confides.
It's the 20th anniversary of Brown’s debut album, Just Between Us. In 2003, he won a Grammy Award in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category for Just Chillin’. Brown currently hosts his own weekend radio show on the Smooth Jazz Network. He credits guitarists Jimi Hendrix and George Benson as his two most important musical influences.
Maysa & Her Jazz Funk Soul Symphony / Sunday, April 14, 2 p.m. /Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom
Maysa Leak has been performing at the Berks Jazz Fest for many years, but this year's performance marks the first time she will headline with her own band. And Maysa is going all out, bring her dynamic, 11-piece Jazz, Soul, Funk Symphony ensemble to back her up. The Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom definitely will be rocking. The band features Angela Phillips and Sol Edler, background vocals; Carl Cox, saxophone; Leon Jordan Jr., trumpet; Paul Aborgast, trombone; Richard Tucker, guitar; Charles Baldwin, bass guitar; Will Brock and Damon Bennett, keyboards; Kevin Prince, percussions; and Timothy Hutson, drums.
Unlike many R&B singers, Maysa was not raised in the church, so her musical style was not shaped from the choir loft. Her early influences were her mother’s favorite soul records. When she was about 14, Maysa’s uncle took her aside and turned her on to jazz. Maysa studied music at Morgan State University before heading to California to sing back-up for music icon Stevie Wonder.
During a break from the Wonderlove Tour, she auditioned for Scottish drummer, Steve Harvey, who was best friends with Jean-Paul “Bluey” Manunick of Incognito fame. Bluey was looking for an American singer to front his band and asked Harvey to compile a list of prospects. He put Maysa on that list. Bluey asked her to sing Stevie Wonder’s tune “Don’t Worry About A Thing” over the phone. He told her the official audition would be the next day. The following day, however, Bluey’s manager called her and said she did not need to audition. Bluey had hired her and was not considering anyone else for the spot.The next few years were a whirlwind as Incognito reached new levels of fame with Maysa at the forefront. Motions Of Love, Maysa's latest CD release, received great reviews and has been called the pinnacle of her recording career.
~ Berks Jazz Fest