Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival August 6–13

Jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, who has received five Grammy nominations, will perform August 11 at the Old Whaling Church.
Photo courtesy of MV Jazz Fest

Jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, who has received five Grammy nominations, will perform August 11 at the Old Whaling Church.

Even with all the challenges of launching a weeklong event on Martha’s Vineyard, organizers of the Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival, All Things Jazz, are keeping their eyes on the long notes.

“Newport had to start somewhere,” associate producer Stephen Anglin said, speaking of the Newport Jazz Festival, founded in 1954 and one of the world’s premier jazz music events. “We’re trying to build this on a grass roots level by bringing some tremendous artists in, artists people will appreciate.” Mr. Anglin and executive producer John Lee are busy with a hundred last minute details for the festival featuring performances, book signings, and photo exhibits, August 6 -13.

Across six Island venues, a talented lineup of jazz musicians is scheduled to present the music often described as America’s first original art form, with Vineyard flavor. “Everyone involved has a passion for jazz, and we also have a passion for the Vineyard,” Mr. Anglin said. “We really believe in what we’re doing and we believe it’s a natural fit on the Vineyard.”

Headlining the event is Newport Jazz Festival veteran Nnenna Freelon, a singer, composer, arranger, and educator who has earned five Grammy nominations, not to mention a couple of contributions to the wildly popular American Movie Channel cable television series “Mad Men.”

“A jazz singer of unstinting vivacity, Ms. Freelon draws on some of the sturdier pillars of her craft — Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, even Lena Horne,” wrote The New York Times jazz critic Nate Chinen in a recent review. “She has a strong, supple voice, and she controls it well, often stretching out a note and slowly intensifying its effect, adding tension or vibrato, before clipping it off at the end.”

Also appearing are bassist Ben Wolfe and his quintet, the Antonio Hart Quartet, Mario Castro and the Berklee College of Music Allstars, Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk, singer Michele Holland, and saxophonist Elan Troutman.

Mr. Anglin said jazz is an acquired taste, and he invites newcomers to the music to begin acquiring it this weekend, though they might not know the artists, or might not have heard the tunes on the radio.

“It’s America’s music,” Mr. Anglin said. “There are some people who are going to be introduced to jazz for the first time. There’s such a tremendous wealth of talent, and there are only a handful that become notable names.”

Performances are scheduled at Featherstone Center for the Arts, Nancy’s Restaurant, Lola’s, Deon’s Restaurant, and the Old Whaling Church. Also featured will be a book signing and chat with jazz saxophone legend Jimmy Heath, who has chronicled his career in a new book called “I Walked With Giants.”

It all begins Saturday, Aug. 6, when the Made in the Shade Dixie Band will come marching off the 12:45 pm ferry in Oak Bluffs, and kick off the festival with a New Orleans style second line parade up Circuit Avenue and through the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association campgrounds. Music lovers are invited to join in. Perhaps you will be marching to the first notes of a lasting Island tradition.