Cocomama’s all-female Latin jazz orchestra will play Thursday, July 9, at Lackawanna Plaza — part of the Lackawanna Soundcheck series, kicking off three months of Montclair Jazz Festival performances. (COURTESY JAZZ HOUSE KIDS)

By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

The annual Montclair Jazz Festival is returning, with more than 35 hours of live jazz spread out over three months, starting on Thursday, July 8, and culminating with an all-day “Downtown Jamboree” on Saturday, Sept. 25.

The 12th annual event is free to the public.

“We’re back and we’re bigger and better than ever,” Jazz House Kids president and founder Melissa Walker said. “The Montclair Jazz Festival is bringing us back together again.”

Last year, the Montclair Jazz Festival was completely virtual. Throughout three days, and partnering with Sirius XM radio, the festival presented its greatest hits in streams on Facebook and YouTube, with the audio run on Sirius XM’s Real Jazz station, reaching almost 200,000 listeners, Walker said.


“It was really thrilling to get to see those concerts and relive those moments,” she said. “It’s really important for us to bring forth the masters of this music to always perform, but also to really introduce the community and our fans to emerging talent.”

In 2019, the festival’s 10th anniversary saw about 12,000 attendees in events spread over two weeks — with more than 10,000 people at Nishuane Park for the grand finale. Nancy Klein, a spokesperson for Jazz House Kids, said organizers are expecting a smaller turnout in the first year back live, though she said it’s too early to get an estimate.

After 15 pandemic months with very little live music, Walker said, festival organizers decided to start earlier than the usual second Saturday in August.

First up is the Lackawanna Soundcheck series — two concerts in July at Lackawanna Plaza. BDP Holdings — which, along with the Montclair Center Business Improvement District has signed on as a presenting sponsor for this year’s event — plans to redevelop the space and is holding several community events there this year.

The owners of the Turtle and the Wolf restaurant in Upper Montclair are planning to open a new restaurant, Pineapple Express, in the plaza, and will provide concessions, other food sales and a VIP area for events happening there, Klein said.

Storytellers, featuring Alex Laurenzi, will perform at Lackawanna Plaza Thursday, July 9, for the first show in this year’s Montclair Jazz Festival. (COURTESY JAZZ HOUSE KIDS)

On Thursday, July 9, from 6 to 9 p.m. the performers will be Storytellers, featuring Alex Laurenzi, followed by Cocomama’s nine-piece, all-female Latin jazz orchestra. On Thursday, July 22, from 6 to 9 p.m. CHiCA Power All-Stars and the Dave Stryker Eight Track Band will celebrate classic pop tunes from the ’70s reimagined.

The CHiCA Power program at Jazz House Kids focuses on music education and empowerment of girls ages 9 through 19. Jazz House Kids Artistic Director Christian McBride said it’s a flagship program for the school that has separated it from many other arts organizations.

“We’ve had some incredible young ladies who have come through our program,” McBride said.

The seven-piece ensemble will feature some of the top young talent from Jazz House Kids, including bandleader Zoe Badia, who recently earned her master’s degree from The Juilliard School.

Zoe Obadia is bandleader for CHiCA POWER. (COURTESY JAZZ HOUSE KIDS)

In August, there will be two full days of events — the Lackawanna Block Party series — starting on Saturday, Aug. 7, with world-renowned trumpeter Ingrid Jenses, the Kelly Green Trio and Lee Hogans and Pursuance from 1 to 7 p.m. at Lackawanna Plaza.

On Saturday, Aug. 14, the Irwin Hall Organ Trio and Lauren Sevian Quartet will perform at Lackawanna Plaza from 1 to 6 p.m. After the concert, there will be a dance party with DJ Brother Mister — McBride’s DJ alter ego — from 6 to 9 p.m.

“We have Kelly Green, [a] marvelous vocalist and pianist who’s been part of the Jazz House family for a very long time. Lee Hogans, great trumpet player who’s a recent addition to the Jazz House family,” McBride said. “I’m very proud of the musicians who have been part of the Jazz House family, not just as teachers but also as players and mentors. I think that just speaks to the legacy that we’ve been able to create here.”

Christian McBride is seen at the 10th annual Montclair Jazz Festival. (COURTESY JAZZ HOUSE KIDS)

In September, the Montclair Jazz Festival will have a cocktail party and concert at the Van Vleck House & Gardens on Thursday, Sept. 23, from 7 to 10 p.m.

Finally, the festival will have its grand finale on Saturday, Sept. 25 — the Downtown Jamboree, with music on four stages throughout downtown Montclair.

The official lineup of musicians and events for the jamboree will be announced in the upcoming days.

“We’re going to close down [part of] Bloomfield Avenue, and we’re going to support our local businesses with our Downtown Jamboree,” Walker said. “We hope it makes up for a year without live music and also really allows us to support local businesses by bringing our fans to the downtown corridor.”

The event will have artisan food, craft vendors and a family activity zone.

Bringing the festival’s grand finale downtown, and in particular to the Fourth Ward, was important to Jazz House Kids organizers because they want the festival to be accessible to the entire community, to be diverse and inclusive, they said.

“This music that was born from the African American experience by African Americans, it felt really fitting for us that it would find its home in a community that shares that experience,” Walker said.

“That’s what jazz is. It stands on the shoulders of the experience of people who were not recognized, whose greatness and genius were not recognized but found a way. And through finding a way, it found a way to embrace the world and this music.

“So, for us to kind of start in the Fourth Ward and move uptown, and bring in all communities and people of all backgrounds, in a no-tickets-required event, is really at the core of our mission at the Jazz House.”

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