MONTCLAIR, NJ - Thousands of people toting lawn chairs and blankets converged on Nishuane Park Saturday with one thing in mind: Jazz.
The fifth annual Montclair Jazz Festival has proven to be the biggest one yet. It was estimated that over 4,000 people gathered in Montclair’s Nishuane Park. The free festival was produced by the Jazz House Kids with founders Melissa Walker and husband Christian McBride serving as creative and artistic directors.
What began five years ago as a showcase of talent of their Jazz House Kids program has evolved into a growing premier jazz event of the summer. An informal poll of a few audience members revealed that people came from as far as Maryland and Pennsylvania to attend this year’s event.
David Bibby of Belleville said, “I have been here every year. I used to be able to sit all the way in the front near the stage and now the turnout here is phenomenal. I think they’ve got great weather and great music.”
Guests arrived early to secure their favorite spot on the lawn and people came and went all day. Many attendees expressed satisfaction and awe at the lineup of musicians as well as the amount of people that were in attendance.
Joel Chassan, a musician and piano teacher who grew up in Montclair, attended the event. Chassan said, “I wish they had Jazz House Kids when I was a kid growing up in Montclair.” Chassen, who now resides in Jersey City, continued, “I was here two years ago and there’s at least 10 times as many people. The lineup has always been top class. They don’t get any better than this.”
With jazz in the air and multiple food vendor choices, every attendee had the look of satisfaction on their face.
Essex County Freeholder Gerry Owens and Essex County District 3 Freeholder candidate Brittnee Timberlake were in the audience. Timberlake, who said that this was her first time at the Jazz Festival, said, “I support the arts and those kids blew me away.”
Owens added that he’s a jazz fan and has come to the event in years prior. Owens said, “This affair was absolutely beautiful. I’ve been a jazz fan all of my life and I’m having a great time.”
There were activities for parents and children alike. Children were able to enjoy the Jazz Discovery Zone, which was in partnership with the Montclair Public Library and Montclair Art Museum, children and their families listened to stories and created their own art. An adult beer garden had also been provided by the North Coast Brewing Company.
S. Epatha Merkerson and WBGO’s Gary Walker served as masters of ceremonies for this year’s event. Featured performances included that of organizers and founders Melissa Walker and Christian McBride, the Jazz House Kids staff and students, as well as Bruce Williams, John Scofield, Antonio Sanchez and Chuchito Valdes.
Williams said that he has lived in Montclair for over 15 years. “I had a great time," Williams said. "It looks like people are really enjoying themselves.” Williams is one of the saxophone instructors with Jazz House Kids and also recording artist.
Anyone who is familiar with Jazz, knows that Jazz performances always draws the support of other Jazz artists. In the audience, but not performing, were many notables in the Jazz community, including two-time Grammy Award nominated, one-time Grammy Award winner, Victor Jones of East Orange, who described himself with a smile as a ‘Drummer Extraordinaire’. Jones, who was also nominated for an Oscar said that he was invited by fellow Jazz artist, pianist Dario Boente.
Jones said, “I heard John Scofield was going to be here, so that’s why I came.” Known as the founder of Acid Jazz, which is a fusion of Hip-Hop, R & B and Jazz, Jones has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Chaka Khan, James Moody, Lou Donaldson, Stan Getz, piano player Michel Petruccani and countless other notables. “I love Christian McBride’s playing, and I dig the drummer Antonio Sanchez.” Jones added that he hadn’t been there since the first year and was impressed by the turnout. “This is real. I was absolutely surprised. This is wonderful.” He added, “Anyone who wants to listen to Jazz music should put Jazz in their repertoire and keep the music alive.”
Attendees danced, sang along, and swayed to popular Jazz standards and rose to their feet in the finale performance of Chuchito Valdes, while swaying and dancing to his Latin-inspired Jazz sounds.
The diversity of cultures and ages of audience members were as diverse as the performers, who masterfully took the stage. Bob Russo, Montclair Deputy Mayor, said, “Terrific event from start to finish. I have heard great things all day long. Great diversity of people and the diversity of music is great. They had so many people from all over. The best part was that we had a great day for weather and transportation was handled well.” There had been some complaints of noise from neighbors with two other festivals in the park and since the stage was turned around during the Jazz Festival, Russo added that the neighbors were satisfied. “I went up there and everyone seems to be happy in the neighborhood now that the music was directed into the park.”
“I’m loving the final music. Latino music is my favorite. This is the biggest turnout ever and Melissa Walker and Christian McBride are to be congratulated. I, as a public official after 20 years, think this is the best one they’ve ever had and I hope it continues.”
Following John Scofield’s performance, Tap into Montclair caught up with him to get his perspective on the success of the Montclair Jazz Festival. He said, “I had fun because I love playing with Christian and Antonio and we haven’t gotten to do it very much. It was a thrill to get to make music with them. We fed off of each other’s energy and the crowd was totally into it.” Scofield explained that having grown up in Norwalk, Connecticut and also having lived in New York City for many years, he has performed in venues across the tri-state area, but doesn’t recall ever playing in Montclair. Scofield expressed, “I’m from the New York area and I have played all around New York and New Jersey since I was a kid.” Scofield spoke highly of the Montclair Jazz festival saying, “I would’ve expected no less in Montclair.”
Scofield explained how he got started in Jazz, “I started with blues and rock and just took it so seriously and people told me that Jazz was even better." He added, "I totally got into it. I was a very driven kid. I really wanted to be a musician and I love Jazz. I love the idea of Jazz with this advanced music where you can have your own personality and improvise.”
Scofield added, “You have a great festival right here. The Jazz Kids program is really exciting for young people, they’re doing so much and it is so great for those children to have that here. Learning to play an instrument and learning to play music is what has taught me more about life than anything else in life, outside of my family. Just the stuff that you learn trying to get it together on your instrument. …so a program like this can really help people and it does.”
For more information, visit http://www.montclairjazzfestival.org/