LEE -- A tribute to a legendary jazz pianist with ties to Lee highlights a downtown jazz festival that organizers hope will regularly open the Berkshire summer music scene.
The Sounds of Shearing, a California-based tribute band to the late George Shearing, will kick off its inaugural East Coast tour June 6, 8 p.m. at the First Congregational Church as part of the third annual Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend, June 5-8. Sounds of Shearing is the only band he authorized to carry on his legacy, according event coordinator Richard Vinette.
Vinette says Shearing and his wife Ellie summered in Lee for 10 years until the jazz great's death in 2011 at the age of 91. He hopes the Shearing-Lee connection will draw more than just the hard-core jazz enthusiasts to the four-day festival.
"George played Tanglewood during those 10 years and he and Ellie loved it here," Vinette said.
The dates of this year's Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend is the earliest since it debuted in mid-September, 2012. Last year, organizers moved the event to late July in order to avoid being so close to the Pittsfield Jazz Festival held over two weekends in mid-October. Vinette says the festival has likely found a home in June, as merchants wanted an event to help jump-start the summer tourist season before July 4.
Lee Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Colleen Henry believes the jazz weekend can provide a big boost to the local economy.
"We would like everyone to come to Lee for the jazz and stay for the fabulous food, gorgeous scenery, beautiful B&Bs, and to see our quintessential New England Main Street," she said. "It is a rare pleasure to be able to host such jazz luminaries as Sonny and Perley and the Sounds of Shearing in our town."
The Sonny and Perley Quartet along with The New Black Eagles Jazz Band are among the other marquee performers, along with local jazz musicians, an outdoor art show and Sunday jazz brunch scheduled for the four-day event.
Such a musical lineup featuring the Sounds of Shearing, should be a big draw for Lee's third jazz weekend, according to Ed Bride, president of Berkshire Jazz, Inc, which stages the Pittsfield Jazz Fesitval.
"I think there will be people from outside the area who want to come to hear the bands, stay in Lee and go out to dinner," he said. "I noticed last year seeing the same people hanging out [downtown], indicating the weekend is becoming a happening -- and that's what we want."
The Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend is in collaboration with Berkshire Jazz Inc. and Berk-
shire Gateway Preservation Inc., a non-profit fundraising arm
of the First Congregational Church. The mini-concert series helps raise money toward the organization's repair and restor-
ation of the 155-year-old house of worship, known for it's iconic and often photographed white steeple.
Vinette hopes to build upon that collaboration by expanding beyond the jazz weekend.
"I would like to see more jazz performances, but we're not going to be limited to that," he said.
All that Jazz
What: Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend
When: June 5-8
Where: Downtown Lee
♦ June 5: 8 p.m., Sonny and Perley Quartet perform at Spectrum Theater, Franklin Street.
♦ June 6: 8 p.m., The Sounds of Shearing, First Congregational Church, Park Place, behind Lee Memorial Town Hall.
♦ June 7: 8 p.m., The New Black Eagles Jazz Band, The First Congregational Church.
♦ June 8: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Jazz Brunch with The Release the Penguins Jazz Quartet, Starving Artist Creperie, 40 Main St. Creperie open 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
For more ticket information and a complete list of events go to www.berkshiregatewayjazz.com.