JazzFest Features Two Tenor Sax Masters


Are you ready for some jazz?

The 2019 Chestertown Jazz Festival is just a month away, with a kickoff concert at the Mainstay Sept. 12 and a full day of music in Wilmer Park on Saturday, Sept. 14. And this year’s lineup includes some of the most dynamic performers to come to town in a long time. Here are some of the headliners.

Larry McKenna opens the 2019 Chestertown Jazz Festival Sept. 12 at the Mainstay

Tenor sax man Larry McKenna brings his quartet to the Mainstay in Rockhall at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12 for an evening of straight-ahead swinging jazz tenor in the tradition of Sonny Stitt and Stan Getz. While McKenna may not be a familiar name to everyone, fans in his home town of Philadelphia know him as a master of his instrument. After gigging around town, McKenna got his first big break in 1959 when he spent six months on the road with Woody Herman’s Big Band. He toured with George Young in 1962 and Al Raymond in 1970. In the early 1970’s he started teaching at Temple University, West Chester University, and Philadelphia Community College.

Over the years, McKenna recorded with Herman, Buddy DeFranco, and Dr. Bruce Klauber, as well as playing countless local gigs as a leader and sideman. He recorded a CD of his own in 1997 when he issued ‘My Shining Hour: Larry McKenna plays Harold Arlen.” Mainstay programming manager John Thomas, who teaches sax at Washington College, says of McKenna, “Whether carving up an up-tempo bebop tune or holding forth on a lush ballad, McKenna’s mastery of the horn is a joy to behold.” For ticket information, call the Mainstay at 410-639-9133.

Gregory Thompkins brings his quintet to Wilmer Park Saturday afternoon for the Chestertown Jazz Festival

Another tenor sax master, Baltimore-based Gregory Thompkins, takes the Wilmer Park stage at 1:45 Saturday, Sept. 14. A graduate of Towson University, Thompkins began his professional career with the group First Impressions in 1985, performing throughout the Baltimore/Washington area. He has recorded albums paying tribute to Thelonious Monk (“Boo Boo’s Birthday”) and John Coltrane (“Love Supreme Quartet.”) Since 1992, Thompkins has taught at Music Art Center in Ellicott City and Timonium, Maryland. He is the musical director of the Baltimore Jazz Education Project, a nonprofit that raises funds to bring music education to underserved youth in the Baltimore area.

Thompkins performs regularly with his own quintet as well as with Lafayette Gilchrist and The New Volcanoes. He has won numerous awards, including a Grammy Showcase for “The Allmighty Senators ‘95.” He brings a band to the festival including Amy Shook, Jim Orr, Brent Mingle, Chuck Ferrell, and Carl Filipiak.

This year’s festival also features a return to Chestertown by Gregor Huebner, a Grammy-nominated violinist, pianist, and composer. His music has been described as accessibly sophisticated and interesting, breaking down borders in between contemporary music, jazz, and world music.” Among his albums are “El Violino Latino” in 2 volumes and “Paths become Lines” with the Sirius Quartet. His upcoming projects include another “Violino Latino” record featuring Cuban music, and a new recording by his NY NRG quartet. For the Jazz Festival, he plans to present music from “El Violino Latino.” This will be his third appearance at the festival.

Already featured in a Spy profile is this year’s festival headliner, Alicia Olatuja, who became nationally famous with her performance of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at President Barack Obama’s second inaugural.

Saturday’s performance in Wilmer Park kicks off at 11:45 a.m. with a return engagement by the 100 Voice Choir, Kent County’s own gospel group under the leadership of Sylvia Frazier. Following the choir at 12:30 is the Washington College Jazz Ensemble, led by local piano master Joe Holt. Thompkins plays at 1:45, Huebner at 3:00 and Olatuja at 4:30. Admission for the Saturday show is $25 in advance, $30 at the door and $15 for students; children are free.

Joe Holt also appears with singer/songwriter Barbara Parker, another local favorite, 8 p.m. Friday night at the Garfield Center; tickets are $20. Sunday is a special treat, with a showing of “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” possibly the finest jazz film ever made, at Sumner Hall at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. To close the festival, Holt again takes the stage for a Mainstay Monday, with guests Max Murray and Frank Russo. The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets are $10 online, $12 at the door. There is an open bar – feel free to bring your dinner.

For more information call 410-810-2060, or visit the Garfield Center website.

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