Jazz, blues, ska, reggae-fusion and more lit up the virtual Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival stage on Thursday as the winners of the Band Quest competition raised the bar high on a glitch-free opening night, with performances that will long be remembered.
High energy, great vibes, and smooth delivery were the hallmarks of a production for which the organisers can justifiably take a bow. “I am ecstatic about the show last night, not only about the performances, but also the fact that we were on time and everything went according to plan. It made the sleepless nights and all the other stresses in the organising of the event worth it. I am also so very proud of our musical talent that did themselves and Jamaica proud. The wonderful comments being received from our audience has given us great satisfaction,” Marcia McDonnough, co-producer of the event, which made its comeback this year in a virtual format, told The Gleaner on Friday.
Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival kicked off at the advertised 7 p.m. to over 600 viewers on the YouTube platform – one of several carrying the live stream – but, as the evening progressed, the number jumped to well over a thousand enthusiastic and very vocal Jazz and Blues fans. They made it known that they were truly appreciative of the performances and the high level of production. ‘Stars on the Rise’ was the evening’s theme and the first of the celestial bodies to take the stage was the all-male aggregation, 8 Band. Talented and suave, the young men impressed with their harmonies, their control and song choices, which ranged from the Jackson 5 to Earth, Wind and Fire, to Alton Ellis, and their own original compositions.
Songbird Rayven Amani couldn’t have been accompanied by a more appropriately named band, Mission Driven. Replete with black consciousness, her set opened with the Bob Marley and the Wailers classic Heathen, and continued with Black Without Apology, Start a Riot and My Darling. Her take on John Holt’s classic Stick By Me sounded right to regular ears, but not to the ears of two avid music critics in the chat. “ Stick By Me, keys for songs could be a little higher,” one commented, to which the other responded, “Yes, it was bit flat, a tone and 1/2 would make it ‘sidung’ [but it] was a good vibe.”
A smooth reggae-jazz mood was provided by Ken Ellis, the chill guitarist and vocalist who invited his friend, vocalist Hector Lewis, the Roots Percussionist, into his space and allowed his vocals to add to the groove. Flautist Keturah Grey was exciting, and seemed to tantalise not only by her musical output, but also by her body-hugging dress, which received quite a few fire emojis. Hers was a delightful sojourn in which she also showed her skills on the sax exploring Jamaican music, incorporating Tarrus Riley and Shenseea’s Lighter in a set that was lit.
A rock group with a rather unusual name, Iron Kyte, defied the laws of gravity and soared using familiar Jamaican music on their journey.
Also in full flight was multi-instrumentalist Joe Davis. At just 17, Joe is being compared to the masters, and he delivered a set that was simply awesome. A Jazz piano major at the Idyllwild Arts Academy in California, the wunderkind has been accepted to Berklee College of Music, and on Thursday night on the Jazz Festival Band Quest stage, he showed exactly why. With precision and finesse, Joe showed his dexterity on the keyboards, bass, drums, melodica and even his vocals, soulful and caressing on Opposites Repel. Songs by the Carpenters and American singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder also received that already special ‘Joe’ treatment. “Even if yuh don’t love Jazz, this is phenomenal,” declared the chat, which was overflowing with praise for Joe.
Although the three-day festival is free to viewers, organisers Touchstone Productions and Steady Image Media Group have appealed for donations to a charitable cause. McDonnough, in her opening remarks, stated that the festival employed up to 1,000 persons each year, from sweeping to putting up the stage, to just about everything.
“There are a lot of people who nobody sees but us. They are working on the grounds doing all the things to made sure that we could present the performers that you so enjoy. Since COVID, a lot of those people, a lot of us in the event industry, we just have had any work because COVID saw to it that we had to change what we do. We have a jazz family, a lot of the technical crew, some other people, who we would want to bring a little magic back to. And so once we get the donations, we will have some people who we would have earmarked who we want to help,” she said.
Also on the list is the charitable organisation Music Unites, which assists young musicians with instruments, scholarships and a creative outlet.
The Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival ends tonight with performances from Zia Benjamin, Sevana, Jon Secada and Richie Stephens.