BUFFALO, NY - Sheila Anderson, co-producer of Sunday's 11th annual Central Jersey Jazz Festival, was in Somerville last September for the.conclusion of the three-day tri-county event, introducing the acts, working the crowd and staying busy behind the scenes as she has done since 2009.
Thousands brought their chairs and blankets and set up in front of the stage on East Main Street, spreading out to the lawn of the Historic Somerset County Courthouse to take advantage of the shade afforded by the hardwood trees.
But not this year.
This year, she shuffled off to Buffalo, but she will gather some friends in upstate New York for a watch party of the condensed live stream concert featuring the Alexis Morrast Quartet, Mark Gross Quartet and Matthew Whitaker Quartet.
The truncated, four-hour live stream production is a concession to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Anderson, who says this alternative is respectful of what has been done in previous years.
Links to the live stream and further information is available online at www,centraljerseyjazzfestival.com
The Central New Jersey Jazz Festival normally features 12 hours of live performances on stages in Flemington, New Brunswick and Somerville.
"It's the same in that instead of having three artists per day, we have three artists in one day, a headliner, a vocalist and a very talented up and coming musician. "It pretty much represents what we've done all these years," Anderson said. She is an author of several music books and a popular on-air personality at WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM, Newark.
What has grown to become the Central New Jersey Jazz Festival was founded in 2009 as the Somerville Jazz Festival by Rick St. Pierre, owner of Verve Restaurant, Bar & Bistro. He continues to co-produce the festival in Somerville. Other organizations promote and operate the concerts at their venues and coordinate with Anderson and St. Pierre.
"When the pandemic hit in March and the government started to shut things down, right at the beginning of all of it, I shot Rick an email and said 'listen we ought to do a virtual show'; we decided right away that somehow, we were going to do something," she said Friday night while driving through the streets of Buffalo.
"The bottom line is there was not a time when we said we can't do this; it was more 'what can we do and how can we do it.' '' Anderson said. "We were still committed to the festival and keeping it going and not shutting it down.
"Jazz is about improvisation." she added. "We certainly did improvise."
The three featured performers recorded the entire 4-hour concert in one day at a studio in New Brunswick, accordng to Anderson.
"We recorded all in one day; it still has al festival feel. When you see the performances, you won't know there was no audience," Anderson said. "They gave it their all, they approached it as through it was a live performance.
"That's the thing when you are dealing with professionals, they know how to put on a good show, they can connect with the audience even it's a virtual audience. Each performer brought their gift and I'm expecting that to come through Sunday."
The 2020 live stream Central New Jersey Jazz Festival is dedicated to the memory of Jimmy Heath, a legendary jazz saxophonist who died in January at the age of 94. His autobiography published by Temple University Press was released just four months after his 2009 performance in Somerville.
Heath played and recorded with several family members and many of his legendary contemporaries, including John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Heath was a respected arranger and is credited with 130 compositions and 12 CDs as a leader of his band.
His compositions have been played and recorded by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal, Cannonball Adderley, Chet Baker, Clark Terry, Dexter Gordon, Milt Jackson, Yusef Lateef, Blue Mitchell and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Heath was also nominated three times for a Grammy Award and was the recipient of three honorary doctorates.
Heath was the headliner at the inaugural jazz festival in 2009, a day that Anderson remembers fondly.
"Jimmy was very special," said Anderson. "I'll never forget, when he walked out of Verve onto the street, walking toward the stage, he was treated like a rock star; people stood up and clapped every step he took to get on the stage. He made it all so special."
Sharing the stage with Heath in 2009 were the Gretchen Parlato Band, saxophonist Harry Allen with his quartet and Sherman Irby's Organomics.
Heath's appearance also stamped the upstart jazz festival as credible and authentic, Anderson said.
The live stream production includes interviews with the musicians and reminisces of Heath.
Commemorative t-shirts of Heath, designed by longtime Somerville artist Les Floyd are available during the broadcast and can be ordered on the jazz festival website.
