One of Easton’s most popular live concert events of the year, the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, won’t be happening this Labor Day weekend, as it has for the last decade. Instead, Coronavirus 19 has forced it to go virtual. The only good news is you can see these past concerts right now through the Chesapeake Music website and YouTube.
The gregarious festival namesake opens his video presentation with regrets that he can’t be here in person to perform his 11th annual set of concerts, opening his remarks with a brief ditty he called his “Easton Regretful Blues.” He went on to introduce his 2014 Live at Baloise Session in Switzerland, a 59-minute concert featuring a mini-festival of jazz standards and Alexander originals with a Caribbean flair.
Alexander opens, as is his custom, with himself on piano, riffing improvisationally on his “Hurricane come and gone,” sitting back occasionally to allow for sax and drum solos by members of his big band, Wayne Escoffery and Karl Wright, respectively. It’s followed by a raucous “King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown,” segueing into the Duke Ellington classic “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” with Alexander picking the pace, first on melodica and then back to piano. The mood turns Delta bluesy with Vincent Ford’s “No Woman No Cry” as the title phrase is sung mournfully by Leon Duncan while strumming on electric bass.
Next Alexander welcomes his wife, vocalist Caterina Zapponi, to the stage for a pair of Italian standards that he accompanies softly on piano with Gerald Cannon on acoustic bass. The interlude is received politely by the Baloise audience, apparently more jazzed up for the band’s rowdier calypso and reggae-influenced selections. They get their wish with the finale, Alexander’s own high-energy “Regulator,” featuring solos by Escoffery and Wright, preceded by the Ahmad Jamal’s classic “Night mist blues.”
Alexander and his band rarely get into a rut in concert, moving all over the jazz repertoire in just under an hour. We’ll miss them this Labor Day. So enjoy them virtually.
You can make a full concert evening of it by opening with a shorter set by trumpeter and vocalist Bria Skonberg. She, too, expressed her regrets in introducing selections from sets at two Manhattan jazz clubs plus a torch-song video she released. In her remarks she said she’ll especially miss the crab cakes in Easton, “the best I’ve ever had in my life.”
Skongberg and her band play a few numbers at the Jazz Standard in New York and Dizzy’s Jazz at Lincoln Center nightclub. Most showed off her trumpet chops, playing songs associated with her hero Louis Armstrong. She often switches to vocals in mid-song and, of course, sings nothing like the late Louis. She saves her best vocal performance of this presentation for a soulful video directed by Jennifer LeBeau, “So Is the Day That I Write This Song,” making the most of her movie-stars look with a pouty delivery of a soulful love ballad.
Steve Parks is a retired New York journalist now living in Easton.
MONTY ALEXANDER AND HIS BIG BAND AT BALOISE SESSION
“My Roots to Jazz” recorded in 2014 in Switzerland
BRIA SKONBERG AND HER BAND
Recorded at Jazz Standard and Dizzy’s Coca-Cola nightclubs in New York City plus a recent studio video
Streaming free online at chesapeakemusic.org in lieu of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival canceled due to COVID-19