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Annual festival will bring jazz to Danehy Park

Susan Saccoccia

A recipient of NEA Arts Journalism fellowships in dance, theater and music, Susan reviews visual and performing arts in the U.S. and overseas.

Annual festival will bring jazz to Danehy Park
At this year’s Cambridge Jazz Festival, Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, a three-time Grammy winner, will host a Saturday program on women in jazz and on Sunday conduct a tribute to the late pianist Geri Allen. Photo by John Watson.

Outdoor musical events are meant for sunny summer days — but the first Cambridge Jazz Festival, back in July 2013, began under a downpour.

“The rain fell like crazy,” recalls Larry Ward, festival co-founder and executive director, talking by phone last week. “Yet 2,500 people attended the show. I still remember one woman, in her 70s, sitting under her umbrella, with the most determined look I’d ever seen.”

Later, as renowned drummer Terri Lyne Carrington brought vocalist Valerie Simpson to the stage, says Ward, “The sun finally came out. Alleluia!”

Fine weather is predicted for the fifth annual Cambridge Jazz Festival concert, which takes place this Sunday, July 29, from noon to 6 p.m. in Danehy Park, a 50-acre grassy expanse behind Fresh Pond Mall in Cambridge.

If You Go
On Sunday, July 29, the 2018 Cambridge Jazz Festival outdoor concert takes place from 12 to 6 pm in Danehy Park, Cambridge. Admission is free.

The annual festival now draws more than 8,000 people, and its programming has grown along with its audience. This year, for the first time, the festival will include events on two days.

Women in jazz

On Saturday, July 28, Medford-born Carrington, a threetime Grammy winner, will host a panel and performance exploring the role of women in jazz entitled “Jazz & Gender: Challenging Inequality and Forging a New Legacy.” Panelists include Carrington, the moderator; festival co-founder and music director Ron Savage, a drummer and dean of the professional performance division of the Berklee School of Music; saxophonist Tia Fuller, professor of ensembles at Berklee; and Ingrid Monson, professor of African-American music at Harvard. Carrington, who is chair in performance at the prestigious Berklee Global Jazz Institute, has also invited an ensemble of Institute participants to perform a set.

Artistic director of Boston’s Beantown Jazz Festival, Carrington is among the people who have helped shape the Cambridge festival from the start. Another stalwart is prominent jazz radio host Eric Jackson, now serving his fifth year as the festival’s master of ceremonies.

During the Sunday concert at Danehy Park, Carrington and an ensemble of musicians will perform a tribute to revered jazz pianist, composer, scholar and educator Geri Allen, who died last year. One of the most accomplished and influential pianists of her time, Allen, a Detroit native, embraced and incorporated all veins of African music, from the M-Base Collective’s interplay of improvisation and African rhythms to Motown, bebop and beyond. Young artists nurtured by Allen’s example include pianists Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and Carrington, who started performing with Allen in the 1980s.

“Geri Allen was a great friend and great inspiration,” Carrington wrote in an e-mail message. “She was a great example of how to lead people to garner respect in our industry. She was soft spoken, yet with formidable strength. She was humble but knew her value. I take all these things with me moving forward and her influence will always guide me in some form or another.”

Strong lineup

Joining Carrington in performing music from various periods of Geri Allen’s career will be saxophonist Tia Fuller, pianist Kris Davis, bassist Kenny Davis, vocalist Charenee Wade and Val Jeanty, a percussionist and electronic music artist.

The Sunday concert will also showcase vocalist Gabrielle Goodman; Receita de Samba, with Anna Borges and Bill Ward; MND FLO, featuring two brothers, bassist Alexander Tóth and drummer Anthony Tóth; and the Ron Savage Trio.

This year, along with food trucks, face painting and craft vendors, the festival will introduce what Ward describes as “a jazz museum in a tent,” a collection of posters and biographies of seminal jazz musicians of the 1940s and ’50s.

Festival proceeds will fund the Johnny Hodges Scholarship, named in honor of the Cambridge-born saxophonist, who became a star soloist in Duke Ellington’s orchestra.

Ward, who served as a Cambridge city councilor from 2007 to 2009, and festival co-founder Ron Savage find that the annual event sparks plenty of civic spirit. “Our goal is to create a lasting, sustainable culture of jazz in Cambridge,” says Ward. “We’ve got an incredible team of volunteers who share our goal. Many have been with us all the way, from day one.”

The panel, “Jazz & Gender: Challenging Inequality and Forging a New Legacy,” takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Abundant Life Church, 47 Howard St., Cambridge. Tickets are $25.

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