By Angela Hyde
Jazz Along the Charles, September 23, 2018
Along this one-mile stretch of the DCR’s Charles River Esplanade, 25 jazz bands situate themselves beneath their white tents and the light clouds of the September Sunday. All of them are here for a singular purpose – to share their art of jazz, their cultural expressionism, with the Greater Boston community. Through a unique setlist compiled by composer, saxophonist, and bandleader Ken Field, each performance group was tasked with melding their own jazz style to the chosen songs.
These songs range not only in the composer but in original style and time period. All have one unifying subject though: the city of Boston.
The setlist was curated with our city in mind, the vibrant communities as well as the diverse peoples who make their homes here. This includes songs such as “Boston April 15th,” first debuted in 2003 and composed by Italian saxophonist Javier Edgardo Girotto, a student of Berklee College of Music. Pieces by Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington, and even the song “Maria” from West Side Story are also featured throughout the day.
If you were to walk along any of the footbridges into the park, you would be greeted not only with the cool air off the water but with the bouncing notes of jazz. All around you, couples sitting, smiling both young and old. Maybe you see a pair practicing the samba on a boat dock. There are without a doubt children dancing in front of the band tents.
To your left, a crowd of onlookers applauds MIXCLA, a group with a fiery spirit and infectious smiles. Three bandmates; one on guitar, one on percussion and the third singing, playing piano. All three are playful but concentrated, showing off the duality of jazz – the great skill it takes as well as the happiness in bringing it to life.
The trio of Berklee graduates play regularly in Boston’s local venues and specialize in Latin jazz. MIXCLA made their Celebrity Series debut as part of Stave Sessions in 2016 and return today for Jazz Along the Charles. Highly influenced by the rhythms of Cuba, Africa, Latin America, and Puerto Rican bomba, these talented musicians took the setlist of the day and made it their own. The first song of the day, “Dirty Water,” by Ed Cobb, was especially fun to hear MIXCLA adapt, with the singer scatting along with the beats of the percussionist and guitarist. The lyrics “down by the water,” could not be more appropriate as the band faces the Charles River, playing their hearts out for their fellow Bostonians.
Walking further down the path of the Esplanade, you’ll find a group that stands out from the rest, not only for their sound but for their look – they’re all middle school and high schoolers. Led by jazz band director, arranger, and manager of several bands, 15-year-old Cameron Shave regales the crowd with his talent on the trumpet. Onlookers are wowed at the versatility and maturity in style and sound. Shave takes us all on a musical joy-ride of emotions and excitement, all with the humble shyness of a teenage prodigy.
His band Funkacademy certainly draws crowds – whether it be here at the Charles River or at his school performances when he plays as a pianist in local churches, or at the Berklee summer program, he has attended for the past two years. No matter the venue, one thing is for sure; Cameron Shave is an artist on the rise, and Celebrity Series of Boston is more than happy to foster that exciting talent.
In addition to up-and-comers like Shave, Jazz Along the Charles also showcases well-established Boston artists such as Jason Palmer.
This trumpeter has not only been named a top 25 trumpeter of the future by Downbeat Magazine, but has also performed with the likes of Roy Haynes, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ravi Coltrane, Mark Turner, Jeff Ballard, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Common, Roy Hargrove, Lewis Nash, and more, is Assistant Professor at Berklee and Visiting Assistant Professor at Harvard, and has spent the past 15 years leading the house band every weekend at Boston’s historical Wally’s Jazz Cafe. Palmer also joins Celebrity Series’ Neighborhood Arts program this season, performing with his quintet at Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan on November 3 and at Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall on April 14 and with Shaw Pong Liu’s Code Listen 3.0 project at the Kroc Center in Dorchester on December 8.
A small white terrier named Boo rolls over for a tummy rub as Palmer’s band starts into the song “Boston” by Augustana – a popular pop song in the second half of the setlist, formed to the jazz melodies of this event and its musicians. Boo is just one of many four-legged friends enjoying the afternoon with their owners, the music seeming to connect all the onlookers, canine or human. Smiles erupt as the crowd recognizes the song, easily singing both aloud and in their heads: “I think I’ll go to Boston…”
Jazz Along the Charles is just the latest of Celebrity Series’ participatory public performance projects. These free events for the whole city get Celebrity Series out of the concert halls and into the public realm and have included Street Pianos Boston (2013 and 2016), Le Grand Continental (2014), and Let’s Dance Boston (2015 and 2017). At Jazz Along the Charles, even on a lightly clouded Sunday, there is a brightened path along the Charles River with this event having graced its sidewalks.
Angela Hyde is a College for Social Innovation Fellow in the fall of 2018. She is a senior at Wheaton College MA, pursuing a Writing Degree, with a minor in Journalism Studies. As an intern with the Advancement Department at Celebrity Series of Boston, Angela has the privilege of attending and covering Celebrity Series performances and community events.
All photos by Robert Torres.