Caramoor’s Jazz Festival celebrates 20th season

By Susan Wolfert

It started with a single performance in 1994, but today the Jazz Festival is an integral part of Caramoor’s annual musical menu, and this summer, celebrates its 20th anniversary. This year’s festival, taking place July 26-28, celebrates the art form, its deep cultural history, and a gathering of talent – iconic and emerging – second to none.

A chance meeting between Caramoor Managing Director Paul Rosenblum and jazz DJ and producer Jim Luce at a kindergarten parents’ breakfast in Manhattan gave rise to a happy, successful, and long-lasting collaboration that first brought jazz to Caramoor.

Every jazz festival at Caramoor since its inception has been produced by Mr. Luce, who believes New York is the center of the jazz world, but performances are largely confined to indoor clubs and bars. When forming his vision of the type of festival he wanted to create, Mr. Luce said, “I wanted to distinguish Caramoor as a real home for jazz music with a beautiful, unmatchable outdoor setting” and access to “the best musicians in the world.”

Mr. Luce has strived to create a party-like atmosphere of audiences enjoying the music and musicians playing together after the touring season. “We are one hour from New York and have people who made jazz great in the golden era as well as young musicians we’ve brought in,” Mr. Luce said.

When assembling the program each year, Mr. Luce asks himself, “Where is the opportunity to make a statement?” This year, a thematic chance to make that statement presented itself. One of the seminal moments in jazz is celebrating its 50th anniversary – Charles Mingus’ 1963 recordings of “Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus,” “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” and “Mingus Plays Piano.” Mr. Luce explained with the civil unrest in the 60s, jazz was the music of resistance and complaint, “but it is also the music of rising above. It celebrates we are here, we are alive and we can express beauty.”

The 2013 program also includes a July 4th performance celebrating Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and the Harlem Jazz Craze. Fireworks after the show will celebrate the nation’s birthday. The festival itself begins July 26 highlighting the foundation of jazz with pianist Luis Perdomo and singer Luciana Souza. The following day’s program includes: the Adam Makowicz Trio’s first performance at Caramoor; the Charles Tolliver Big Band (“big in the 70s and still at it,” Mr. Luce said); Vijay Iyer playing solo; Cuban pianist Benito Gonzalez; and Delfeayo Marsalis with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra.

The final day of the festival brings performances from the rising Elio Villafranca, Lionel Loueke, a guitarist from West Africa, drummer Jason Marsalis playing the vibraphone, saxophone great James Carter, and of course, the celebration of Charles Mingus’ 1963 trio. “We are positioned to have a historic three days and I am looking forward to it,” Mr. Luce said.

Looking ahead to the fall, Cuban pianist Chuchito Valdez will perform at Caramoor on October 4, as will Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, playing a series of duets with Columbian harpist Edmar Castaneda.

Caramoor’s jazz festival will continue to celebrate the legends and the up and comers and grow to where it, “stands tall amongst the greatest jazz festivals that have ever existed,” according to Mr. Luce. He envisions a piano festival celebrating roots, classical, jazz and Latin music; collaborations with European jazz festivals; and the sponsoring of a jazz artist in residence. It is the cross-cultural, inter-generational, life-affirming nature of jazz that is to be celebrated. As Mr. Luce said, “Jazz is a high level communication without words.”

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