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2019 Jazz Fest

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.

The alchemy began with the opening salvos of Acoustic Alchemy and its powerful performance. The band made wide-sweeping strokes across the canvas. Just when you thought they were going to break free stylistically, they'd pitch an elegant U-turn back to their roots and the thrill at hand. 

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. 

Attention dear readers: This is Jeff Spevak. Frank offered to mow my lawn for a month if I'd write his blog entry tonight. Besides, how hard can it be? He learned everything from reading me and Raymond Chandler.

Downright sinister

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.

Veronica Swift was swift, if you get my drift. She positively slayed the joint with lightning speed and lightning lingual dexterity. In other words: she's fast. If I could sing or talk that fast, I'd certainly win more arguments at home (please, don't tell my wife). 

John Nugent, the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival's artistic director, typically introduces the Kilbourn Hall concerts, but this time he came out with a saxophone. Nugent choked up as he described hearing George Coleman's solo on "Stella by Starlight" on a Miles Davis album while he was a student at West Texas State University. "And it changed my life," Nugent said.

George Coleman and his quartet got off to a rousing start Thursday evening, with Nugent harmonizing with Coleman on Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt's classic, "Blues Up and Down." 

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.

A rich jazz legacy 

On Wednesday night at Hatch Recital Hall, Harold Danko played one of the finest concerts I've heard at the festival this year. It feels funny to call his opening tune, "To Start Again," a "tune." It was so packed with musical ideas, it was more like a jazz sonata. He played works like this for the entire hour. They were intricate compositions that allowed for improvisation, but they were also highly structured — with all the complexity of classical works. And there wasn't a sheet of music in sight.

Some ups, some downs, some smiles, some frowns, some heart palpitations. So here goes:


Rochester's Funknut is funky beyond belief, and at its early set at the Fusion Stage, the band wielded its instruments in a brazen display of a groovy threat. These cats were funkier than a porta-potty at a chili cook-off as they inspired all manner of dancing and hip-shakin' to and fro. It was tight and outta sight. All right?

Here comes the letdown