Jack Garner: The acts I'm looking forward to seeing at jazz fest

05:00 AM, Apr 04, 2013

Jazz bassist Christian McBride is among the acts that Jack Garner plans to check out at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. (PROVIDED PHOTO)/

Written By Jack Garner

Festival season will soon be upon us, with the welcome return of the High Falls Film Festival April 18 to 21, followed by the 12th edition of the oh-so-successful and popular Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival June 21 to 29.

I will be reviewing and recommending films for the High Falls fest in my next two columns. Today, though, I’m giving a first look at the acts that have me most excited among the jazz festival offerings, announced last week.

Among the Eastman Theatre headliners, the most obvious jazz act, and folks I’m eager to see, are saxophonist David Sanborn, pianist Bob James, Rochester native (and world-class drummer) Steve Gadd, and bassist James Genus. Though all four have played all sorts of music, fusion included, the aim this time is straight-ahead acoustic jazz, in the tradition of the long-standing quartet of the late, great Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. To that end, they’re about to release Quartette Humaine, an album of new music, strongly influenced by Brubeck and Desmond.

I find the presence of Gadd most appropriate on this date. Brubeck drummer Joe Morello was a versatile drummer, but particularly adept at superb brush work. I feel the same is true of Gadd, so he’s the perfect artist for this enterprise.

Other acts that have whetted my jazz appetite include bassist Christian McBride and Inside Straight, which is performing to make up for the cancellation caused by a weather delay last year; the superb second-generation sax master Ravi Coltrane; Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, a group led by veteran Allman Brothers drummer Jaimoe, which performs a blend of Southern rock and jazz; the John Patitucci Trio, the great singer Gregory Porter; the Canadian Mario Romano Quartet (which brings saxophonist and Mount Morris native Pat LaBarbera back to town); and the inventive vocalist Kurt Elling.

If you like pianists, you can’t do much better than Monty Alexander, Hilario Duran, Bill Dobbins, Harold Danko, Cyrus Chestnut, Howard Levy, Alfredo Rodriguez, Gap Mangione, Rafael Zaldivar, Paul Hofmann, John Nyerges and others on the slate.

And, finally, New Orleans (the birthplace of jazz) has hardly ever been so well-represented before, with music coming from Dr. John; the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; the very popular Trombone Shorty; the talented, Rochester-born, New Orleans-schooled bluesman John Mooney; and, arguably, the greatest Cajun band on the planet, Beausoleil.

We’ll refine some of our picks as we get closer, but I’m expecting to hear some seriously good music (and some not-so-seriously good music, as well).

BEN-HUR, BIG. Certain movies demand to be seen on the big screen. That’s true of Oscar champion Ben-Hur, which screens at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the newly refurbished Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House.

William Wyler’s three-and-a-half hour 1959 film took home 11 Oscars, a record that stood for nearly 40 years until Titanic tied it in 1997, as did The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

Among the statuettes Ben-Hur took home: best actor for Charlton Heston, best supporting actor for Hugh Griffith, best cinematography for Robert Surtees, best music for Miklós Rózsa, and best director for Wyler (the father of Catherine Wyler, the former artistic director of the High Falls Film Festival).

Though known as the definitive sword-and-sandal epic story of Christ, Ben-Hur also is famous for one of the greatest action scenes ever filmed, the fabled chariot race. It was co-directed by the noted stuntman Yakima Canutt, and remains breathtaking more than a half-century later.

If you’ve been awaiting the perfect opportunity to try out the “new” Dryden, this film might be it. (And you’ll appreciate the more comfortable seats as the film moves into its third hour.)

PURE IVORY. As we previewed last week, the Dryden also this weekend offers a chance to meet a world-class filmmaker, 84-year-old James Ivory (of the notable Merchant-Ivory films). He’s in town at 8 p.m. Saturday to introduce his 1995 biopic, Jefferson in Paris, with Nick Nolte as the third president and Thandie Newton as his slave mistress, Sally Hemings. Gwyneth Paltrow co-stars as the president’s daughter, Patsy.

Jefferson in Paris was the film Ivory made directly after The Remains of the Day, which earned eight Oscar nominations in 1994, and Howard’s End, which won three Oscars in 1993.