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M & T Syracuse Jazzfest Appeal Goes Beyond the Music

Chris Bolt/WAER News

  When the M-and-T Syracuse Jazzfest hits the stage this weekend many people will go to see a favorite artist on this year's lineup.  The festival, this year returning to Onondaga Community College, has become something more than a concert for the community.

(NOTE: Due to illness Larry Coryell will not perform Sunday; His son Julian will fill in guitar duties with The Eleventh House.)

Jazz music is the bedrock of the Syracuse Jazz fest - of course - and Larry Coryell is one act that will appeal to jazz fans. 

But Founder and Executive Producer Frank Malfitano knows he's got to reach broader and farther to attract the large and diverse crowds that come each year.

“We like to think of ourselves as a festival for people who know everything about jazz and people who know nothing about jazz.  By bringing in a pop-soul legend like Michael McDonald and bringing in an entertaining jazzman that appeals to millennials like Trombone Shorty, we obviously have the audience in mind when we program it.  This isn't ‘Frank picks his favorites and brings them to town’.”  

Trombone Shorty and his band Orleans Avenue will play Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

  One of this year’s headliners points out a staple of each jazzfest...the surprise.  Of course people are drawn to the main acts, such as Aretha Franklin last year and Chick Corea, Spyro Gyra, Lou Rawls and other household names in the past.  But Malfitano will have up his sleeve a relative unknown that will wow the crowd.

“We want those surprise acts in there that maybe no one has seen in Syracuse.  Last year everyone came to see Aretha and got blown away by Aretha of course, but they also got blown away by Lake Street Dive.  A couple of years back when everyone came to see BB King, but (also) Trombone Shorty out of curiosity, relative unknown here.  Well not any more. Now he's coming back to close the festival.” 

That same Trombone Shorty was maybe the most talked about performance at 2014's event. 

Another way to broaden the audience has been Syracuse connections.  This year's tribute to Mark Murphy features local icons Nancy Kelly, Ronnie Leigh, and the New York Voices.  More local appeal from Syracuse University's Melissa Gardiner and her Second Line Syracuse Jazz band.  Student musicians are also on the lineup...this year that includes acclaimed singer Julia Goodwin.  And no question, the diverse musical allure has been helped by free admission. 

Michael McDonald plays Saturday night at 9:30 and brings the crossover appeal that has become the hallmark of the festival.

  “Many times at a lot of these outdoor concerts or at indoor events, ticket prices are a barrier to participation and we're really trying to share the music with the people and get the people to the music.  So the fact that we have a free admission policy is something we really fought for to preserve and maintain.” 

The result has been a broad appeal...drawing upwards of 30-thousand people especially in good weather.  Malfitano is glad - and a little surprised – that the attraction reaches across musical lines...and maybe softens larger societal barriers.

“Did I ever think we'd have the diverse audience we have, which is like a human tapestry and a rainbow?  No, but I hoped it would; that's our community; that’s who we are; that's the world.  The fact that it serves everyone in our community: Black, White, Gay, Straight, Hispanic, male, female, whatever gender- orientation, and the fact that we come together and the music is a healing force in troubled times, for not only this community, but for the nation, where we see so much segregation and so much polarization along political and racial lines, I don't know what to think.  It certainly exceeded my expectations in that regard.”  


Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Banks of lights and swiveling spots will help illuminate the performers on the Jazzfest stage at OCC
Artists Performing on Saturday, July 2, 2016 NOTEified with Special Guest Julia Goodwin (4:30PM) All Star Jazz Fest Tribute To Mark Murphy (6:00PM) The Mavericks (7:45PM) Price Chopper Fireworks Display (9:15PM) Headliner: Michael McDonald (9:30PM)
Artists Performing on Sunday, July 3, 2016 The City Of Syracuse Department Of Parks & Recreation All Star Band (4:00PM) Second Line Syracuse Brass Band (5:00PM) Groove Legacy (6:30PM) Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House (8:30PM) Headliner: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (9:30PM)

He notes the community value of the event can stretch further than entertainment.  Sponsoring companies in the area have told Malfitano Jazzfest is promoted to potential employees as a cultural gem to help lure people to Syracuse.

Some music fans might come solely to see one of the musical acts on the Jazzfest lineup, be that a headliner - Michael McDonald or Trombone Shorty - a genre artist such as Randy Brecker, Groove Legacy or the Mavericks unique swing music.  But history has shown by practice and by design, Syracuse Jazzfest has become a more social and community event. 

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.