Weekend Best Bet: Jazz in the Valley
Poughkeepsie’s annual music fest channels legends, lifts community
Artistic director Javon Jackson (l), Jimmy Heath, Donald Harrison, and Gary Bartz (r) at 2013's Jazz in the Valley, its second year in Poughkeepsie.
Photo: Richard Conde Photography
In what Questlove described as a “disposable art society,” we often hear radio hits being cranked out daily, just to be forgotten in a month’s time. Consequently, appreciation for the dynamic heritage of craftspeople that helped lay the groundwork for today’s music seems to fade away, too. But this Sunday, Aug. 21, some of jazz’s most prolific pioneers will converge at Poughkeepsie’s nine-acre Waryas Park for the annual Jazz in the Valley festival, looking to both revive that legacy and breathe life into the city’s rocky economy.
Photo Courtesy of TRANSART
Hands of NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston.
Jazz in the Valley, which has been staged at Waryas since 2012, began in 2000 through TRANSART, a Hudson Valley-based nonprofit organization that encourages young minority populations to explore art through workshops and travelling exhibitions. That inaugural year saw revered jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal perform “Picture Perfect,” a composition inspired by our region’s natural beauty, setting the tone for an event that would consistently present both “young musicians and living legends of world renown,” says Greer Smith, founder of Jazz in the Valley and TRANSART. “We strive to make the festival intergenerational, because when younger folks see these legends come to town, they think, ‘My community must be important.’”
This year’s lineup, organized by artistic director Javon Jackson, boasts no shortage of recognizable main-stage talent, including National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Randy Weston and Jimmy Cobb. At 90, Weston has lived through jazz’s key historical eras, having played alongside the likes Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington. Known for incorporating African rhythms into American modes, Weston’s piano performance alongside his namesake trio and bassist Alex Blake, who soloed on the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends,” will be something not to miss.
Photo courtesy of Jazz in the Valley
One-time John Coltrane drummer Jimmy Cobb.
Cobb, 87, is no less a luminary, having recorded drums for both Miles Davis and John Coltrane. And on Sunday, he’ll join Javon Jackson as part of the super group Jazz By 5. Jackson, a sax player and avowed Coltrane lover, says he’s honored “to be able to play through the spirit of [Coltrane’s] music, and hopefully encourage the next generation to play.”
In addition to those heavy hitters, the lineup fills out with earlier acts including pianist/composer Randy Brecker and trumpeter George Cables, while local troupes like the Dutchess County Community College Jazz Ensemble will court attendees at a nearby pavilion just outside the park gates. Though apart from the day’s entertainment value, Smith views its impact on Poughkeepsie as one of its most important payouts. By relocating it to Waryas four years ago, she feels she helped “introduce this festival to a city that needs an economic driver.”
Dutchess Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Frank Castella, Jr., agrees, explaining that, “When an event like this comes to town, people attend and, hopefully, stay.” Because in doing so, “They bring revenue to hotels, restaurants, the many small shops in the neighborhood, and all of that sales tax stays here in our home town.”
One such shop would be The Coffee Bean Café just uphill from Waryas and adjacent to the train station. And co-owner Carol Ariola confirms Castella’s optimism, stating that her business “will definitely see some extra foot traffic.”
Smith confides that the festival has been kept afloat through small investments from supporters, but is confident that “we’ve turned a corner this year,” and her aspiration is to eventually expand it to a weekend-long affair. Castella seconds the notion.
Photo: Richard Conde Photography
“Longer festivals mean more overnight guests and more opportunity for visitors to experience all of the great offerings Poughkeepsie has to offer,” he encourages, with an additional message for residents in the area: “Investing in local, grassroots events and organizations is paramount to helping our community grow and thrive.”
In the meanwhile, all involved cherish the festival’s positive impact on Poughkeepsie’s youth, who Smith beams will benefit from a rare opportunity “to hear music in a pure form.” Questlove, no doubt, would approve.