The Litchfield Jazz Festival presented their 26th annual edition via livestream from the Telefunken Soundstage in South Windsor, CT on July 31. 2021. One of the few good things to come out of this pandemic is the fact that virtual livestreams became widely available to audiences around the world in an unprecedented way. This gave jazz fans the opportunity to see performances on their laptops or phones from wherever they were on the globe.
DJ Mike Gow from WZBG Radio’s Sunday Morning Jazz show was the host of this Festival. Gow told the audience that the entire Festival was dedicated to the memory of the late bassist Mario Pavone, who was an instrumental member of Litchfield Performing Arts over the years.
Tribute to Mario Pavone
Bassist/composer/bandleader Mario Anthony Pavone, Jr. (1940 – 2021) had a career that took off in the 1960s when he toured Europe. He was involved in the jazz loft era in the 1960s, playing in jam sessions nightly in New York City. He was a member of Paul Bley’s trio from 1968 to 1972, and Bill Dixon’s trio during the 1980s. The New Haven-based Creative Musicians Improvising Forum (CMIF) was founded in 1975 by Pavone, Wadada Leo Smith, and Gerry Hemingway, influenced by Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Mario’s venture into composition began there, and in 2010, he was the recipient of a Composer’s Grant from the Doris Duke Foundation.
In 1979, Pavone recorded his first album as a leader, Digit. In 1980, Mario began an 18-year musical relationship with composer/saxophonist Thomas Chapin, and along with drummer Michael Sarin, the group recorded seven albums for Knitting Factory Records. The label also released an eight-CD box set of these albums plus a live recording following Chapin’s untimely death in 1998. Pavone also co-led a group with Anthony Braxton in the early 1990s, with Braxton on piano rather than his usual saxophones.
For 25 years, Mario was associated with Litchfield Performing Arts. At the 2016 Litchfield Jazz Festival, Mario Pavone received a citation from the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut for his many contributions as a musician, instructor, board member, and advisor to the various endeavors of Litchfield Performing Arts.
Despite the carcinoid cancer that had stalked him for 17 years, Pavone composed and performed almost until the end of his life. In October 2020, he did a livestreamed concert from Telefunken Soundstage with his Dialect Trio, featuring pianist Matt Mitchell and multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey, and the show was sponsored by Litchfield Performing Arts in recognition of Mario’s 80th birthday. Recently, Mary Pavone, Mario’s widow, established the Mario Pavone Scholarship to annually enable a talented student with limited means to attend Litchfield Jazz Camp. This scholarship will be a lasting gift to the Jazz Camp as well as a tribute to Mario’s dedication to Litchfield Performing Arts over the years.
Pavone’s groups have included Matt Wilson, Gerald Cleaver, Peter Madsen, Joshua Redman, Tony Malaby, Michael Musillami, Dave Douglas, Steven Bernstein, George Schuller, Craig Taborn, and Jimmy Greene. Over 40 recordings and several films have documented his compositions and performances. Mario also collaborated with Dave Ballou, Patty Waters, Barry Altschul, Burton Greene, Carla Bley, Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, Marty Ehrlich, Oliver Lake, Ray Anderson, Karen Benjey, Peter McEachern, and many others.
In addition to his musical talent, Pavone had several other interests. His paintings and photographs have graced the covers of many recordings. He was also an avid gardener and a great cook. Mario Pavone will be remembered not only for his many musical alliances, but also for the loyalty and devotion he brought to his family, friends, and community.
Albert Rivera/Andrew Hadro “Beautiful Ballads”
The festivities started with soprano and alto saxophonist Albert Rivera and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Hadro in a set that celebrated ballads. They were joined by Zwelakhe-Duma Bell le Pere on bass, Carmen Staaf on piano, and Richie Barshay on drums. They began the concert with “Confessing That I love You.” Albert Rivera said, “It’s been one of my favorite songs for many, many years, so I figured in a set of beautiful ballads, we could start off with that.” Rivera continued, “In this project, Andrew and I sat down and talked about a bunch of songs that we loved doing. We had the fortunate opportunity to play with Junior Mance, me for a short stint, Andrew for many, many years, and here is a song that I think we played with Junior…called “Emily.” It started with a lovely piano solo by Carmen, followed by equally gorgeous sax solos by Andrew and Albert.
