LEE -- Sandwiched between Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket and Tanglewood in Lenox, the town of Lee has been called the "gateway" to the Berkshires, but it's often a gateway that patrons of the performing arts pass through on their way to somewhere else.
This weekend's Berkshire Gateway Jazz Fest in downtown Lee is meant to change that impression. Though informal jazz in the gazebo and some other ancillary activities are expected, the thrust of the festival is made up of a performance by the Sonny and Perley Quar tet on Friday evening, the Charles Neville Quartet on Saturday afternoon, and vocalist Karrin Allyson on Saturday evening, performing with the Amherst Jazz Orchestra.
"This is a demonstration of what can happen. I'm hoping that as a demonstration project we'll be able to refer back to this and say: This will really work in this area," says Richard Vinette, former executive director of the Lee Community Development Corporation.
In a twist for the CDC, better known for economic revitalization efforts like the East Side Development, the organization is putting together this cultural event. The CDC is presenting the festival in partnership with Berkshires Jazz, on whose board Vinette sits.
Though he's an amateur musician himself, playing some piano and jazz guitar, Vinette acknowledged it's been a change of pace to go about booking acts for a mini jazz festival.
Sonny Daye and Perley Rous seau are
Allyson is a vocalist whose 12 albums have netted her a trio of Grammy Award nominations.
Neville is a member of the first family of New Orleans funk, and his work with the Neville Brothers has brought worldwide acclaim. An artist on the saxophone, he's shown a voracious musical curiosity over his 50-year career.
In the past month alone, he's played at the Hollywood Bowl with the Neville Brothers, performed in Italy with a Latin band that has set the words of writer Ishmael Reed to music, gigged with Senegalese kora player Youssoupha Sidibe at Chicago's African Festival of the Arts, and been part of an all-improv project called After Nirvana in Portland, Maine, that included a cellist and dancer.
"I think it's really important [to see relationships between musical styles] because there's such a connection among people who are interested in different music. Music comes from the same place. It requires the same kind of connection to the spirit in order to do it," he said in a telephone interview.
Though he's inextricably linked with the music of New Orleans, Neville learned jazz during a decade living in New York City and has lived in the Pioneer Valley hill town of Huntington for 15 years.
He's been a familiar presence around the Berkshires, leading weekly Tai Chi classes at Jacob's Pillow this summer, taking part in a Pittsfield festival exploring connections between African-Amer ican and Jewish musical traditions, and leading a themed performance called "Mem phis Blues and the Chitlin' Circuit" at Berkshire Athenaeum in January.
His quartet is a relatively straightforward jazz combo, playing a mix of jazz standards and original tunes. True to form, though, he doesn't play them entirely straight.
"We use some of the New Orleans funk rhythms with some of the things. And of course we play the ‘Cissy Strut,'" he said in reference to the hit by The Meters, a New Orleans band with a long musical relationship with the Neville family, "and ‘When the Saints [Go Marching In].'"
Berkshire Gateway Jazz Fest was conceived to highlight two new performance spaces in town, each the result of efforts to renovate historic buildings. Sonny and Perley Quartet will perform at the Spectrum Play house (in the former St. George's Episc opal Church), while the two Saturday concerts will be at the Lee Meeting House at the First Congre gational Church.
The Spectrum Playhouse, oper ated under the auspices of Col lege Internship Program (which also oversees the Starving Artist Creperie and Good Pur pose Gallery), had its official launch this summer. The First Con gregational Church is interested in pursuing year-round live programming.
Before renovation of these two buildings, Vinette said, "there simply weren't the venues."
"But now, with these two churches, I think there's a real opportunity with these venues," he said. "It just wasn't in the cards before." Wednesday September 12, 2012
What: Sonny & Perley
When: Friday at 8 p.m.
Where: Spectrum Playhouse,
20 Franklin St., Lee
What: Charles Neville
When: Saturday at 2 p.m.
What: Karrin Allyson with Amherst Jazz Orchestra
When: Saturday at 8 p.m.
Where: Both concerts at Lee Meeting House, First Congregational Church,
25 Park Place, Lee
Admission: For any one concert, $15 in advance
or $20 at the door