Jazz is in the air on Martha’s Vineyard

Drew Davidsen. — Photo by Angelina Godbout

Last Saturday, August 4, a parade from the Oak Bluffs Steamship dock to the Campground, led by a New Orleans-style brass band, heralded the beginning of the week-long Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival that continues through August 10.

The festival kicked off, following the parade, with an all-day jazz marathon in the Tabernacle. Close to 400 people sat inside while others set up on the grass and listened from outside, and groups gathered on porches as far away as the edge of the Arts District soaking up the festive atmosphere and the music.

The lineup featured six artists covering a wide range of jazz styles, including saxophonist Elan Trotman, three-time winner of the New England Urban Music Award for Best Jazz Male, and drummer Teri Lynn Carrington, whose latest album won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Also performing were ensembles led by a contemporary jazz guitarist and a harmonica player.

On Sunday afternoon, a well-dressed capacity crowd enjoyed an appetizer buffet and smooth jazz performance by singer Vivian Male at Hooked in Oak Bluffs. With her four-piece band, Ms. Male enchanted the audience with her unique and soulful interpretations of classic songs such as “Stormy Weather.”

Jason Moran, the festival’s headliner, performed on Monday night at Dreamland. Mr. Moran delivered an absolutely stunning performance of original tunes on piano. His purely original style incorporates elements of stride piano, avant-garde jazz, classical music, and hip hop — and he is virtuoso player. The very accomplished Mr. Moran is the musical advisor for jazz at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The performance started out with a reading by journalist and author Charlayne Hunter-Gault reading from her new book, “From the Mountaintop, My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement,” with Mr. Moran and band playing softly in the background. Ms. Hunter-Gault prefaced her reading by saying, “My book is about encouraging young people to be the giants of the next generation.”

Also joining Mr. Moran on stage was internationally acclaimed poet Terrance Hayes, 2010 winner of the National Book Award for Poetry. He too was accompanied by the band as he read his work .

Among those in the audience was Eleanor Holmes Norton, U.S. Congresswoman from Washington, D.C. Ms. Norton was introduced to the crowd from her seat in the audience by festival organizer John Lee during an awards ceremony at the end of the evening.

Mr. Moran was the recipient of the second annual Vinegard (pronounced like “Vineyard”) Award. Mr. Lee established the award last year during the first Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival. The wire sculpture award was designed specifically for Mr. Moran by local artist Steve Lohman, who said that he watched hours of the pianist performing on Youtube.com before executing the piece. It features Mr. Moran, complete with his signature hat and a piano crafted from a single piece of heavy duty wire.

After the presentation of the award, Mr. Moran ended the evening with an encore and was honored with a rousing standing ovation by the crowd of 250.

Isaac Green of Durham, N.C., was attending the festival for the first time this year, encouraged by his wife who was on hand last summer. “I’ve heard a lot of jazz in my life, but this was right up there with the very best I’ve heard,” he said of Mr. Moran’s performance. Among other festivals, Mr. Green has attended the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

Festival producer John Lee says that he has encountered a number of people who came to the Island specifically for the festival – many of them first-time visitors. “Just like last year, the response from people attending has been overwhelming,” he said. “I look for the response from the people, not just attendance.”

On Thursday, Aug. 9, from 10 am to 12 noon at the Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, author Quincy Troupe will sign copies of his books, including a biography of Miles Davis. Evening concerts are scheduled for Thursday and Friday evenings at the Island House on Circuit Ave, Oak Bluffs.

For more information and a full schedule of events, visit mvjazzfest.com.