Then Andrew said, “The next tune is…kind of interesting, because the person who wrote the lyrics had never been to Vermont. The song is “Moonlight in Vermont” and they mentioned trees that don’t exist in Vermont, but it’s a beautiful song, and we’re gonna play it for you.” Hadro led this gem in its familiar tempo on baritone sax for the first few bars, then the rhythm section’s improvisations started swinging, before settling back into Andrew’s closing balladry. It was a brilliant instrumental version of the piece.
Albert joked about the bass saxophone that Andrew switched to and said that the kids always love seeing the extra-large sax at Litchfield Jazz Camp. Rivera continued, “I was influenced growing up on all types of music, especially traditional New Orleans jazz music, specifically Sidney Bechet. So, I thought it would be awesome to do one of his compositions that he played on soprano sax and clarinet…It’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” and it’s translated as “If You See My Mother.” This ballad was full of yearning, and it took the listeners back in time with a quintessentially historic New Orleans sound. Next came a song that Albert said that he absolutely loves. “I can’t even remember the first time I heard it, but I definitely fell in love with it…the song, the lyrics, everything about it was just beautiful to me.” “Everything Happens to Me” was a real heart-tugger, with such longing, and some exquisitely evocative solos by all the musicians. Rivera said, “It’s so weird not having people here, even though it’s been 18 or 19 months, it’s still weird.”
Hadro talked about performing in New York. “For a long time in New York City, I got to play weekly at a club, and it’s where I really learned how to play with an ensemble, playing with the same people, same place. We used to play this song a lot, and we had a lot of swing dancers come by. So, we’re gonna push the edge of what ballad might be considered and play this maybe a little bit faster than a ballad…This is “Moon Glow.” It’s a beautiful tune.” The song was romantic, mellow, and wonderfully nostalgic. The concert continued with a classic. Albert told the viewers, “Andrew and I actually…throughout the last year, created what we call the ‘Digital Distant Duo Series’ and we did a bunch of songs…We often got this request, “When I Fall In Love.” The performance was tender and affecting, and it fit in perfectly with the theme of the show. The group followed up with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “The Star-Crossed Lovers.” Hadro added, “It isn’t played all that much, but I think it should be played a little bit more, so we’re going to start that trend right now.” This song was so ethereal and enchanting, it is no wonder that Andrew Hadro is so partial to it. Rivera said, “We’re going to continue and do a song that I loved hearing Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett do…entitled “All My Tomorrows.” Albert and Andrew fronted this gorgeous number, with excellent backing by the rest of the group.
Then, Rivera recalled that when Festival Founder Vita West Muir offered him the opportunity to do this gig, he jumped at the chance. “We thought it would be a great idea to bring in a vocalist.” About eight or nine years ago, he met a singer in Miami, Melinda Rose Rodriguez, and he thought she was great. They stayed in touch, and about four years ago, Rivera brought her to Litchfield to teach at the Jazz Camp. Rivera called her “one of his favorite vocalists.” Melinda said, “So happy to be here. Thanks for having me. This is a tune that I first heard sung by the timeless Ella Fitzgerald…I’m going to try my best to do it justice.” The song was the iconic “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” and Ms. Rodriguez sang it with ease and panache. Albert called Melinda “the real deal.” They continued with “If You Love Me (Really Love Me)” where once again there were beautiful expressive solos by Rivera and Hadro. Rivera said, “It’s really been a crazy year, crazy almost two years, and we’re happy we’re all coming back, doing shows.” Melinda stayed with the group for the last song of the set, a charming version of the standard, “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.” This concert really lived up to its name, filled with superb renditions of ballads that were often touchingly poignant.
