Second annual Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival

Ralph Stewart

A New Orleans style parade up Circuit Avenue on Saturday, August 4, will kick off a full week – plus a day – of music and jazz related events in Oak Bluffs.

The second annual Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival will feature performances by more than a dozen musicians and groups who are all established or up-and-coming bright lights in the national jazz scene performing at a variety of venues. An art exhibit and a book signing will round out the multi-media eight-day schedule.

The festival is produced by John Lee, former Baltimore jazz club owner and longtime Vineyard summer visitor. Mr. Lee, who previously served as a producer for the Baltimore Jazz Festival, had been playing with the idea for some time before he decided last year to call in his connections in the jazz world and host an inaugural festival here.

“A couple of years ago I decided to act on what I always thought would be a great marriage between America’s music and one of America’s great resort destinations,” says Mr. Lee. The gamble paid off. Many of last summer’s events sold out and the festival was met with a very enthusiastic response.

For the 2012 event, Mr. Lee has added some new features, including a festival-opening all-day concert at the Tabernacle in the Oak Bluffs Campground, on Saturday. “I wanted to include something where daytrippers and weekend people could participate,” says Mr. Lee. The concert will include five contemporary jazz acts and a couple of deejays providing music from 2 to 9 pm and will be preceded by a jazz parade led by Boston’s Made in the Shade.

The Saturday afternoon lineup will provide a good indication of the talent to follow throughout the week. Among those performing will be 2011 Grammy winner for Best Jazz Vocal Album, Terri Lyne Carrington; three-time winner of the New England Urban Music Award for Best Jazz Male, saxophonist Elan Trotman; and the American Smooth Jazz New Artist of the Year, guitarist Drew Davidsen.

From that auspicious start, there will be at least one performance every evening throughout the week. A Sunday brunch featuring Boston based jazz and R&B vocalist Vivian Male will take place at Hooked on Beach Road in Oak Bluffs. The majority of the evening concerts will be hosted by the Island Bar & Grille on Circuit Avenue.

The festival headliner, Jason Moran, will perform at the new Dreamland space next to the Strand movie theater in Oak Bluffs. Pianist Mr. Moran combines elements of stride piano, avant-garde jazz, classical music, hip hop, and spoken word in his multi-layered performances. Over the course of his 25-year-career, he has garnered a number of honors. Mr. Moran, who was recently named artistic director for the Kennedy Center Jazz program, has received a MacArthur Genius award, been named Playboy magazine’s first Jazz Artist of the Year, and has received commissions from a number of organizations including Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Mr. Moran will be the recipient this year of the festival’s Vineguard award which, according to Mr. Lee is, “An award we give to one of our performing artists who we think represents the authenticity of the music.” Of this year’s honoree Mr. Lee says, “Jason is one of the most serious cats in music today, and not just in jazz. He’s really a leader in terms of moving the music forward.” Local artist Steve Lohman will once again design a personalized wire sculpture that will be presented to Mr. Moran at his performance with his band on Monday night.

For last year’s festival Mr. Lee mainly recruited friends and associates. This time around he extended his reach to include a wide variety of artists and acts at varying points in their careers.

This year we’re trying to reach out to some of the younger emerging artists,” Mr. Lee says. “I spend a lot of time in D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore just to keep my finger on the pulse on the music and new talent.”

Mr. Lee notes that a visit to the Vineyard is often incentive enough for some of the in demand artists he has invited to participate. “It really works in our favor,” he says of the location. “A lot of these musicians have been to every corner of the globe but never been to the Vineyard. They’re excited about being introduced to the Island.”

Adding to the festival atmosphere will be two non-music events. On Thursday, August 9, poet and author Quincy Troupe will be signing copies of his books at the Bunch of Grapes. Among Mr. Troupe’s bestselling works are “Miles: The Autobiography of Miles Davis,” and “Miles and Me.” Mr. Troupe also co-authored the autobiographical “Pursuit of Happyness,” which was made into a major motion picture starring Will Smith.

Featherstone Center for the Arts will host a gallery show featuring jazz related work by local artists and special guest artist from Washington D.C., Preston Sampson. The show will open with a reception on Sunday, August 5, and will hang for two weeks. The campus will also feature Boston area jazz saxophonist Stan Strickland at their Musical Mondays outdoor concert on August 6.

“The festival presents not only live musical performances but different ways that people express themselves through jazz,” says Mr. Lee. Next year, Mr. Lee hopes to include a movie screening in the festival, as well as a new play about Thelonious Monk to be presented at The Vineyard Playhouse.

Says Mr. Lee, “We want to be able to plug into the arts organizations on the Island and make sure that the whole arts community is involved. This not only allows us to present a diverse group of events but also allows us to be involved with a number of organizations on the Island. It’s not just about jazz. It’s the arts in general that I support.”

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