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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 9 months ago

Jazz Club of Sarasota attracts international musicians for annual jazz festival

The 38th Annual Sarasota Jazz Festival aims to show how the genre creates a universal language through music.
by: Niki Kottmann Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment

Freedom — it’s one of America’s most beloved ideals. And for musicians such as Diego Figueiredo, it’s what encapsulates perhaps America’s most beloved music genre.

“Jazz is the freedom to do everything you want with a song,” says the Brazilian jazz guitarist. “And in my life, jazz is the freedom to do the things I want to do. (As a musician) I travel and I discover new people and new food and new atmospheres in new places, and jazz is all of that together.”

Figueiredo is one of 14 jazz musicians who will perform in the 38th Annual Sarasota Jazz Festival, a four-day event organized by the Jazz Club of Sarasota. This year’s theme is “World of Jazz” to honor the universal language of jazz music that will bring together these performers from seven countries in Sarasota.

Jazz Club President Peg Pluto says she’s pleased to recognize the global impact of jazz through this event, and she adds that the festival is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these international artists, many of whom have never met the other artists on the lineup.

Figueiredo says he’s excited to learn from and play with these fellow jazz musicians and to share their mutual love of the genre with Sarasota audiences.

Accalimed reeds player Ken Peplowski is directing the festival for the first time ever this year. Courtesy photo

The freedom element that has fueled Figueiredo’s love of jazz is particularly evident in terms of improvisational jazz. Former club President Dave Walrath learned this from a fellow musician early on in his jazz career when he was told “jazz isn’t a what, it’s a who.”

“Jazz is an interpretive art,” Walrath says. “You can take one song and play it a dozen ways — it might be Dixieland, swing, bop, fusion, hip-hop, etc., but it’s still jazz.”

He notes, however, that big band jazz is the complete opposite because those musicians are reading music (and reading it “darn well,” he adds). It’s this variety within the same genre, he says, that has helped jazz transcend generations and continues to make for a successful festival every year.

Walrath says the musicians are also recording artists, which helps attract more people to the festival because fans might know their recordings but have never seen them perform live, so they crave that unique experience.

Israeli pianist Ehud Asherie will perform Saturday and Sunday. Courtesy photo

He thinks this, coupled with packages that allow guests to meet and get to know some of these musicians, is what gives the large festival an intimate feel.

Acclaimed clarinet player Ken Peplowski is acting as music director of the festival for the first time this year, and he says he wanted to start off with a bang.

“I’ve called in a bunch of favors to get everyone in this year,” he says of the lineup. “I love to play as well as put together festivals because it’s like putting together a puzzle. You want the pieces to fit and you want people to get the whole picture.”

When planning the 38th annual festival, Peplowski says he decided to keep the lineup fresh by having the same musicians play two nights in a row, but in completely different contexts. One night someone’s favorite artist might be in a quartet, he says as an example, and the next night they’ll be playing with a vocalist.

Peplowski was thrilled when the club asked him to direct the festival about a year ago. He says the ideas started flowing right away.

“I go through a process not unlike when I record albums,” he says of planning. “A bunch of things are scattering around in my head, and then I wake up one morning and have a bigger picture and vision.”

Like Figueiredo, Peplowski is excited by the spontaneity of jazz, and he thinks it’s why the genre has regained influence among younger people in recent years with the revival of swing dance societies and other jazz organizations.

Houston Person is a jazz tenor saxophonist and record producer making his jazz festival return. Courtesy image

“It is the only music where you can hear the same set of songs six nights in a row and it sounds like six different performances because there’s so much improvisation,” he says. “We’re composing on the fly, so there’s a degree of walking the tightrope every night because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Peplowski encourages young, technologically dependent people particularly to experience jazz in a live format because it’s not the same as hearing it through laptop speakers. There’s something special about being surrounded by people getting caught up in the same excitement, he says.

And as for who else can enjoy the festival, he says it isn’t just for experience jazz listeners.

“I think this is a good introduction to jazz,” Peplowski says. “There’s a reason that a lot of people think jazz music is boring, because a lot of jazz music is boring … I like to work with people who take the music seriously but we also have fun onstage doing it. I think the audience feels that and it’s a good way to draw them in.”


Day One

7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8 at Riverview Performing Arts Center

Sinne Eeg is the vocalist for The Scandinavian Jazztrio. Courtesy photo

First Set: The Scandinavian Jazztrio will open the first evening of the festival. Danish drummer Kristian Leth founded the group, which is also composed of Swedish bassist Hans Backenroth and Danish pianist Ole Kock Hansen. Backenroth has toured both the U.S. and Canada, and Hansen is also known as an arranger and band leader. The trio will be accompanied by Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg, who is often considered the pre-eminent jazz vocalist in Scandinavia.

Second Set: For the second set of the night, the trio and vocalist will be joined by saxophone player Jimmy Greene, trumpet player Jeremy Pelt and Festival Music Director Ken Peplowski on reeds. Greene has been called “one of the most striking young tenors of recent years” by Jazzwise Magazine, and Pelt won the award of Rising Star - Trumpet from DownBeat Magazine and the Jazz Journalists Association for five years in a row.

Finale: Both groups will play together.


Day Two

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 9 at Riverview Performing Arts Center

Ken Peplowski performs with Diego Figueiredo. Courtesy image

First Set: Acclaimed Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo, winner of several competitions including the Montreux Jazz Festival, will be joined by Italian vocalist Chiara Izzi and Greene. Izzi is a singer-songwriter who the Jazz Times called “a talent to be heard.”

Second Set: The Scandinavian Jazztrio will take the stage again, this time with saxophone player Houston Person and guitarist Graham Dechter. Person is a jazz tenor saxophonist and record producer known for his sassy sound in the soul jazz genre, and Dechter is a 28-year-old who has been a member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra since he was 19.

Finale: Both groups will play together.


Day Three, Matinee

2 p.m. Saturday, March 10 at Riverview Performing Arts Center

This performance is a jam session with all the festival musicians other than Eeg, Greene and Pelt. Figueiredo says the performance will be particularly exciting for audiences because they’ll get to see several different styles of jazz musicians playing together.


Day Three, Evening

Akiko Tsuruga is a Japanese organist who will perform on day three of the festival. Courtesy image

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10 at Riverview Performing Arts Center

First Set: Leth and Backenroth of The Scandinavian Jazztrio will play with Peplowski and Israeli pianist Ehud Asherie, an inventive musician whom The New Yorker calls “a master of swing and stride.”

Second Set: Person and Dechter will take the stage with Japanese organist Akiko Tsuruga and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Tsuruga is a composer, pianist and organist who plays in the soul-jazz and hard bop styles. Hamilton also teaches, composes and is co-leader of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.

Finale: Both groups will play together.


I'm the Managing Editor of Arts & Entertainment here, which means I write, edit and share stories about our multifaceted A&E scene in Sarasota. I graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism and a French minor. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 356

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