Rufus Reid Trio with Sullivan Fortner and Johnathan Blake
The second show of the day started with a swinging tune. Bassist Rufus Reid said, “Thank you very much. Welcome. Please say hello to Sullivan Fortner at the piano, Johnathan with an ‘h’ Blake at the drums, yours truly, Rufus Reid. Thank you for joining us. We’ve got a few tunes to play for you. That first one was written by a magnificent pianist from Washington, DC. His name was Reuben Brown, and it was called “Billy.” I believe he actually wrote this with Billy Hart in mind, one of the great drummers of the 20th Century, for sure. We’re going to change the pace now and play a composition of mine…Yesterday reminded me of the day this title came to mind. My wife and I were walking down 13th Street in New York City. It was a lovely evening…It was not windy, no rain…just beautiful, and she said, ‘These are the kind of nights I like.’ I said, ‘That sounds like a song title to me!’ So, this one is called, “It’s the Nights I Like.” Although it was written mostly in minor key, it was a jubilant number with some Latin tempos mixed in. Rufus was supported in fine fashion by Blake and Fortner, performing with a winning combination of intensity and joy.
Reid continued, “This music that we’re playing, in addition to my compositions, but mostly the other tunes, are [from] people that we love and have learned by playing their compositions. This next composition was written by a gentleman by the name of Billy Strayhorn, one of Duke Ellington’s right-hand men…I call his songs ‘grown-up songs’…If you learn to play them, you can almost play any other tune. You have acquired a sense of melody, harmony, and everything, because all of his tunes had something very, very special. This next one is certainly no different. This comes from a suite called “The Far East Suite.” Sullivan opened the Ellington/Strayhorn song “Ishfahan” with a haunting piano solo, then Rufus and Johnathan joined in on this elegiacally beautiful ballad. Smiling, Reid said to Fortner, “You need to transcribe that and put it in gold!” Rufus continued, “That tempo is a magic tempo, and you have to be patient to play that tempo, in order for it to swing.” Next came a Dizzy Gillespie song, “Con Alma” where Rufus started by playing his bass with a bow on this contemporary jazz take on Dizzy’s bebop/Latin composition. Reid said, “I wish I wrote that song!” He talked about the structures of jazz songs being playgrounds, as an introduction to his “Come Out and Play.” He said he really had fun writing it, and the group obviously had fun playing it. They continued with Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now,” a mellow number that Reid said he really loved.
Rufus dedicated the next song, “The Meddler” to his son, Michel, and the audience laughed at the title. He said, “You must have one of them in your house, too.” After the song, Reid said, “I’m a very fortunate man to be able to play with these young gentlemen.” He added if the audience likes what they have heard, they can check out the websites www.sullivanfortner.com, www.johnathanblake.com, and www.rufusreid.com. Rufus closed with, “It’s been our pleasure to play for you today…Yours truly, Rufus, Reid.”
Litchfield Jazz Camp Film
In between sets, there was a short film featuring Founder/Executive & Artistic Director Vita West Muir, Musical Director Don Braden, and Director of Operations Albert Rivera, discussing the Litchfield Jazz Camp’s mission. The film also included vocalist Nicole Zuraitis, saxophonist Kris Allen, bassist Luques Curtis, pianist Julian Shore, bassist Zwelakhe-Duma Bell le Pere, saxophonist Mike Dirubbo, composer/trumpeter Dave Ballou, and trombonist Peter McEachern, who spoke about their time as Jazz Camp instructors.
There was insightful commentary from several Litchfield Jazz Camp students talking about all their experiences at the Camp. Some of the parents of Jazz Campers sang the praises of the Camp, and how it has enriched their children’s lives. For more information, go to: www.litchfieldjazzcamp.com.