The following profiles of the performers were provided by the promoters:
The Alexis Morrast Quartet
"Hot House Jazz Guide said "Seldom do listeners have the opportunity to hear young artist who contain the depth of Alexis Morrast. The singer and composer captivates audiences with her warmth. Often dealing in sophisticated restraint, Alexis' seeming innate command of phrasing reflects what many musicians spend whole lives striving to master. Every note matters, and every lyric resonates." She's the 2017 recipient of Hot House Jazz Guide‘s Best Up and Coming Young Artist award, and winner of Showtime at the Apollo.
"The 18-year-old, who now attends Berklee University of Boston, Massachusetts has graced iconic bandstands from the Kennedy Center to Lincoln Center, traveling from Africa to Austria, recently performing in Times Square and has just returned from touring with Wynton Marsalis and JLCO Band Holidays; shows no sign of slowing down!"
The Matthew Whitaker Quartet
"Super-talented pianist/organist Matthew Whitaker joyfully mixes old-school jazz with new school sounds.
Born in 2001, Matthew Whitaker's love for playing music began at age 3, after his grandfather gave him a small Yamaha keyboard. He taught himself to play the Hammond B3 organ at 9 years old and at 13 became the youngest artist to be endorsed by Hammond USA, in its 84-year history. At 15 years old Matthew became a Yamaha Artist, becoming the youngest musician to join this stellar group of jazz pianists.
He's toured both in the US and abroad, performing on prestigious stages around the country including Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Apollo Theater and The Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts and at international venues in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, the UK, Indonesia, Japan and Morocco, to name a few. Matthew recently opened for Gregory Porter's "All Rise" tour in Germany.
Matthew's television appearances include FOX TV's Showtime at the Apollo, the Today Show, the Harry Connick Jr. Show and on the nationally syndicated Ellen DeGeneres Show. He has appeared with Jon Batiste's Stay Human band on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and was recently the subject of a CBS 60 Minutes feature segment.
In 2017 he was named to Crain's New York Business' breakout list of "20 under 20." In 2018 Matthew was named 1 of 7 rising stars by USA Today's "201" Magazine and in 2019 and 2020, Matthew has been awarded the ASCAP Foundation's "Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award."
Matthew's 2nd recording, NOW HEAR THIS made its debut in August 2019."
The Mark Gross Quartet
"Gross is a new and powerful alto sax player who is a Cannonball type player..." Takao Ogawa Swing Journal, Japan.
Gross's consistently professional musicianship has led to live and recorded efforts with many of his fellow pacesetters in jazz music. Mark has toured the world with the Mark Gross Quartet, Buster Williams, Delfeayo Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, Philip Harper, Nat Adderley, Dave Holland, Mulgrew Miller, Nicholas Payton, Dizzy Gillespie, Nancy Wilson, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Charles Mingus Big Band, Freddie Hubbard, Captain Jack McDuff, Cyrus Chestnut, Regina Carter, Lionel Hampton, Stephon Harris, among many others. Mark credits his prolific sound to the rich appreciation for Gospel music that resounded through his parent's Baltimore home. Gross has performed on Broadway including:'FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE', 'KAT AND THE KINGS' and 'SWING' and most recently IN AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS. Mark has also appeared in Spike Lee's film 'Malcolm X', was also a featured musician featured 'Boardwalk Empire' (2013).
Mark credits his prolific sound to the rich appreciation for Gospel music that resounded through his parent's Baltimore home. Mark's father was the Pastor of his hometown church Mt. Zion C.O.G.I.C. up until his passing February 1, 2007. After developing his interests in classical music at the Baltimore School for the Arts, Mark studied four years at Berklee College of Music and got his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music Performance. Two of Berklee's best professors, Joe Viola and Bill Pierce, help fine tune Mark's musicianship. Upon his graduation in 1988, Mark Gross began his professional musical caravan in JAZZ."
The Flemington Festival is produced and hosted by Flemington Community Partnership and Sheila E. Anderson.
The New Brunswick Festival is produced and hosted by The New Brunswick Jazz Project
The Somerville Festival is produced and hosted by Downtown Somerville Alliance, Arts On Division and Sheila E. Anderson
The festival is sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital/Somerset in Somerville and RWJUH New Brunswick with additional support from several partners
The Central Jersey Jazz Fesitval is a TAPinto marketing partner