PITTSFIELD -- Now in its eighth year, Pittfield CityJazz Festival heads toward its "headline weekend" this eveningat 7:30, with a performance by the Jazz Arts Trio at Barrington Stage Company's Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center on Linden Street.
The 10-day festival will be capped off on Saturday evening at 8 by the New England Jazz Ensemble, with guest vocalist Giacomo Gates and flutist Ali Ry erson, in a concert at the Colonial Theatre that will also in clude the Wil liams College Jazz Ensemble.
Jazz Arts Trio is led by pianist Frederick Moyer, who has spent most of his professional life playing works by the likes of Mo zart, Beet hoven and Brahms over the course of a 25-year career as a concert pianist. In re cent years he's taken a classical music ap proach to mid-century jazz, seeking to expose the work to new audiences and to more fully understand the accomplishments of the genre's great improvisers.
In 2007 he took a break from his grueling concert schedule, he ex plains, and found his musical proclivities taking an unexpected turn.
"I remember the very first few days when I didn't have to practice anything. I found myself listening to [jazz pianist] Oscar Peterson and starting to transcribe his solos. I had no plan, it just became so fascinating to try to figure out now how they were creating this feeling," he says.
Though he'd been trained on classical piano since age seven (his father William was a trombonist for the Boston Symphony), Moyer started listening to jazz early as well. Freshly inspired, he teamed up with two musicians with whom he had played jazz informally as a teenager: bassist Peter Tillotson and drummer Peter Fraenkel.
They pick great moments in jazz history, and re-create them, note-for note. Tonight's concert will feature a healthy dose from their performance of Ahmad Jamal's album "But Not For Me: Live at the Pershing," the centerpiece of Jazz Arts Trio's second record, released in February. Moyer continues his solo classical engagements, but works in jazz compositions whenever possible.
The spirit of improvisation is firmly ensconced at the heart of jazz, and the notion of transcribing and re-playing another artist's solos may not at first seem to be keeping with that spirit. But Moyer likens it to classical music, in which performers interpret inherited compositions and imbue them with their own flavor.
"By transcribing them, we've basically turned them into chamber music. They are now compositions, and in a way are now classical music, if you define classical music as music that is written down, where the performers don't change the notes but their job is to interpret those notes as they wish to play them," Moyer says. "Sometimes we play it faster, slower, quieter, more sweet, more swinging. We play it our way, just as we would do with Beethoven."
The CityJazz Festival is built around two distinct phases, opening with a series of "jazz about town" performances in Pittsfield restaurants last weekend and building toward the ticketed events this weekend.
Meanwhile, some musicians are working with local students.
"That's something that's sort of invisible to the public, but it's a very important part of our mission," says Ed Bride, chairman of the festival and president of Berkshires Jazz.
"Jazz is not the music of the masses, and it will disappear if students are not exposed to it while their minds are open and impressionable."
Bride said two of the restaurants participating in the "jazz crawl," who don't typically feature live music, have already asked the bands to return. With other cultural organizations providing venues and now beginning to program shows and workshops, Bride sees momentum in the life of the festival. "I like how that's moving, and I think the other organizations do as well," he says.
Moyer will lead a workshop with area children on the topic of relationships between classical music and jazz.
"My dream was to take this stuff onto a concert stage after playing Beethoven and Mozart and show how the elbow grease method of revising, throwing away, pondering, writing things down, that whole essence of that kind of artistic creation certainly creates great music -- but there's a whole different way, which is just playing in the mo ment," Moyer says.
"Each great form of music has its own kind of a swing. You have to find it, but there is that feeling of almost levitation, when you really get in the groove. It's common, I think, to all music."
Who: Jazz Arts Trio
When: Tonight at 7:30
Where: Barrington Stage Company, Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield
How: (413) 236-8888; www.barrington
stageco.org; at the box office -- 30 Union St., Pittsfield
Who: New England Jazz Ensemble with guest artists Ali Ryerson and Giacomo Gates; Williams College Jazz Ensemble
When: Saturday 8 p.m.
Where: Berkshire Theatre Group, Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield
Tickets: $25, $15
How: (413) 997-4444; www.BerkshireTheatre
Group.org; at the box office -- 111 South St., Pittsfield