The Matt Wilson Quartet
The Matt Wilson Quartet got off to a swinging start with a song by the great Gene Ammons, “The One Before This,” which is a cut on Matt’s latest recording, Hug. It featured some impressive improvisations by each musician in the band. Next came a wistful ballad composed by contrabassist Butch Warren titled “Barack Obama” that started with a fine clarinet and trumpet duet by Jeff Lederer and Dave Ballou. Then Wilson introduced the band, “That’s Dave Ballou on the trumpet and the flugelhorn. Dave Ballou! Originally from the Ocean State, Rhode Island, and I met him in January 1988 at the luggage carousel at the DFW Airport in Dallas when we were both joining The Woody Herman Thundering Herd. So, jazz history, ladies and gentlemen! Chris Lightcap on the contrabass. Chris Lightcap! Over there on the saxophone, a dear friend, as all of these guys are, and a force to be reckoned with, and no stranger to Litchfield and Litchfield Jazz Camp, the great Jeff Lederer!…It’s indeed a pleasure to be back here sharing sounds and spirits with everyone here and online…It’s always a pleasure and a gift to get to offer music, but in this day, after what we’ve been through, it’s really a great thing. So, let’s celebrate!”
Wilson went on, “It’s also a beautiful experience to me…to share a festival with another of my mentors, the great Rufus Reid, who played right before us. So, I’d like to give another big round of applause for maestro Reid’s band. I’ve known him since 1984, and I played in his ensemble…We played on many records and toured, and him and his wife, Doris, we consider family…We’re going to continue with [a song by] somebody else I got to apprentice with, a mentor and a dear friend…Dewey Redman’s, “Joie de Vivre.” It was an appropriate song, since Matt looked like he was filled with joy, with the biggest smile on his face as he started this lively tune. After the next song, Wilson said, “That was a tune that I wrote inspired by the poem of the great American poet Carl Sandburg.” The piece is titled “Bubbles” and Matt quoted Sandburg’s poem in the middle of the song.
Wilson stated, “A great saying that I love was by Marcel Duchamp, and he said, ‘I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists’…When we gather at these kinds of events, [it’s] not only the musicians that we see, but the family that we have. This is a family experience…We’re family…Vita Muir is family. Everybody involved with Litchfield Arts is family. Telefunken is part of the family. But this year we lost somebody who was a very important part of our family, and that’s the great Mario Pavone. Mario was great. I made a lot of records with him. He had a lot of cool things he used to say…Mario’s spirit was something else, and he came from another experience than most of us…He was truly inspiring to not only everyone here on stage, but [to] a wealth of community of great young musicians…We’d like to send our love to Mary Pavone, Mario’s wife, who’s joining us here today. We’re going to do three tunes of his as a tribute, “Deez,” “Isabella,” and “Good Treble.” So, we’d like to dedicate this to the loving memory and spirit…of the great Mario Pavone.” The three songs were played back-to-back, and included some mysterious riffs, some straight-ahead jazz, as well as free jazz. The love and respect these musicians have for the late bassist/composer/bandleader were truly clear in the passionate way they performed his songs.
Matt said, “We’re going to change it around a little bit, but still in that same spirit of Mario Pavone, play something by another visionary…Sun Ra. This is a little tune called “Interplanetary Music.” The spirited avant garde song was interspersed with a cappella singing by the group, who seemed to really be having a time! At the end, Wilson said, “Thank you, Mr. Ra!” Then, he told the audience, “We had an album come out last August, and it was certified a jazz hit…This particular song went to Number 1 in Liechtenstein for two weeks,” which got laugh from the in-person crowd at Telefunken. Matt continued, “The name of this tune is called “Hug.” Unfortunately, it was gonna come out when we couldn’t hug! So, if you check out our video, we have a lot of guests, great jazz luminaries…hugging! I think we’re kind of back to hugging…If you’re at home, hug somebody. We hope you enjoy “Hug.” It was a dynamic number that showed off each artist’s skill with some fine solos, and a lot of well-meshed work as a group. Before the end of the set, Wilson gave one more shout-out to his fellow musicians, and thanked Vita West Muir, “who keeps the arts alive here in Litchfield.” He also thanked Albert Rivera, Tegan Ryan, and “everybody else who is involved in the Festival.” The group finished with a song by Charlie Haden, “In the Moment.” It was an invigorating song, and The Matt Wilson Quartet closed the concert on a high note!
