PITTSFIELD — Two veteran jazz artists return to the Berkshires by making their debut at the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival.
Saxophonist Scott Robinson and pianist/vocalist Karrin Allyson headline the 12th annual celebration over the next 10 days that also showcases up and coming young talent and a photo exhibit of jazz greats.
The festival opens this Columbus Day weekend with the popular jazz crawl featuring local musicians playing at night spots and other venues throughout downtown Pittsfield. The three-day start also includes an opening reception on Friday at the Whitney Center for the Arts for a month-long exhibit by award-winning photojournalist Ken Franckling. The author of "Jazz in the Key of Light" has photographed such jazz legends as Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie and Phil Woods as part of Pittsfield's First Fridays Artswalk.
"Having the exhibit spreads the feel of jazz beyond the festival," said Berkshire Jazz Inc. president Ed Bride, whose organization stages CityJazz.
Some of Franckling's work was on display in August at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts when he did a duet with local artist and Ed's wife, Marguerite Bride. Her artwork focused on well-known jazz venues locally and across the country.
The return engagements of Allyson and Robinson were a few years in the making. The five-time Grammy nominee Allyson had top billing at the Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend four years ago in Lee and in 2002 was a musical guest of "A Prairie Home Companion" live broadcast from Tanglewood in 2002. The Midwestern native now living in New York City has a second home in Western Massachusetts and is thrilled to be back in the area, especially at a community jazz festival.
"The levels [of jazz] are different everywhere you go, but it's infectious and gets into the blood of the community," she said in an Eagle phone interview.
Expect an eclectic mix of Brazilian, classic ballads and blues from a classic sounding Allyson on Oct. 15 at The Colonial Theatre. She will be accompanied by bassist Wayne Moose, drummer Mark Walker and North Adams native Miro Sprague on keyboard. Sprague sat in with Samirah Evans, a Brattleboro, Vt. jazz singer by way of her native New Orleans, during a mini-Berkshire Jazz weekend three months ago in Pittsfield.
Robinson also has Tanglewood on his resume, making numerous appearances, as well as at more quaint Berkshire venues.
"I am happy to play for four people or 4,000 people," he said.
Robinson is widely known for performing with Grammy winner Maria Schneider and her big band orchestra. On Oct. 14, the Teaneck, N.J. resident brings his quartet to Flavours Restaurant where he will debut some new music.
"The goal is always to be myself, no matter the setting and play music that's not too far out for the average listener," he said in a phone interview.
The Jazz Prodigy concert on Oct. 13 features alto saxophonist Nathan Farrell appearing with a trio of Berkshire jazz musicians at the Berkshire Athenaeum.
The Berkshire Jazz Youth Ensemble also gets to shine on the big stage, opening for Allyson at The Colonial. Under the direction of Chris Nelson-Unczur, the band comprises student musicians from Herberg Middle School, augmented by ensemble graduates and visiting students. Aside from sharing the limelight with a jazz star, the concert is a learning experience.
"In jazz music, there are concepts and ideas that you just can't read about. The best way is for those concepts to be demonstrated, musically, for them to make any sense," he said.
The ensemble is preparing to play pieces by Bobby Timmons, Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and others — many of the pieces learned at the crack of dawn.
"These kids come to school to rehearse in the morning before many of their peers are even out of bed and teachers are in the building," Nelson-Unczur said. "I appreciate everything that they do to accomplish all that they have done."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233
ALL JAZZED UP
Highlights of Pittsfield CityJazz 2016
This Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Jazz About Town. Annual jazz crawl, featuring local musicians throughout Pittsfield's Upstreet Cultural District.
Fri. Oct. 7: First Fridays Artswalk opening reception for exhibit of award winning photojournalist Ken Franckling, 5-8 p.m. Whitney Center for the Arts, 42 Wendell Ave. Signing of his book "Jazz in the Key Of Light"
Thurs. Oct. 13 : Jazz Prodigy Concert with alto saxophonist Nathan Farrell, Berkshire Athenaeum, 1 Wendell Ave., 7 p.m. Free.
Fri. Oct. 14: Saxophonist Scott Robinson and his quartet 8 p.m., Flavours Restaurant, McKay Street. Tickets $25 in advance, $30 day of event.
Sat. Oct. 17: Five-time Grammy award nominee vocalist/pianist Karrin Allyson, with U. S. Army Jazz Ambassadors big band and Berkshire Youth Jazz Ensemble. The Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., 7;30 p.m. Tickets $35/$20.
Updates and box office information at BerkshiresJazz.org.