Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thousands of Jazz Fans Expected for 14th Annual Beantown Jazz Fest

If jazz and people aren’t your thing, you might want to stay away from the South End this Saturday. According to Berklee’s Nick Balkin, the 14th annual Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival is expected to draw up to 80,000 music fans to the Columbus Avenue festival site.
In comparison, the September edition of Boston Calling attracted 45,000 attendees.

The festival is being hosted by Berklee College of Music, and there will be no shortage of jazz, blues, and soul acts to keep the masses entertained. Headliners include Shiela E., California-based Kneebody, and renowned drummer Yoron Israel.

Also playing are Grammy winners Snarky Puppy and Dionne Farris, and Grammy-nominated artist Oleta Adams. There are plenty of Berklee student and faculty bands playing, too, including Bill Banfield’s the Jazz Urbane and Screaming Headless Torso.

The festival was started in 2001 by local entrepreneur Darryl Settles as a way to support local music, especially jazz, and South End businesses.

It was a surpise for Settles and the organizers when 10,000 fans showed up that weekend. Since then, the festvial has continued to grow and has attracted around 75,000 fans in the last couple of years. Organizers said that they are expecting a similar turnout this year, if the weather is sunny as predicted.

In 2007 the running of the festival was taken over by Berklee College, ensuring that the festival would become part of Boston’s rich cultural calendar, but Settles doesn’t think that festival is all that different now from its first few years.

“It was only 10,000 [people] for the first year, then it grew every year after that,” Settles said via a phone interview with on Tuesday. “But the theme and the strategy are the same as the first year. It’s such a diverse event for the city. And Berklee is the premier jazz school in the whole world, so they’re the people to run it.”

Alon with the increase in attendence, Settles’s idea that the festival should benefit the local community remains true.

Other than the three music stages, Columbus Avenue will be lined with vendors selling food, drinks and crafts, many of which in the past have been local. Young jazz fans, even younger then the Berklee students on stage, will be entertained by face painting, a family park and an instrument petting zoo, as well as KidsJam, an interactive program run by Berklee’s Music Education department.

“Every year the festival just brings the neighborhood alive,” said Settles.

Discover Roxbury, a cultural preservation organization, will also be offering short walking tours during the festival, aimed at showing off the jazz and civil rights history of Roxbury and the South End. It’s telling that just blocks away from the festival site is Wally’s Cafe, one of the oldest jazz clubs in New England.

On a more international front, the theme of this years festival is “Jazz: The Global Ambassador.”

“We have seen how important music and the arts are to fostering cultural exchange,” wrote Terri Lyne Carrington, the Grammy-winning drummer, Berklee professor, and also artistic director of the festival, “so I am happy that our theme this year is Jazz: the Global Ambassador.”

The festival’s main sponsor, Natixis Global Assests Management, has announced the Jazz Diplomacy Project, a series of events designed to celebrate jazz and to foster discussion about international issues.

At the festival, the company will award a $5,000 scholarship to a Berklee student for the third year running. The scholarship covers the cost for a high school student to attend Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program. Natixis has also provided support to the Newport Jazz Festivals.

If you’re trying to plan for the Beantown Festival, its founder has some recommendations.

“Well on friday I’m gonna see Oleta Adams. But I’m really excited about Sheila E.,” Settles said, “I know she’s not really jazz, but she’s a great performer.”

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