The epicenter of the jazz universe will be in Berks County for the 23rd annual Berks Jazz Fest, an event that will be celebrated in Reading and throughout the County from April 5-14.
National touring artists who are the brightest luminaries in the jazz constellation are featured, along with local musicians who will knock your socks off.
John Ernesto has been general manger for 19 of the Festival’s 23 years. He oversees the formidable task of booking and producing the more than 120 performances that comprise the festival. He is excited about this year’s lineup.
“We have a great kickoff with Dianne Reeves and the Reading Symphony Orchestra at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center April 5. This is the 100th Anniversary celebration of the (orchestra). Also we’re happy to have booked multi Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding. We’ve been trying to get her for several years, and this year her touring schedule lined up.”
Esperanza, one of the most in demand bassists on the scene today, will be at the Scottish Rite Cathedral April 9. Ernesto books a diverse program, reflecting the various facets of jazz.
“Our goal is to put together a festival that the entire Berks County community can be proud of. We include many styles of jazz to make it appealing to many musical tastes.”
He has a core group of great musicians who come back year after year.
“We try to put them in various combinations to allow them to do different things to express their creativity.”
A few of returning virtuosos who you will see at their scheduled shows and playing at the jams include bassists Gerald Veasley and Brian Bromberg, guitarists Chuck Loeb and Nick Colionne, saxaphonists Gerald Albright and Andrew Neu, drummer Steve Smith, keyboardist Jeff Lorber, and trumpeter Rick Braun.
One unique aspect of Berks Jazz Fest is that performances are happening simultaneously at many venues throughout the county, rather than one show at one location like most festivals. This allows fans to experience full length concerts by their favorite artists, rather than just a single set.
In Boyertown the festival is happening at the Other Farm Brewing Company, which is hosting five Jazz Fest events.
The series at the Other Farm kicks off with their regular first Thursday Jazz & Blues Jam, where guests are invited to bring their instrumental and vocal talents and sit in with the house band. The tunes range from Miles Davis to Muddy Waters to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Listeners are always welcome, but don’t be surprised if you feel yourself moved to get up and sing and dance. I’ve been privileged to participate, and this jam will make you stretch your chops.
On April 5, there will be a performance by the Cider House Band, led by Henry Frecon. Henry is a longtime supporter of jazz in the area, and his saxophone skills have been featured at Berks Jazz Fest events.
“We’ll be doing standards by Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock to funky contemporary classics and Steely Dan. We have some of the finest musicians in the area on the bandstand.”
On April 6, Boyertown’s own Adam Price will be playing with the Brooklyn based Jon Bell Band.
Jazz guitar virtuoso Gene Terramni and percussionist Cornell Rochester will be featured on April 12. The high energy, explosive fusion of UZO will rock the house April 13.
Jazz Fest offers many educational activities and jam opportunities at the GoggleWorks in Reading. This year there will be guitar workshops with Chuck Loeb and British legend Martin Taylor, and Blues, Latin, and New Orleans jams. Younger musicians are encouraged to get involved and try their stage legs. Gerald Veasley hosts the popular Round Midnite Jams at Jazz Base, and the big boys play at Berks Bop on April 10 and the All Star Jam on April 11 at the Crowne Plaza in Wyomissing, which is where many of the major concerts are held.
If you’re a lover of fine music, or are just curious about what the buzz is all about, you owe it to yourself to experience Berks Jazz Fest firsthand.
Steve Walker is a Berks musician, teacher, and journalist. He can be reached at Steve@hexhollowmusic.com.