Keepers of the flame at Jazz in the Valley

Jimmy Cobb, the drummer on Miles Davis’ iconic album Kind of Blue, will headline this year’s Jazz in the Valley at Waryas Park.

There’s a joke going around about the difference between a folk musician and a jazz musician – something to the effect that the folkie plays five chords to an audience of a thousand people while the jazzer plays a thousand chords to an audience of five people. Folkies would probably take strong exception to the implication that they have an easy path to success in the current musical climate, but it’s undeniable that jazz is the tougher sell.

It does seem strange to think that the form of music that most pushes music’s very boundaries, that continually redefines what music means, should devolve into something that only draws older audiences, dwindling in number each year. One could argue that most people approach music as passive entertainment; they don’t want to be asked to think about what they’re listening to, or to be challenged to redefine their tastes.

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So how can jazz be kept alive, beyond a small group of hardcore fans? How can its proponents help more people acquire this acquired taste? Here in the Hudson Valley, an organization called Transart was founded with the mission to expand the jazz audience one person at a time – to create a new generation of listeners from our youth who are unaware of the music, its historical significance and the artists that create it. Most of the year, Transart pursues that noble goal by bringing serious musicians in the field to conduct introductory jazz workshops in public schools throughout New York State – particularly in underserved communities and urban areas.

But each year since 2000, when the West Park-based organization commissioned Ahmad Jamal to create an original composition and perform it at a concert, Transart has also been bringing world-class jazz to the general public through an outdoor festival called Jazz in the Valley. The event now spans a weekend and draws some of the most venerable names in jazz. The 2011 fest brought legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela to the Hudson Valley Spa and Resort in Kerhonkson. Now Transart has found a new venue, within a short walk of a Metro North station, that it’s hoping will greatly expand turnout for Jazz in the Valley 2012: Waryas Park on the Poughkeepsie waterfront.

The 12th annual outing of Jazz in the Valley happens this weekend, August 18 and 19, from 12 noon until…whenever. And on the roster are some names whom Transart fairly characterizes as “architects” of the jazz form, including at least three veterans of that notable finishing school for top-of-the-line performers, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Headlining this year’s show are Jimmy Cobb, the drummer on Miles Davis’ iconic album Kind of Blue; electronic keyboard pioneer Les McCann; and trumpeter Eddie Henderson, best-known for his years in Herbie Hancock’s band.

The Saturday lineup features the Cookers, a hard-bop septet in which Henderson is joined by tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, keyboardist George Cables, drummer Billy Hart, trumpeter David Weiss, double-bassist Cecil McBee and saxophonist Craig Handy. A tribute to John Coltrane will be presented by an ensemble called We Four, including Cobb, saxophonist and bandleader Javon Jackson, pianist Mulgrew Miller and double-bassist Peter Washington. Also on Saturday’s program are Luther François, saxophonist and founder of the preeminent jazz festival in his native St. Lucia, and veteran alto sax player “Sweet Poppa Lou” Donaldson.

Sunday’s spotlight will be on “Swiss Movement Revisited,” a reenactment of the legendary jam session at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival between Les McCann on piano and vocals and the late Eddie Harris on sax. Javon Jackson steps in to fill Harris’ shoes and brings along his young trio to back up the venerable McCann. Sunday’s lineup also includes post-bop vibraphonist and jazz/funk pioneer Roy Ayers and up-and-coming pianist/composer Helen Sung. And a swinging 12-piece orchestra called Zon del Barrio will get everyone up and dancing to salsa, son and Boricua rhythms.

Although this is a concert in a park, reserved seating will be available. Ticket prices are $40 for Lawn seating for either day or the entire weekend; $55.50 for one day or $80 for both days regular reserved seating; and $67.50 for one day or $100 for both days premium reserved seating. You can purchase your tickets online at www.transartinc.org/ticketsandseating.html or in person at Blue Byrd’s on Wall Street in Uptown Kingston or at Measured to Fit on Route 9 in Wappingers Falls. For more info visit www.transartinc.org/jazz-in-valley.html, e-mail info@transartinc.org or call (845) 384-6350. And help keep jazz alive and kicking!

Transart presents Jazz in the Valley 2012 at Poughkeepsie’s Waryas Park beginning at 12 noon this Saturday and Sunday, August 18 and 19. Saturday’s lineup includes the Cookers featuring Eddie Henderson, We Four featuring Jimmy Cobb, Luther Francois and Lou Donaldson. Sunday’s schedule includes Roy Ayers, Swiss Movement Revisited featuring Les McCann, Helen Sung and Zon del Barrio. Ticket prices range from $40 to $100 and are available at www.transartinc.org/ticketsandseating.html, at Blue Byrd’s in Kingston and at Measured to Fit in Wappingers Falls. Visit www.transartinc.org/jazz-in-valley.html, e-mail info@transartinc.org or call (845) 384-6350 for details.

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