MONTCLAIR, NJ - Nishuane Park in Montclair welcomed Jazz aficionados and fans of good music for the 8th Annual Montclair Jazz Festival presented by Jazz House Kids on Saturday. The event, which according to organizers, has drawn over 10,000 people to the venue, showcases the talents of its students in a setting that places them on stage with noted world-class Jazz Musicians.
The brainchild of Melissa Walker, CEO and Grammy Award-winning bassist Christian McBride, who serves as Artistic Director for Jazz House Kids, started back in 2002. The event has grown from 500 people attending a year end celebration to thousands that now pouring into Nishuane Park, making the Montclair Jazz Festival a major highlight for the month of August.
The once local festival has transformed into an international event, with over 50,000 students that have been touched by the Jazz House Kids program.
Walker said, "Everybody needs someone to believe in them and many years ago when Jazz House kids was a lot smaller, I met Bob and Rhonda Silver. ...and they bet on me and they bet on Jazz House Kids and because of that, so much of today is possible."
"We were adding more and more classes and more and more ensembles." Scwartz thanked Walker for her vision of creating Jazz House Kids and being a "brilliant leader". He added that the Jazz House Kids program began with humble beginnings and has grown over the years from renting a space to now having their own space and touching thousands of students over the years he has worked with them. "Now we have our own space and the camp is getting bigger...we now host it at Montclair State University."
"Jazz House Kids has so many different things. We have big bands, organ ensembles, vocal programs. It's a very expansive thing. There's even adult programs. There's a lot of great things going on with Jazz House Kids," added Schwartz.
In what started as a showcase of talent of students from the Jazz House Kids program, has now become a destination for Jazz-lovers from near and far.
Returning as host, Gary Walker of WBGO radio and actress S. Epatha Merkerson held it down in making the announcements and introducing the many artists that graced the stage.
"This is a perfect example of what education can do. These kids are killing it today and it's also helping to keep the music alive." announced Merkerson.
Hitting the main stage first were the students of Jazz House Kids who were showcased in various groups, 52nd Street Band, Philly Soul Band, Bright Moments Big Band, Afro Latin Big Band, The Big Solid Sax Mob and Jazz House Vocal Large Ensemble.
Behind the main stage, another tent was erected that housed the Family Discovery Zone, here families and children could engage in music performances, art activities presented by the Montclair Art Museum and a Jazz Story time presented by the Montclair Public Library. McBride, Louie Prima Jr., Dee Dee Bridgewater and Melissa Walker read books with Jazz-related themes.
Musical performances in the family zone tent included the Jazz House Kids Alumni Ensemble and Louie Prima, Jr. and the Witness, who jumped and jived to the delight of all who attended. Also taking the stage was the Cyrus Chestnut Trio.
"Whether you want to do music or not, music soothes the soul. It's important to keep parents engaged in our schools [and] it brings so much to your life. Music has been a teaching point since the dawn of man. Pick up an instrument, you can learn a lot." said Prima.
On main stage, trumpeter Ted Chubb, who serves as director of Jazz House Kids summer workshops and special programs, played with his band accompanied by Montclair resident Bruce Williams on alto saxophone for a fantastic duet.
Pianist Radam Schwartz, a faculty member with Jazz House Kids, performed during the faculty collective performance. "We concluded our camp yesterday and we've been working with the students at the camp for the past two weeks." Schwartz has been a faculty member for nearly 8 years. He said that each year, the Jazz House Kids program has expanded.
Jazz House Kids associates, the Jazz House Collective (The Centennial project), Dynasty Big Band performed. The Jazz House Big Band had the crowd on their feet as they performed with Bridgewater. Bridgewater's performance captivated the audience as she danced and swayed to the blues tunes.
Bridgewater said, "Its wonderful to have the vision to give an opportunity for children to experience performing music and live music, [sic] from a jazz point of view. ...but I think it just opens their little minds up so that if they decide to continue they have a good base."
In winding up the interview, Bridgewater stated, "Music heals. Listen to music once a day and rock out."
Local elected officials in attendance included Mayor Robert Jackson of Montclair, Senator Nia Gill (D-34) and Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10).
In between sets, a group of Jazz House Kids musicians circulated the crowd with instruments afire with a New Orleans flair, marched throughout the park.
Bridgewater's performance was full of sass and elegance as she sang a mixture of Jazz Funk and Soul to a greatly appreciative audience.
Closing out the evening, McBride and the situation band was accompanied by live vocalist and Turtablist DJ Logic. McBride is known to rock the turntables as DJ Brother Mister.
The highlight of the evening was the gathering of the artists, students, faculty and staff onto the main stage jamming.
Swinging doors open for 15 years Jazz House Kids 15th Anniversary Gala Tuesday, October 24, 2017.
Natalie Heard Hackett contributed to this article.
All photos were taken by Natalie Heard Hackett.