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The Van Dyck

Stefon Harris

Tomaz Stanko @ SPAC Gazebo

Joe Barna

Sal Prizio


JD Allen Trio

John Ellis

Christian Scott

Photos by
Andrzej Pilarczyk & Rudy Lu

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THE YEAR (sort of)
featuring the Top 5 Capital Region Jazz Shows of 2010

by J Hunter

Virtual Statues time again, people! And I want to stress to any new readers that these awards are completely serious! After all, would I be wearing this gold tux jacket if I wasn’t serious? Anyway, would all the nominees please step away from the buffet table and line up against the far wall – tallest to shortest, if you would? When you hear your name, step forward:

THE LOCAL HERO AWARD (Venue Division) goes to… THE VANDYCK RESTAURANT & LOUNGE! Aside from giving Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble a new place to play, the Brothers McDonald have kept things seriously interesting all year long with bookings like Charlie Hunter, Randy Brecker, Duke Robillard, Steve Smith (once with Vital Legacy, most recently with Raga Bop Trio), and Allan Holdsworth. You guys rock, and so does your staff!

THE GOLDEN BOOMERANG goes to… STEFON HARRIS! Albany’s favorite son made a less-than-thrilling showing on the main stage at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival, but he rebounded with two outstanding supporting roles – first at Lake George Jazz Weekend with Buster Williams’ thrilling hard-bop quartet (Mulgrew Miller and Cindy Blackman rounded out the band), and then at the Egg as part of SFJAZZ Collective’s devastating tribute to piano icon Horace Silver.

THE SILVER (SECOND) FIDDLE goes to… THE GAZEBO @ SPAC! For a glimpse at jazz’ possible future, Freihofer’s second stage was the place to be once again: Hailey Niswanger wasn’t even legal drinking age, but she was definitely ready for prime time; Kendrick Scott led heavy hitters Mike Moreno and Taylor Eigsti through a riveting set of originals; and Malaysian-born, Australian-bred Linda Oh slapped around a double bass that was almost twice her size!

THE ENERGIZER BUNNY ACTION FIGURE goes to… JOE BARNA! If it seemed like he was everywhere, it’s because he pretty much was: Playing various venues with his group concept Sketches of Influence, and then backstopping hot sax-trio gigs with Ralph Lalama (Bread & Jam Café), Gary Smulyan (Professor Java’s), and Jerry Weldon (Flights of Fantasy Bookstore). FYI Sketches' amazing live disc drops this March, so start saving your pennies!

THE FIELD OF DREAMS AWARD goes to… ZANKEL MUSIC CENTER! Skidmore’s new blond-wood-paneled, glass-walled, acoustically perfect concert space was worth two-plus years of dysfunctional parking. Brad Mehldau & Joshua Redman’s breathtaking duo show gave Zankel a beautiful christening, and artists-in-residence The Bad Plus just shook the floor-to-ceiling window. Skidmore built it. Will you come?

THE PURPLE BERET goes to… TESS COLLINS and SAL PRIZIO! Fire killed the Lark Tavern, while the economy added Bread & Jam to its list of conquests. The venues may be out of the game, but their former impresarios march on – Tess (and, thankfully, most of the Lark’s staff) at McGeary’s, Sal at Massry Center for the Arts. Nevertheless, here’s a little recognition for two quality people who took some resounding hits this year… and are still in there punching!

All right, then! Let’s move on to the major business at hand, and count down… THE TOP 5 CAPITAL REGION JAZZ SHOWS OF 2010! (Uhh, Joe, if your kit is near the laptop, could you give us a drum roll? Much obliged, bud!)

Number Five…


Sandwiched between a freestyling Ravi Coltrane and a bopping John Scofield, the latest generation of NOLA’s reigning musical family electrified Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival with a freaked-out funkfest that was half-Fishbone and half-Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. Rather than try to beat them, Scofield joined them for a titanic encore jam. That’s gonna leave a mark!

Number Four…

Allen’s regular rhythm section (featuring Schenectady native Gregg August) did double duty, backstopping two separate sets of musical ecstasy – hopping piano-jazz from Barth, stunning sheets of tenor-sax sound from Allen! Throw in an encouraging intermission show from a group of aspiring middle-school jazzers, and you had the 1st annual A Place For Jazz Festival!

Number Three…

Ellis’ group is based (physically and creatively) in the Big Easy, but Red Square hosted the “official” drop party for Double-Wide’s sophomore effort Puppet Mischief. Almost every major player in the Capital Region was on hand as this gonzo sextet (featuring drum-Godzilla Jason Marsalis) absolutely tore it up, adding improvements to material that was terrific to start with!

Number Two…

By rights, JFJO should have been on the main stage at Freihofer’s, which was happening that same weekend! (They also would have been perfect for Wilco’s sublime Solid Sound Festival, held at MASS MoCA a few months later!) Still, seeing Jacob Fred in a club was a major gift, and we didn’t have to share the brilliance with umpty-thousand other people!

…and the Number One Capital Region Jazz Show of 2010 is…

It was SO worth pulling out the fleece-lined jacket for J@TL’s second-ever evening show. Scott blew us away with a set of tunes made diamond-hard by the trumpeter being “between keyboard players”, and then blew our minds with details of the horrific incident that inspired his blistering new piece “Ku Klux Police Department.” Complete this phrase: “Payback is a __________!”

And on that bombshell, I’m fresh out of cyber-doorstops! Thank you very much for supporting live jazz in the Capital Region. Take care, have a happy (and safe) holiday, and we’ll see you in the New Year! Peace!

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.