Rising stars shine bright at Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend

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LEE — Take two young, nationally acclaimed musicians, add plenty of local well-established talent, toss in good food and art and it's the recipe for the 5th Annual Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend.

The downtown festival opens Thursday and runs through Sunday. All events — indoors and outdoors — are free, except for the featured concerts Friday and Saturday night at the First Congregational Church

Trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg and pianist Justin Kauflin are this year's headliners, a pair in their early 30s with a sound all their own rooted in the legends.

Skonberg hails from outside Vancouver, British Columbia where she began playing festivals, singing and composing.

"[Vancouver] is an incredible scene of smart musicians," she said in an Eagle phone interview.

Skonberg has steadily risen within the jazz community and recently signed a record deal with Sony. The Canadian, now living in New York City, was encouraged by a high school counselor to play the trumpet more than 20 years ago.

Skonberg was more a rock 'n roll fan than jazz, until she began playing jazz and studied jazz history by learning from the great trumpeters, most notably Louis Armstrong.

"I am constantly surprised how playing the trumpet has opened so many doors — I'm in a really great place [in my life,]" she said in a phone interview with The Eagle.

Kauflin's jazz career also dates back to his teen years, but took a slightly different path. From the age of 6, the Maryland native was classically trained in the violin and piano switching to jazz piano after going blind at 11 years old. Kauflin was mentored by the great Clark Terry, their relationship the subject of the documentary film, "Keep on Keepin' On" being shown tonight at the Lee Library to kick off the jazz weekend.

Kauflin's new album, "Dedication" — produced by Quincy Jones — reached No. 1 on JazzWeek Charts and was in the Top 10 for nine weeks.

Kauflin and Skronberg are the latest jazz stars that organizers of the Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend have been able to land in its brief history.

Since the festival debuted in 2012, the late, legendary alto saxophonist Phil Woods, guitarist Freddie Bryant and seven-time Grammy- nominated Bobby Sanabria & Ascencion have been among the top acts to perform at the First Congregational Church, the jazz weekend's main stage.

"We provide top notch headliners and other top notch performers all the way around," said Rich Vinette

Vinette belongs to Berkshire Gateway Preservation, festival sponsor and a nonprofit arm of the church dedicated to raising funds for preserving historic structures and places in the Lee area.

Vinette and his quintet are among the several local/regional jazz groups that will play throughout the four-day event. The Lucky Five, weekly regulars at Prairie Whale in Great Barrington, comprises highly seasoned touring musicians that have performed and recorded with artists such as Peter Gabriel, Tony Bennett and Del McCoury.

Guitarist/signer Kip Beacco says the Berkshire-based group looks forward to showcasing their talent during the burgeoning jazz festival.

"I like to think we swing and put a lot of energy into what we do — even a slow ballad," he said.

Plenty of food vendors during Saturday's "Jazz in the Park," as well as fine restaurant dining on Main Street, an art show and two jazz brunches round out the schedule of what organizers hope will enhance Lee's growing reputation as a cultural destination.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233

WEEKEND AT A GLANCE

• THURSDAY

6 p.m.: Free showing of jazz documentary "Keep on Keepin' On," Lee Library, Main Street.

8 p.m.: The Lucky 5, First Congregational Church, Park Place, Free admission

• FRIDAY

4 - 6 p.m.: Gallery Art Show Reception at First Congregational Church

8 p.m.: Trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, First Congregational Church

Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 day of performance

• SATURDAY

11 a.m. - 2 p.m.: Jazz Brunch at Starving Artist Creperie & Cafe featuring Release the Penguins, Main Street

Noon - 3 p.m.: "Jazz in the Park" — food vendors, church park.

8 p.m.: Pianist Justin Kauflin, First Congregational Church

Tickets: $25

• SUNDAY

11 a.m.- 2 p.m. -Jazz Brunch at Starving Artist Creperie & Cafe featuring Rich Vinette Quintet, Main Street

On the Web: www.BerkshireGatewayJazz.com


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