Sunday, June 08, 2008

There's Plenty of Jazz to Be Discovered Here in Burlington

COLCHESTER--With the return of clear skies, the past several nights on Church Street were the way I had been expecting it to be the whole time we've been here--beautiful, cool weather at night, the street full of people, and music coming out from every corner on the lower block. (Since yesterday, there has been a Texas-like heat that's come in, but it's still not as balmy as Dallas must be right now.)

As I type this, the 25th annual Burlington Discover Jazz Festival has come to an end. I have to say that this is probably my favorite festival of its kind in this country, and the closest thing to Montreux that we have in the States. Walking up and down Church Street (and some of the side streets as well, as we discovered last night), you can hear music coming out of countless venues, as well as the two outdoor stages during the day, and then everyone packs the Flynn Center for the headliner concerts at night. I've been here four times now with school groups, but, money willing, I would easily come here again as a patron, and hopefully someday as a performer as well.

So how did this all get started, anyway? I'll admit that, before my first visit here in 2002, I thought that the "Discover" part of the festival's name meant that it was sponsored by Discover Card, but that was the furthest thing from the truth; the name came from the desire of its founders for people to discover something new. The Burlington Free Press has the whole story, which starts out like this:
Before they created the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival 25 years ago, the event's organizers had to discover something about the local jazz scene.

Namely, that there was a local jazz scene.

"I don't think we knew," said Doreen Kraft, who at the time led the Mayor's Arts Council and is now executive director of its successor, Burlington City Arts. "I don't think anybody had any idea of the incredible amount of talent we had in this community."

Several members of that underground jazz scene approached the fledging city-arts group and the nascent Flynn Theatre in 1983, trying to find a way to spread the word about the musical abilities that were already in Burlington and only needed an avenue to be heard. Jazz had taken root in Burlington with composer/multi-instrumentalist James Harvey, sax giant Big Joe Burrell and the nationally known fusion group Kilimanjaro featuring guitarist Paul Asbell.

The musicians' pleas led to a three-day festival showcasing the talents of local players, some of whom performed from rooftops and on buses, whatever it took to call attention to the new event. The festival also highlighted the abilities of international acts including the first Burlington Discover Jazz Festival performer, legendary singer Sarah Vaughan at the Flynn on June 22, 1984.

A quarter-century later, that blend of international and local heroes continues.
Read the whole thing; it's a fascinating story of how the festival grew from a one-weekend acorn to the ten-day mighty oak that it is now. Count me in among those who are glad that it's here; I very much look forward to my next visit.

I'll have a collection of miscellany from the trip on Tuesday.

Here are some people I've discovered this year: My favorite local to run across this year for the first time has to be alto saxophonist Dave Grippo, who appears to be one of the hardest-working musicians in Burlington, leading both the Grippo/Sklar Quintet (which put on a very impressive show at Red Square on Monday night) and the Grippo Funk Band, which seemed to be everywhere during this past weekend. I was also impressed with another local hero, Gabe Jarrett, who led the closing-night jam session tonight and could be found in multiple locations throughout the week as well (check out his trio Vorcza). And I have to give a shout-out to the unknown group that was playing at the Vermont Brewing Company last night; we stood on the sidewalk below and enjoyed them for quite some time. (The group that was listed evidently had a saxophone in it, but the one we heard was piano/guitar/bass/drums, so it probably wasn't the same.)

I've discovered some good eats as well: I've added two more places to my list of favorite Burlington eateries: The Red Onion Cafe and Bueno y Sana (a gourmet burrito joint). They join the old standbys: Shanty on the Shore, Ken's Pizza, Henry's Diner and Sweetwater's. My wallet is lighter, but my taste buds are happy.

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