30th Anniversary of Lake George Jazz Festival This Weekend
Every year, says Paul Pines, the Lake George Jazz Weekend looks both backward and forward: backward, to past masters and the traditions that nurtured them, and forward, to young lions and new idioms.
This year is no different. It features, for example, Gary Burton, the 70-year-old pioneer of jazz fusion who’s just released a new album and an autobiography, as well as bassist Ben Williams, who won the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition and who’s performed with Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Mulgrew Miller and Terence Blanchard, among others.
“We always present the range of the music, although not always in the same way. But however diverse the line-up, it’s always jazz. We don’t dilute it,” said Pines.
“That’s why people return year after year,” interjected John Strong, the Lake George Arts Project director who first thought of an autumn jazz festival on Lake George. “Ours is a sophisticated audience. They don’t come here to throw frisbees.”
This year, both Strong and Pines, the festival’s original and only curator, are in an especially retrospective mood.
That’s because they’re celebrating the jazz festival’s thirtieth anniversary, and are in a mood to reminisce about its origins.
“I was sitting in Shepard Park on a September afternoon, and I thought to myself, ‘it’s quiet, it’s gorgeous, and there’s nothing going on in the fall here. Why not a jazz festival?’ Not that I knew anything about jazz,” recalls Strong.
Strong may not have known much about jazz, but Paul Pines, who had owned the Tin Palace, the jazz club on the Bowery that was the epicenter of avant garde jazz in the 1970s, certainly did. And, as it happens, Pines was living in Glens Falls in 1984. Having recently published a first novel to critical acclaim, Pines had been awarded a grant by the New York State Council on the Arts to spend a year as a writer-in-residence at the Crandall Library.
Pines and Strong were brought together by Christine McDonald, the Crandall’s librarian as well as the president of the Lake George Arts Project’s Board of Directors.
“My intention was to go back to Belize and live as an expatriate, but I was willing to help. When I saw the set up, I knew I had never seen a better place for a jazz festival. It was magical, “ recalls Pines. “The budget was limited, so I called in some favors. I still had some clout from my days as a club owner, and we managed to pull together a very decent festival.”
Pines, of course, did not return to Belize.
“Before my Glens Falls gig ended, I met my wife, Carol, and my life was changed,” said Pines.
So Pines became a permanent resident of Glens Falls, where be built a career as a writer, teacher and psychotherapist, as well as the jazz festival’s permanent curator.
The first three festivals featured alumni from the Tin Palace, among them: Henry Thredgill, Sheila Jordan, Andy Bey, Lloyd McNeill and Joe Lee Wilson.
As he did at the Tin Palace, Pines booked a mix of avant-garde, straight and Latin Jazz.
To that mix he added local musicians. Nick Brignola, the baritone saxophonist from Troy, was among those who performed at the first festival in 1984. This year, the region will be represented by the Brian Patneaude Quartet, a group from Albany whose leader was named “Best Jazz Artist” by the local alternative weekly, Metroland.
In fact, according to Pines, 16 of the artists performing at this year’s festival were cited in that most prestigious of polls, Downbeat magazine’s.
Among the bands Pines is especially excited about this year are Michelle Rosewoman’s New Yor-uba and Dave Liebman’s Big Band.
Michelle Rosewoman, who synthesizes contemporary, improvisational jazz with traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms, will debut her new CD at the festival.
“Dave Liebman’s Big Band caps off the festival on Sunday afternoon,” said Pines. “You don’t hear this music everywhere. It’s composed of some of the best musicians in New York, performing the compositions of this modern master, whose range extends from standards to the way out. You’ll be stretched by this music. We’ve never wanted the Lake George Jazz Festival to be a cliché, a place where you can hear the same music you hear everywhere else.”
This year’s festival is the fourth sponsored in large part by the Gruskin Group, the New Jersey-based architecture and design firm whose principal, Ken Gruskin, lives on Pilot Knob.
“We wouldn’t be here without Ken and Susan Gruskin and their firm,” said John Strong. “Their support allows us to present music at this level.”
“With this kind of support, I can combine performances with a highly visible musician like Gary Burton with an under-the-radar-jazz star like Michelle Rosewoman, or the well-known with the less well-known but very high level musician. To have both is my kick,” said Pines.
The Lake George Jazz Weekend will be held on September 14 and 15 in Shepard Park. To help celebrate the festival’s 30th anniversary, a fireworks show will follow the performance of the New Gary Burton Quartet. A complete schedule can be found at the Lake George Arts Project’s website.