WILLIAMSTOWN JAZZ FESTIVAL
April 13 - 17, 2005
by R. Meacham
Located just one hour from Albany is the Jewel of Jazz Month, the Williamstown Jazz Festival. Like a flowering annual, it breaks through that rough spring ground and surges forward, growing and blossoming before us. This multi day event takes time to nurture its garden, giving us a wide range of spring flowers to enjoy. There is music, lecture, art, an Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, dance lessons and dancing all spread out over five days for our enjoyment. Best of all, you do not have to pay excessively to enjoy it. Some events are free and others are extremely reasonable. The headliner cost a mere ten dollars. In fact, one of the points this years festival organizers were most proud of was the ability to obtain a grant that kept the ticket prices down. That is not something you see to often. Then again, this is their garden. Like any great host, they want people to enjoy it.
Nestled at the base of the Mohawk Trail this event began over fourteen years ago with the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival. Six years ago, the college obtained the help of the Chamber of Commerce, Mass MoCA and others to create the festival we have today. With the birth of the new millennium, this festival morphed into what it is now.
This years festival opened with a free community Zydeco Dance class for an hour and half. Awhile latter at the Clarke Art Institute the Ingrid Jensen Quartet took the stage. Coming off an exhausting time in the studio the band and her stood strong and played an hour and half set that was simply stunning. Never satisfied with just ripping through a tune they worked each number, stretching tempos and dynamics like a band about to break.
Thursday opened with some more free Zydeco dance lessons and moved on to a Robert Altman Film, Jazz 34. Using modern players like Ron Carter, Joshua Redman, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut and Craig Handy, Altman was able to create a documentary displaying what it must have been like during the era of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. This was an enthusiastic toe-tapping affair.
Friday Morning started with a Creole for kids show by Terrance Simien and his band. At noon, the Intercollegiate Jazz festival kicked off its two-day presentation. This free event held in Chapin hall had Holyoke Community, Westfield State, Rhode Island and Brown University going after each other respectively.
Friday was still far from over. Late afternoon brought a lecture by Terrance Simien followed by a Gospel concert at 6:30. At eight pm, it was time to grab those dancing shows, two days of free lessons and tear it up at MA MoCAs Hunter Center. It was the Zydeco Dance Party. No one was disappointed.
Those flowers were coming into full bloom by Saturday. At 10 am, the Intercollegiate Jazz festival begun day two. It started with Smith and Amherst College. Rhode Island Community college played just before lunch. The afternoon got underway with Worcester Polytechnical Institute, Rhode Island Community college #2, Schenectady Community College and ended with Skidmore and Williams colleges respectively. The day ended with a fine show by the Charles Lloyd Quartet.
On Sunday with is the Williams Jazz Faculty that chose to close things out with a performance of their own. They were followed by a lecture on Brazilian Popular Music and the Coding of the Nationhood in Sound (1970-2000) presented by Idelber Avelar. Mr. Avelar is the winner of the MLA Kovacs award and the contributor to a number of scholarly journals.
That evening, as the sun went down, that beautiful spring flowerbed that was the Williamstown Jazz Festival faded away. It is now only able to live on and linger in the hearts and minds of those who were lucky enough to attend. Still, like all annuals it will come up again next year, an hour from Albany, awaiting your arrival.