This year’s music series will feature artists from numerous genres and backgrounds, but will once again boast a robust schedule of jazz performances. Here’s how the festival describes it:
The 2017 Wells Fargo Jazz series highlights some of the top artists working today, from acclaimed masters to rising stars. In addition to exploring the tension between the art form’s past and present, this season’s series will also touch on jazz’s deep connection with one of Charleston’s sister Southern cities—New Orleans.
Three-time Grammy winner Dee Dee Bridgewater kicks things off with Festival-eve and opening- night performances at College of Charleston Cistern Yard. Named a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, Bridgewater successfully carries the torch passed on by greats Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, thinking more like an instrumentalist than a vocalist, scatting well- constructed yet improvised melodies, and interpreting songs in an original and personal way. This leading light of the jazz vocal tradition is set apart by a charisma and natural talent for communicating with an audience—a charisma that led to a Tony for her theatrical performance in The Wiz and international recognition.
Opening weekend also welcomes Buenos Aires-born Sofía Rei, one of the most inventive voices on the current New York City scene. Rei, who’s “passion and clarity has been embraced from Carnegie Hall to the hippest downtown haunts” (The New York Times), explores ties between South American folklore, jazz, flamenco, and electronic sounds, producing works that project an uplifting, melodic purity while maintaining driving rhythmic complexity. During six unique concerts in settings that range from solo to quartet, Rei will delight audiences with rarely heard songs from every corner of the Americas, along with original compositions.
Playing at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard on May 27 and 28, Cuban musician Pedrito Martinez’s world-class status as a percussionist, singer, and bandleader has garnered a fervent following—including the likes of Eric Clapton and Roger Waters, along with Paul Simon and Wynton Marsalis, both of whom Martinez has performed with. Martinez brings authentic Cuban tradition into the 21st century with a powerhouse quartet that entices audiences to get up and dance. Each bandmate contributes something integral: Peruvian percussionist Jhair Sala’s timing and intuition fuse with Martinez’s, and the two drummers play as one; pianist Edgar Pantoja- Aleman bends genre boundaries with a constant supply of heat and skill; and bassist Yunior Terry considers his bass “one more dancer out there on the floor.” Together, the Pedrito Martinez Group is “writing a new chapter in Cuban music history, and their shared excitement is irresistible” (NPR’s All Things Considered).
One of the most significant jazz musicians of his generations, trumpeter Terence Blanchard has won multiple Grammy awards and extends a jazz tradition embodied by Louis Armstrong— grounded in their shared hometown of New Orleans. His sought-after sound both as a performer and composer can be heard on almost every Spike Lee film, among others; he has carved out a singular place in contemporary culture that extends well beyond jazz’s reach. Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective will perform at the Cistern Yard on June 3 with a distinctly groove- based quintet, teeming with funk, rock, R&B, and blues sounds. The ensemble thrives on the perfect mixture of Blanchard’s genius and the innovations of his bandmates: guitarist Charles Altura, pianist/keyboardist Fabian Almazan, bassist DJ Ginyard, and drummer Oscar Seaton.
As a pianist and singer, Henry Butler’s place in the pantheon of New Orleans musical greats is secure. He tells stories through the rise, swing, and rumble of his fingers as they channel sounds from a diverse array of genres: jazz, Caribbean, classical, pop, blues, and R&B, among others. Trumpeter, bandleader, and arranger Steven Bernstein—a veteran of New York City’s downtown scene and a Grammy-award winner—refers to himself as a “retro-futurist.” The fiery unit, Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9, will use New Orleans tradition and early 20th-century blues as a launching point during their June 1 performance at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard.
In the early days of his career, saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd was invited to be a guest on recordings with the Doors, the Beach Boys, and the Grateful Dead. Now armed with an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music and the title of Jazz Master from the National Endowment for the Arts, Lloyd will return to Spoleto Festival USA (he previously appeared during the 2001 and 1994 Festivals). For the Charles Lloyd Quartet concert at the Charleston Gaillard Center on June 2, Lloyd will play with a group of dynamic musicians a generation or more his junior: pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Eric Harland.
The Wells Fargo Jazz series concludes with Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road, June 7 ‒ 10. When he left California for New Orleans in 1994, Evan Christopher began a journey along what he calls a “clarinet road,” working to honor and extend the legacies of such early Creole clarinetists as Sidney Bechet, Barney Bigard, and Omer Simeon. With a sound and style that combines virtuosity, immaculate taste, and enthusiasm, his music explores the full range of possibilities in this tradition. At his six Festival performances at the Simons Center Recital Hall, the trio will also include Christopher’s close New Orleans associates: guitarist Brian Seeger and bassist Roland Guerin.
In addition to Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective’s June 3 concert, Blanchard, an outspoken presence and articulate educator, will sit down with music critic Larry Blumenfeld for a Jazz Talk called “Trumpeting Truth: A Conversation with Terence Blanchard” earlier on that Saturday at the Simons Center Recital Hall at College of Charleston. The two will discuss how arts, advocacy, and social justice issues intersect in Blanchard’s career as bandleader, film composer and educator, as well as within the wider music community.
Blumenfeld will also lead another Jazz Talk, “Fud at 100: A Centennial Celebration,” alongside Charleston Jazz Initiative co-founder Karen Chandler and Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg. Born in Charleston in 1906, Joseph “Fud” Livingston worked alongside the legends of early jazz, and authored the classic song, “I’m Thru With Love.” The mayor—a musician and Livingston’s great nephew—and Chandler will discuss Livingston’s legacy at the Simons Center Recital Hall at the College of Charleston on May 28.
Located 14 miles from downtown Charleston, the historic plantation and beautifully manicured gardens of Middleton Place will set the backdrop for the day-long Wells Fargo Festival Finale on Sunday, June 11. After a full lineup of local and regional groups (announced at a later date), New Orleans-based, groove-oriented rock band The Revivalists will take center stage for a rousing conclusion to the 2017 Festival. The evening will close with a spectacular display of post- concert fireworks.
The full 2017 program and an event calendar can be found here.
Tickets can be purchased by phone at 843.579.3100 and online at spoletousa.org. Tickets can also be purchased in person through the Spoleto Festival USA Box Office at the Gaillard Center (95 Calhoun Street) beginning on Monday, May 1.
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