Syracuse Jazz Fest clobbers its naysayers

Russ Tarby 06/30/10More articles
Singer Natalie Cole climaxed the 2010 three day jazz fest at Onondaga Community College.
Still free after all these years ... with three days and nights of knock-out music:

Jeff Lorber fused. Boz Scaggs crooned. Natalie Cole walked her baby back home.

The three headliners of the 28th annual Syracuse Jazz Festival lit up the Everding Main Stage at the Onondaga County Community College campus last weekend, but some of the support acts – like guitarists Richie Havens and K.J. Denhart, keyboardists Kim Jordan and Michael Kaeshammer, vocalist Gil Scott-Heron, Toph-E & The Pussycats and 14 area scholastic combos – burned just as brightly.

A few political flames also flickered on Sunday evening in the many moments before Cole finally took the stage to close the 2010 jazz bash. Festival Artistic Director Frank Malfitano praised OCC President Debbie Sydow and County Executive Joanie Mahoney, who joined him on stage.

“They kept this festival free when other people didn’t want it to be free,” he said.

Mahoney echoed Malfitano’s veiled reference to County Comptroller Robert Antonacci who had criticized the amount of money county government pours into the festival annually.

“This was a very difficult year for jazz fest,” Mahoney told Sunday’s crowd of about 16,000. “The state had promised Frank money that didn’t come through, and even some people in county government were asking him to charge admission.”

The jazz fest has been free ever since 1990 when it moved from Long Branch Park to Clinton Square. It moved to OCC in 2001.

In April, Antonacci – who was running for state Comptroller at the time – complained that the combined contributions of the county Legislature and OCC amounted to nearly $150,000. He suggested that Malfitano share proceeds from the $5 per vehicle parking charge with the county and urged the festival to cut back to two days instead of three.

“Without Onondaga County there would be no jazz fest,” Malfitano exclaimed when he introduced Mahoney on Sunday.
She responded, “Without Frank Malfitano there would be no jazz fest,” and several hundred festival goers stood and applauded.

Good and bad notes
Baldwinsville-bred trombonist Jay Ashby also expressed admiration for Syracuse’s controversial impresario. While performing a mid-afternoon main-stage set with guitarist Sheryl Bailey and the OCC Big Band, Ashby said, “I’ve played festivals all over the world, and I’ve never seen the educational stage right next to the main stage like it is here.”

Makes you wonder how many Entergy Scholastic Stage sets Ashby actually heard this weekend. Those who wanted to listen to the student groups had to move their lawn chairs up to the lip of the stage. Thousands ensconced on the hill or beyond heard nothing but a flutter of drums and the occasional blast of the brass ensemble. The scholastic stage’s lighting was also inadequate, a fact made apparent by the cheap aluminum-shaded bulbs sufficing as back light.

This annual dearth of technical attention is a shame not only for the student musicians and educators, but to audience members who deserve to hear every note and see every soloist.

The main-stage production values remained world-class.
When Natalie Cole graced the stage after a long delay Sunday, she and her 10-piece band were ably supported by a CNY horn section, who rose to the occasion. Though Cole looked thin as a rail wearing a snow white shift trimmed with silver rhinestones, her voice shone like a beacon in the dark.

The talented daughter of Nat “King” Cole reveled in tunes from the Great American Songbook such as “Paper Moon,” “A-Tisket A-Tasket,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Fever.”

Most memorable were her digitally created “duets” with her late father, the jaunty “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” and the haunting “Unforgettable.”

That’s not all folks
The spirit of jazz fest will continue throughout the academic year at OCC as Malfitano presents a free-admission “Legends of Jazz Series” starting Oct. 15 with the Ramsey Lewis Trio and continuing Nov. 19 with Diane Schuur, March 4, 2011 with the Tremé Brass Band, and concluding April 2 with Lonnie Smith; sunocc.edu.

TAGS: Russ Tarby,County Comptroller Robert Antonacci,Festival Artistic Director Frank Malfitano,OCC President Debbie Sydow,Richie Havens and K.J. Denhart, keyboardists Kim Jordan and Michael Kaeshammer,Gil Scott-Heron,Toph-E & The Pussycats,Jeff Lorber,Boz Scaggs,Natalie Cole,Robert Antonacci,County Executive Joanie Mahoney
EDITION: The Eagle

Rating: 2.2/5 (13 votes cast)

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