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Jeff Spevak

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle. He has also been published in Musician and High Times magazines, contributed to WXXI, City newspaper and Post magazine, and occasionally performs spoken-word pieces around town. Some of his haikus written during the Rochester jazz festival were self-published in a book of sketches done by Scott Regan, the host of WRUR’s Open Tunings show. Spevak founded an award-winning barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, and believes Bigfoot is real. His book on the life of a Lake Ontario sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during World War II will be published in April of 2019 by Lyons Press.

With a blast of Trombone Shorty's horn, the Rochester International Jazz Festival roared to a satisfying close Saturday night.

Responding to a final day of gorgeous weather over its nine days, the fest drew an estimated 208,000 people, pretty much matching last year's total. 

This was only the second time in its 18-year history that the fest escaped rain. The only other time that happened was in 2007. So the gods were with us. "I made a few phone calls," festival co-producer John Nugent said.

Minding history

The centuries haven't been kind to humanity. There really isn't a lot we need to relive about the past. Except the music. 

Backed by an acoustic trio of guitar, bass and piano, Rochester International Jazz Festival favorite Catherine Russell overlooked no detail in mining the 1920s, 30s and 40s Friday night at two packed shows at Temple Building Theater. 

Playing in a band, it's tough work, as Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters made clear in their performance at Geva Theatre Center's Fielding Stage.

Old-school cynicism

What do you make of a romantic ballad that declares, "There's no true love, there's only routine?"

Yeah, nailed it.

The music-noir trio VickiKristinaBarcelona tames the beast with beauty.

The beast in question is the gruff, hardscrabble world of Tom Waits. The trio charmed the Rochester International Jazz Festival last year, returned to Rochester for a show in January at The Little Theatre, and was back at it Tuesday at Geva Theatre Center's Wilson Stage.

When a band climbs onstage, a trio wearing all black, you will soon discover one truth.

There are many shades of black.

A kind of church

Rochester's sacred-steel gospel stars, the Campbell Brothers, parted ways with the House of God because the Pentecostal church wanted to keep the music within its walls. The Campbells wanted to take the sound to the world. It was a difficult decision for the Campbells, but jazz festivals throughout this country and Europe have been richly rewarded - the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival included.

 

It's a stunning moment when an artist allows us inside his or her head, to that lifetime-retrospective rattling around in the brain. But that's what happened during the second show from the Bill Frisell Trio on Saturday night at the Temple Building Theater.

This is the 18th Rochester International Music Festival. I’ve covered them all, and I would never pick an all-time best show. But this one would certainly be in the conversation.

 

After 18 years, the secret is out. The Rochester International Jazz Festival isn't really a jazz festival. It’s actually a culture museum of many rooms.

But on Friday night, opening night of the nine-day event, the fest did have its giant jazz moment: the Steve Gadd Band, at Eastman Theatre's Kodak Hall.

Gadd is a bona fide Rochester son: raised in Irondequoit; Eastridge High grad; Eastman School of Music; lived here for years. He's one of the world's most sought-after drummers; when James Taylor visited Gadd, people would see him strolling along the Erie Canal.

Fred SanFilipo/file photo

In its 18th year, tectonic shifts continue to shape the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival landscape. Pressure builds, seismic tremors rattle the windows, the earth beneath our feet heaves, red-hot magma flows through the downtown streets. Clubs and theaters disappear, new stages are formed.

"Venues change, we're a festival," says John Nugent, co-producer and artistic director. "It's going to change; it's probably going to change again next year."

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