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Northampton Jazz Festival Returns the First Weekend in October

NORTHAMPTON — The Northampton Jazz Festival will kick off on Friday, Oct. 1 with a Jazz Strut in downtown Northampton, and free performances are scheduled that first weekend of October in the event’s return after a pandemic-year hiatus.

The headliner for this year’s event is the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration, performing at the Academy of Music on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Ruth Griggs, president of the festival’s board of directors, said this year, the event has a focus on woman-led ensembles and will feature more female musicians than ever before.

“Although we had to cancel the fest in 2020, we worked hard to stay involved with bringing live jazz to the community in a safe way and to support musicians financially,” Griggs added, noting that the festival organization held a half-dozen outside concerts last fall and also recorded four local trios and streamed performances over Facebook and YouTube this spring. In partnership with Jim Olsen’s Signature Sounds and Northampton Open Media, it offered a jazz series in April, Jazz Appreciation Month.

“This fall, all the main Jazz Fest Day musicians who couldn’t play in 2020 are returning,” Griggs said. “This is rare, and we are honored.”

Festival attendees will be required to wear masks, following pandemic protocols as per the city of Northampton; for more information, visit northamptonjazzfest.org/health-and-safety-protocols.

In a collaboration between the Northampton Jazz Festival and the Downtown Northampton Assoc., patrons sporting a new Jazz Fest tote on Saturday, Jazz Fest Day, will receive a discount at participating downtown merchants; totes will be available for purchase at all festival performance venues on Oct. 2.

The Oct. 1 Jazz Strut will run from 5 to 10:30 p.m., starting at Pulaski Park. Local and regional trios and quartets will perform at the following venues: Wursthaus, 6:30 p.m.; the Dirty Truth, 7 p.m.; Spoleto, 7:30 p.m.; Progression Brewing Co., 8 p.m.; and the Deck Bar, 8:30 p.m. Each band plays for two hours, and the schedule is subject to change without notice.

The full lineup of festival performances on Oct. 2 is as follows: the Alex Hamburger Quartet, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Northampton Center for the Arts; Sullivan Fortner Solo Piano, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at CLICK Workspace; Northampton Expandable Brass Band, 1:30 to 1:55 p.m., marching from Bridge and Market Streets to Pulaski Park; Manduca Sexta, 2 to 3 p.m. at Pulaski Park; the ZT Amplifiers Artist Showcase, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Northampton Center for the Arts; Lioness, 3 to 5 p.m., First Churches of Northampton; Cocomama, 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Pulaski Park; and the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration, the only ticketed event, 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Music, $15 to $50 at aomtheatre.com.

The festival’s headliner, the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration, is a multi-generational ensemble of musicians led by members of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. The five messengers, and the eras they performed in the group, are: alto saxophonist Bobby Watson (1977-81), tenor saxophonist Bill Pierce (1980-82), trumpeter Brian Lynch (1988-90), trombonist Robin Eubanks (1987-88), and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet (1989-90). Joining them are pianist Zaccai Curtis and drummer Jerome Gillespie, the latter with the responsibility — and talent — to ‘channel’ Blakey, according to the ensemble’s bio.

Griggs said the festival has seen unprecedented support from corporate sponsors this year. “Fifty percent of our 2021 corporate sponsors are new, and they are giving at a high level. Several longtime sponsors upped their giving. The generosity, support, and enthusiasm from the community has never been stronger and is much appreciated.”

Volunteers are still needed to staff the Friday and Saturday events. To take part, visit northamptonjazzfest.org/volunteer.

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