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After a two-year hiatus, the Stowe Jazz Festival is back in full force, bringing some 26 bands and 136 musicians from around the world to the seaside resort for its fourth edition from August 5-7.
“I decided that if we really had to do this again, we were going to come back with a splash instead of a big toe in the water,” festival director George Petit said in a phone interview Monday.
“I would say this year is considerably better, in every way, than what we were doing in 2019. We come back stronger than we left.”
Petit, a world-renowned musician and producer/engineer who returned to Stowe six years ago, is the driving force behind the festival, which infuses Stowe with jazz and its subgenres at the Alchemist Brewery’s Mainstage, a second stage exterior called the Pinnacle Stage, and at four other venues in Stowe.
And, icing on the cake, each event is free, as is parking. This vision has sparked an outpouring of community support, with corporate sponsors, private donors and local volunteers helping to keep things free and easy for jazz fans.
Launched in 2017, the festival has distinguished itself in jazz circles by featuring only jazz and its many subgenres, and attracting top talent from around the world in addition to notable artists from Vermont.
“There’s no blues, there’s no jammy music, there’s no rock ‘n’ roll,” Petit said. “Other festivals always dilute their product by doing this. We don’t have to. So we’re sort of the square peg in the round hole.
“It’s important for people to understand that jazz isn’t just a 70-year-old guy with a double bass playing walking bass with melodies that people can’t understand,” he added. “Jazz has a lot of subgenres and it’s something very deep.”
This model now includes an official nonprofit determination – the festival received its 501c3 status just before COVID hit in 2020. “Being a 501c3 not only means people can sponsor and donate with a tax deduction involved, but it adds a degree of credibility to what we do.
“It will always be free and it will always be jazz,” added Petit.
This year’s festival features several favorites from the first three editions, including acclaimed Brazilian guitarist Chico Pinheiro – returning for the fourth time – veteran New York guitarist Ed Cherry, and New York drummer Allison Miller and his quintet, Boom Tick Boom.
Other notable acts on the main stage include Festejation, Afro-Peruvian New York jazz musician, Cuban-born pianist and composer Elio Villafranca, Grammy-nominated Cuban-born pianist and composer Manuel Valera and his group, the New Cuban Express, and go to New York. City bassist Jonathan Maron.
Case in point: Festejation, led by music director Edward Pérez, includes two Grammy-nominated music directors (Pérez and guitarist Juancho Herrera), a Latin Grammy-winning producer (percussionist Felipe Fournier), a Julliard graduate and a guest special who is traveling from Lima, Peru to perform at the festival (rising singer Álvaro Isla).
“It’s a total party,” said Petit of the band, which delivered two sold-out performances at Rusty Nail during the 2019 festival.
Villafranca’s star sextet, who will perform the music of Chick Corea as part of the Chick Corea Afro Caribbean Experience, including tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, New York drummer Eric Harland and Pérez de Festejation on bass.
Maron’s eclectic quintet includes trumpeter/singer Michael ‘Maz’ Maher of Grammy-winning band Snarky Puppy, Cherry’s quartet includes famed New York guitarist Peter Bernstein – whom Petit calls “one of the top three to the world” – while bassist Ben Allison’s praised quartet includes Pinheiro on guitar.
“Everyone on that main stage is known at every festival and every jazz fanatic household around the world,” Petit said of the lineup. “And we get them because they want to be here.”
While the first three festivals took place in early September, Petit decided to skip to early August to hopefully capture more people and warmer temperatures.
“In high season in Stowe, more people will be exposed to this music,” he said. “It makes the festival better, it makes the music better, it makes Stowe better. So everyone is a winner. »
Attracting around 400 people during the first festival in 2017 – which was marked by rainy and cold weather – the 2019 festival attracted over 4,000 people.
“We spent a few years building our model in what I call a lemonade stand,” Petit said. “But now that we’re a 501v3 and we’re attracting this number of people and this level of player, it’s just time to get out of the minor leagues.”
Alchemist main scene
— 3:00: Ben Allison Quartet
— 5:00 p.m.: Elio Villafranca Sextet
— 2h30: Ed Cherry/Peter Bernstein Quartet
— 4:30 p.m.: Chico Pinheiro Quartet with Amanda Brecker
— 6:30 p.m.: Jonathan Maron Quintet
— 1:00: Tyler Blanton Quartet
— 3:00: John Fedchock NY Sextet
— 5:00 p.m.: Allison Miller and Boom Tic Boom
— 7:00 a.m.: Manuel Valera and the New Cuban Express
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