The 35th Annual AJF Celebration!
Last weekend I rolled over to the 35th annual Atlanta Jazz Festival, one of the largest free Jazz festivals in the nation. Tens of thousands gathered in Midtown Atlanta’s Piedmont Park to watch some of the world’s most revered performers do their thing. 100 or more food and art vendors lined the walkways throughout the park, serving festival-goers with some delicious, often fat and sugar-laced treats and Jazz Music-themed paintings and crafts. My first stop was the Siri Grill tent. These guys came all the way from Manassas, VA, offering very delicious and juicy grilled chicken skewers – much different from the assembly line-style carnival foods offered by most other vendors who set up shop. Just one guy, one grill and some very tasty chicken! Nothing against the turkey legs, funnel cakes and gyros we find at most events like these. I love it all. But I’m pretty happy to say the food selection and quality at Jazz Fest was anything but average. And whatever you showed up craving, it was probably there for you to gorge on.
After taking part in some good chow and some awesome Arnold Palmers made with fresh-squeezed lemons, I came to and remembered why I was there – the music! I made my way through a crowd of camped out families and friends grilling and enjoying the spring air (as much as one could in 91 degree weather), over to the main stage where Jazz harmonica player, Gregoire Maret was midway through his set. I was impressed with Maret’s command of the instrument, floating through some complex, but easy to enjoy jazz changes with ease. I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen the whole set, but luckily we got to hear him perform a few more nicely-composed, tightly-performed records when he came out for an encore. Around 9PM crowds gathered by the thousands at the main stage to see the main act of the night – percussionist, Tito Puente Jr. I was especially excited to watch the son of late, great Latin composer and performer Tito Puente Sr. pull off some of the classics I had grown up hearing. Puente came on stage with an electric, aggressive and exciting energy, evocative of his father’s expert showmanship, commanding the crowd’s attention instantly. In the first few minutes, his rhythm section was less than cohesive, not something I was expecting, having heard Tito Sr’s always driving, never staggering band perform in the past. But with a little warming up and with the monitor engineer backstage, I’m sure, fixing the band’s monitor mix on the fly, things gelled a little better.
Nostalgia filled the air as Tito pulled out some of his father’s most famous classics like “El Cayuco” and “Oye Como Va”. Fans received Puente with such love and energy, you’d think we were watching OG Puente at his 1980 performance at the Montreaux. While definitely not quite the caliber of musicianship displayed by the true “Rey del Timbal”, Jr’s confidence, polished showmanship, good chops and witty humor on stage is nothing to pass up.
Full coverage of the AJF and all of our events can be found in the 1st issue of The Peach Review™ in one week! Stay tuned!