Jazz Aspen June Festival overcomes myriad obstacles for memorable event
ASPEN – The conditions did not look ideal for an epic June Festival for Jazz Aspen Snowmass.The schedule did not cooperate, as the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen overlapped, for the first time, with Jazz Aspen’s event. The economy did not cooperate, and, for budgetary reasons, Jazz Aspen moved the festival from its own tent in downtown Rio Grande Park, where it had been held the past several years, to borrowed quarters in the Aspen Music Festival’s Benedict Music Tent, where the June Festival had been held in the organization’s infancy.The weather cooperated, but just barely: The frequent clouds, low temperatures and few sprinkles never gave way to a downpour. The lineup, too, was iffy: There were no opening acts to add flavor to the concerts, and none of the big-name rock acts that had been featured in years past.Despite all that, Jazz Aspen didn’t simply survive, but added another memorable weekend to its rsum. The artists – in particular Jamie Cullum, the 29-year-old British pop-jazz singer and pianist – did their share. The crowds turned out in respectable numbers; Saturday night’s show by Motown legend Smokey Robinson sold out the 2,000-plus venue. And as an organization, Jazz Aspen, in its 19th year, demonstrated an unflappable presence, putting on a smoothly run event.Taking the stage prior to Robinson’s performance, Jim Horowitz, executive producer of Jazz Aspen, assured that next year’s event would not coincide with Food & Wine, prompting a collective sigh of relief from the crowd. Away from the stage, Horowitz confirmed that the new venue translates to some alterations to the festival, in particular that rock ‘n’ roll would probably be eliminated from the mix.”There’s an absolute limit for amplified sound,” he said.Rock fans, however, can take heart from another announcement Horowitz made from the stage: Elvis Costello, with his recent band the Imposters, were added to Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Festival, set for early September in Snowmass Village.Jazz Aspen followers could also take comfort in the knowledge that jazz music – or at least, something firmly rooted in jazz – could put a charge into the audience. Take Cullum, who opened the festival Thursday night. Playing a style that combined lounge crooning, Billy Joel-style piano rock, contemporary r&b and jazz, Cullum electrified the night. It is fair to say that Cullum himself was the attraction; a decent singer and solid keyboardist, he was described by most as, above all, a great showman. But his sense of showmanship relies not so much on flashy gimmicks, but on charisma and an ability to connect with the audience.The highlight of the night came when Cullum walked into the crowd. It’s a trick that’s been done over and over, but not like this. Cullum was joined by his band, and halfway through their version of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” he ordered the amplification to be cut entirely. It turned from a familiar gimmick into a truly musical moment, and a special one for Jazz Aspen.Friday night brought trumpeter Chris Botti for his Jazz Aspen debut. Botti mixed various forms of music – a light take on fusion, a solo trumpet version of “Ave Maria” rooted in classical music, full-on soul when joined by vocalist Sy Smith. And when Botti and his band, which featured the powerhouse guitarist Mark Whitfield, moved into straightahead jazz, with a take on Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches,” it was good enough to make a lover of traditional jazz wish they had done more of it. Another notable moment was when Botti welcomed violinist Luciana Micarelli to the stage, and informed the crowd that Micarelli had spent seven summers at the Aspen Music School.Robinson, closing the festival Saturday night, remains in great shape, both in voice and body, at the age of 69. His show had an old-folks feel to it, relying on old stories, medleys of hits, costume changes, dancers and shtick, but Robinson had his heart in it.In his pre-show announcements, Horowitz said that next year’s June Festival would return to the Benedict Music Tent, meaning the organization would be celebrating its 20th anniversary back where it began. No one seemed to take that as bad email@example.com
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