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Owen McNally writes about jazz and other music events in Connecticut's Jazz Corridor, stretching from the tip of Fairfield County, right through New Haven and Hartford, and on up beyond the state into the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Keep up with the best our area has to offer in music.

Promising New Jazz Festival in Manchester Brightens Region's Fall Season

Courtsey of Valery Ponomarev
Russian-born jazz trumpeter Valery Ponomarev.
Credit Harrison Judd / FutureHistory.com
Alex Nakhimovsky in Tokyo, Japan in 2012.

With the rich crop of summer jazz festivals now behind us, there’s suddenly an early autumn harvest to reap at three immediately upcoming jazz festivals in October, including a brand new, promising fest sponsored by Beth Sholom B’Nai Israel (BSBI) in Manchester. 

The impending fall fest windfall is stocked with everything from tasty trad jazz with a French flavor, to nourishing modern jazz vocal stylings flourishing in fertile venues ranging from Manchester and Branford, Connecticut, to Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The first annual BSBI Jazz Festival makes its premiere three-day run on Thursday, October 13, at 7:30 pm; Saturday, October 15, also at 7:30 pm; and Sunday, October 16, at 1:00 pm at Manchester’s historic Cheney Hall.

Among numerous attractions, the lineup features noted East Coast vocalists Dianne Mower and June Bisantz and the celebrated Russian-born trumpeter Valery Ponomarev.

In another key highlight, Alex Nakhimovsky, an acclaimed jazz and classical pianist and yet another one of Russia’s gifts to the American jazz scene, leads his trio, featuring vocalist Sharon Clark.

Nakhimovsky, who is the fledging festival’s artistic adviser, is a noted educator, an internationally experienced producer and globe-trotting pianist who has performed with such jazz giants as Benny Golson, Jimmy Cobb and Jackie McLean.

Credit Courtesy of Dianne Mower
Courtesy of Dianne Mower
Vocalist Dianne Mower

Opening night on October 13 features Mower collaborating with singer Marion Cowings, a venerable master of scat and vocal pyrotechnics who has sung and swung from The Kennedy Center to The Village Vanguard. With her friend Cowings at her side as simpatico collaborator and inspirational catalyst for Mower’s powers, the Hartford-based diva is sure to bring nothing less than her A-game to celebrate the newborn festival.

Also on tap that night are percussionist Jocelyn Pleasant leading her group, plus the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts (GHAA) All Stars, featuring students, faculty and alumni.

On Saturday, October 15, the bill features the savvy, expressive vocalist June Bisantz leading her sextet on selections from her excellent new album, It’s Always You. The CD marks the second installment in her elegantly interpreted, highly acclaimed Chet Baker Project, which she launched in 2006 with the release of her CD, Let’s Fall in Love.

Bisantz’s combo brings an international aura to the Connecticut festival with its personnel: Nakhimovsky, who grew up in an industrial city in the Ural Mountains, on piano; Hungarian-born Gabor Viragh on trumpet; Norman Johnson, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, on guitar; and Japanese percussionist Kan Yanabe. Both Bisantz and her bassist, Don Wallace, were born in the USA.

Credit Harrison Judd / FutureHistory.com
June Bisantz, Alex Nakhimovsky, and Norman Johnson performing in Tokyo Japan in 2016.

As part of the bill, Johnson, a versatile guitarist, smoothly transitions from his sideman role with Bisantz, to lead his own quartet. Also that night, drummer Jacob Patrone, an alumnus of GHAA, heads his quartet.

On the festival’s final day on Sunday, October 16, Ponomarev, a virtuoso modern jazz trumpeter, leads his quartet, featuring drummer Sylvia Cuenca. Nakhimovsky sits-in with the master trumpeter.

Also that day, Nakhimovsky, both an off-stage and on-stage shaker-and-doer, leads his trio featuring vocals by special guest Sharon Clark, plus guitarist Scott Rosen leads his quartet.

