Jazz in June

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Jazz Aspen Snowmass held its first festival in downtown Aspen, and its first Aspen festival in more than a decade, with last week’s June Festival. The four-day event livened up the town with late-night club gigs and a stage for free concerts on the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall, as well as main-stage offerings under a massive tent in Rio Grande Park.

On the main stage, Chico O’Farrill’s Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra kicked things off on a Latin note Thursday night. Tony Bennett smiled, sang and charmed his way into the hearts of a receptive audience Friday. Bennett made it a family affair by having his daughter Antonia join him for a duet, and having her sing a tune of her father’s request.

The young, Denver-born soul singer India.Arie made her Aspen debut Saturday. She was followed by Boz Scaggs, who surprised many with his latest incarnation as an interpreter of pop-jazz standards, performing with a mostly acoustic, jazz-oriented quartet. Scaggs went over well, with the audience demanding an encore.

Sunday’s main-stage performances opened with blues singer Shemekia Copeland, who made as much of an impact visually, in a reflective silver dress over her ample torso, as with her huge voice. The music under the big tent closed with Joe Cocker, who gave a tour through the hits of his past.

Away from the main stage, jazz fans ventured to the Hotel Jerome ballroom. There, singer-pianist Patricia Barber and her trio played a set that managed to be both eccentric and accessible Friday night. The following night pianist Brad Mehldau, performing a solo set, dazzled the crowd with his imaginative versions of classic rock songs and standard jazz repertoire.

A highlight of the free stage and the late-night activity was Kermit Ruffins, who led his BBQ Swingers in sets of high-energy New Orleans jazz.