The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts April 21, 2006

Cleveland’s Annual Tri-C JazzFest Continues Musical Traditions

How do you picture downtown Cleveland? Yuppies on cell phones? SUVs guzzling gas in traffic? What about a New Orleans brass band marching through Playhouse Square to the House of Blues, followed by a second line of high school and college jazz musicians to headline an evening of hardcore jazz in the middle of the city that seems to only want to hear rock ’n’ roll?

You may have to see it to believe it. This Wednesday, the Rebirth Brass Band jump starts this year’s Tri-C Jazz Festival with a parade starting at 5 p.m. at Tower City Center. The festival’s 27th year promises a concentrated barrage of concerts and clinics downtown throughout the coming week, featuring artists of national acclaim as well as newer players in what looks to be an impressive, though perhaps brief, musical celebration in the heart of Cleveland.

“This year, we’ve really stacked the concerts, so if you want to take in a lot of jazz in a short period of time and for not a lot of money, you can do that,” said Beth Rutkowski, the festival’s managing director. This makes all events more accessible to tourists coming into town for the festival, but perhaps also for students and others looking for good music at a reasonable price. It is necessary, however, to plan your JazzFest adventure carefully, because of the high concentration of can’t-miss music within such a short span of time.

Tri-C has a tradition of bringing headlining artists to Cleveland, while using the revenue from this entertainment to fund workshops and clinics by and for jazz students in northern Ohio.

“Two of the main elements of our mission [are] to present a balanced menu of jazz genres, [and] to incorporate educational components with everything we do,” said Beth Rutkowski.

The festival continues this tradition this year, presenting such performers as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at the Playhouse Square Center next Saturday night, and, in what may turn out to be the tightest, grooviest show all week, legendary pianist and composer Randy Weston with the Gnawa Musicians of Morocco on Thursday.

There will also be clinics during the day on Thursday and Friday with Tri-C Artists in Residence, including famed pianist Mulgrew Miller. Miller is also performing a free concert at the East Cleveland Public Library on Sunday, April 30, a rare chance to see this fabulous musician without paying a high ticket price. Also not to be missed are vocalist Diane Schuur, the Caribbean Jazz Project and the Yellowjackets, all on the same bill on Friday night at the Playhouse.

As part of a brand new Debut Series, the festival is also presenting a healthy group of new and developing artists, two of whom have come out of Oberlin’s own jazz studies program. Pianist Jackie Warren, OC ’90, who is also on the faculty at Tri-C, leads her trio on Monday at the JazzFest Stage at Tower City Center downtown. Drummer Neal Smith, OC ’96, a native Clevelander and the first African American to receive a jazz degree from Oberlin, plays a free show next Saturday, April 29, at the East Cleveland Public Library.

This year’s program includes a wide variety of players, entertainers, educators and musical genres. At least two shows are sure to be infused with hip hop: on Friday night, Jason Moran, whose modern mix of upper structure jazz voicings and hip hop stylings just may be worth buying a ticket to his show, and Jazz Meets Hip Hop at the Cleveland Ballroom takes both genres and puts them in a new context with socially conscious rhymes and rhythmic invention.

The Tri-C JazzFest has been going strong since 1980, and has continually presented a dynamic slate of jazz talent for several weeks in April. The first festival featured drummer Buddy Rich, pianist McCoy Tyner and Earl “Fatha” Hines. Future years brought a staggering parade of performers — Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Clark Terry are just some of the names that have come through Tri-C over the years. This year’s lineup looks to add several distinguished names to that list.

Visit for more information and a full schedule. Call 800-766-6048 for tickets to certain events.


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