Emmet Cohen and Future Stride
Mike Gow addressed the viewers and said, “Welcome back to the 26th annual Litchfield Jazz Festival…Obviously, we’re virtual again this year. This is our second year bringing it to you, regardless of whether you’re in Connecticut, Massachusetts, or Hawaii, so we’re glad to have you all here!…Today’s concert is dedicated to the late Mario Pavone, an integral part of Litchfield Performing Arts.” Then Gow said, “Right now, we’re going to bring out…our final act of the day. Let’s get right down to business. Please welcome Emmet Cohen and Future Stride.” Pianist Emmet Cohen was joined by drummer Joe Saylor, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, trumpeter/vocalist Benny Bennack III, and tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Julian Lee. The first song started with an elegant piano solo by Cohen, then the group added their chops on a sparkling “That Old Feeling.” The song really highlighted the fine interaction between the players, who performed together with such ease. Emmet said, “Ladies and gentlemen…thank you for tuning in to quite possibly the most meaningful jazz festival to me, personally, in the entire world. This is the place where I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician, at the Litchfield Jazz Camp. I was very fortunate to have some of my first professional engagements here, at the Litchfield Jazz Festival…It’s such an honor and a pleasure to be here.”
Next came a vivacious version of “More Today Than Yesterday” where the group’s communication was forceful and cohesive. The song segued into a delightfully alluring “Old Devil Moon” with a stand-out trumpet solo by Benny, and some strong piano riffs by Emmet. Cohen said, “We’re going to ask Mr. Benny Bennack to grace us with a vocal number. This is something we like to do by Harry Barris, not to be confused with Barry Harris, an old song titled “I Surender Dear.” The song was a romantic ballad that was accentuated by Bennack’s marvelous singing. At one point, Benny said, “Surrender to the sounds of Julian Lee on the clarinet!” The group followed with a jumping rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” that surely got people’s feet tapping from wherever they were watching! The Telefunken Soundstage was like an old-fashioned honky-tonk while the musicians were jamming. At the end of that scintillating tune, Emmet said, “Thank you very much. We’d like to feature our drummer, the one and only Mr. Joe Saylor on an old tune called, “I’m An Old Cow Hand.” Saylor started the song with a very dramatic drum solo, where he played for over six minutes, putting his whole body into the performance. The rest of the players chimed in, and at the end of the song, it was clear that they had been thoroughly enjoying themselves, as they were laughing and wearing ear-to-ear smiles.
Cohen announced that the next song was “from a record we just released. It’s entitled Future Stride and more than a record, it’s a concept, one that encompasses past and present, and the future, all in one. We’re going to feature everyone in the band on this one.” He called out the band members’ names once more, and added, “Thank you all so much for supporting this beautiful festival. It’s much more than a festival, it’s a community that exists all year round. It’s where many of the people I know got their start at the Camp. It’s a beautiful thing that they do…This is from the album Future Stride, “Toast to Lo,” as a tribute to our dear friend, the late Mr. Lawrence Leathers.” The song passionately honored the jazz drummer, who was tragically taken from this world much too soon. The last song of the concert was a jazzy straight-ahead number, and Emmet used it as a backdrop to say, “Thank you very much to everyone involved in the Future Stride celebration. Thank you to the Litchfield Jazz Festival; we love you very much. We hope to see you back in person next year. Peace and blessings!”
The 2021 Litchfield Jazz Festival can still be seen on YouTube, accessed on the Festival’s website.
This year’s Litchfield Jazz Festival was made possible with support from: The National Endowment for the Arts, DownBeat Magazine, The State of Connecticut Office of the Arts, The Sheraton Hotel at Bradley Airport, and the Litchfield Performing Arts donors.
On Friday, October 22, 2021, at 7:30 pm, there will be another free live-streamed concert starring the rising young piano star and Litchfield Jazz Camp alumnus, Brandon Goldberg, honoring the music of Cole Porter. For more information about this concert, or if you would like to contribute to the continuing efforts of Litchfield Jazz Festival and Litchfield Jazz Camp, go to www.litchfieldjazzfest.com.