Dr. Ken Wichman, BSBI event committee chairman, conceived of the jazz festival as “a way to energize and engage music lovers in our area.”

With his fellow committee members, Wichman brought Nakhimovsky on board as artistic adviser to establish a strong identity for the festival and “to ensure its ability to bring serious jazz performances to Manchester and Connecticut each year.”

For tickets and information: myshul.org/events/jazz. Additional information: (860) 324-8658.

Mad for Trad

Credit Irene Cowern
Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone.

Jeff and Joel’s House Party, an enormously popular three-day bash which features the red-hot Paris Washboard and a legion of top American players, is virtually sold-out for its four shows for the weekend of October 7-9.

Opening night, which is solely devoted to the Paris Washboard, was the first event to sell out very quickly as ticket sales soared across-the-board, a far too rare phenomenon for jazz concerts.

Paris Washboard, the awesome French foursome, plays throughout the weekend, along with an array of other trad jazz masters on two sessions on October 8 and one on October 9.

Top-seeded trad jazz pianist Jeff Barnhart, ringmaster for this Jazz Cirque du Soleil, and his irrepressible co-host, banjoist/vocalist Joel Schiavone, keep the old-time music flowing with brash, youthful vigor in the intimate setting of the festival’s new digs at the Elks Lodge in Branford.

Among those stoking the music’s continuous flames are reedman Noel Kaletsky, cornetist Fred Vigorito, the renowned physician and eminent jazz tubaologist, Dr. Eli Newberger, and a host of other jazz practitioners specializing in how to let the good times roll.

With the birth of the new festival and the skyrocketing ticket sales for Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Connecticut’s fall jazz season is off to a roaring start.

And in light of this season’s extraordinary rush on House Party ticket sales—only a dozen and-a-half or so remained by the middle of last week--early reservations are strongly recommended for next year’s celebration running October 6-October 8 at the Elks Lodge, with details TBA.

Information: jeffandjoelshouseparty.comand (203) 208-1481.

Pittsfield’s Multi-Faceted Fest

Credit Courtesy of Ed Bride
Courtesy of Ed Bride
Vocalist Karrin Allyson

Marking its 12th season, the prestigious Pittsfield CityJazz Festival, which features many diverse events from October 7 to October 16, headlines the eloquently expressive singer/pianist Karrin Allyson, saxophonist Scott Robinson and the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors.

Robinson performs with his quartet on Friday, October 14, at 8:00 pm at Flavours Restaurant. Allyson, a five-time Grammy nominee, leads her trio on Saturday, October 15, at 7:30 pm at The Colonial Theatre, followed by the Jazz Ambassadors, "America's Big Band."

Presented by the non-profit, Berkshires Jazz Inc., the festival steps-off on Columbus Day weekend, Friday, October 7, through Sunday, October 9, with Jazz About Town, its annual “jazz crawl” featuring local musicians jamming in restaurants and lounges throughout Pittsfield’s Upstreet Cultural District.

Classy Crooner Charms Cafe

A one-man festival of Great American Songbook material, Italian-American favorites and Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra classics, Tony Allen, a popular, veteran crooner, performs on Friday, October 7, at 7:00 pm at Pazzo Italian Café, Rocky Hill.

Allen’s discography includes I Remember Front Street, his musical memoir of fond recollections of Hartford’s old Front Street neighborhood where he grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s. The CD’s popularity earned Allen (born Anthony DeDominicis) the sobriquet, “The Troubadour of Front Street.”

The forever young troubadour, who’s in his 80s, is accompanied at Pazzo’s by Alex Nakhimovsky, piano; Lou Bocciarelli, bass; and Joe Ronan, drums.

Information: (860) 721-8888.

Please submit press releases at least three weeks before publication date to omac28@gmail.com. Comments welcome.

Owen McNally writes the weekly Jazz Corridor column for WNPR.org as well as periodic freelance pieces for The Hartford Courant and other publications.

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