It has become a tradition to close the festival Sunday evening with Kirk Whalum's Gospel According To Jazz Celebration, featuring saxophonist Kirk Whalum with his band, plus a host of guests sharing the spirit. Scheduled special guests Take 6 didn't make it due to a cancelled flight, but several surprise guests more than made up for it. The band consisted of Kevin Turner on guitar, Marcus Finnie on drums, Braylon Lacey on bass plus John Stoddart on keyboards and vocals. They kicked it off with the great gospel choir Doxa Gospel Ensemble, before they did "Triage", a busy fusion tune that allowed every member of the band to show off its skills, before surprise guest Bob James entered the stage, contributing some memorable work on the keys during "Body & Soul" and most notably on "Can't Stay Blue", where he showed his improvising skills. Brother Kevin Whalum was extensively featured, he did his "Somebody, Somewhere" and the great medley "Wade In The Water / Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child", plus the fun track "Ta Ta You Jesus", showing off his tremendous vocal skills. Next guest was Canadian songstress Patrice Jégou doing the Crusaders' "I'm So Glad I'm Standing Here Today", followed by "This Is What I Do". Then Bobby Lyle joined the band to add some more great keyboard work. They finished like every year with Todd Rundgren's "Love Is The Answer", supported by the powerful voices of the Doxa Gospel Ensemble, with is always a highlight of the show. They concluded the evening with the introspective "Rescue Me" by John Stoddart, ending a musically fulfilling night with lots of surprises and top-notch musicianship throughout.

Berks Jazz Fest 2019: Bob James Trio

At 3pm, legendary pianist Bob James appeared with his trio at the Miller Center for the Arts, he was accompanied by young acoustic bassist Michael Palazzolo and top drummer Billy Kilson. They opened the show with "Bulgogi", a track from their current release Espresso, before switching to the fender rhodes to do "Feel Like Makin' Love" and "Night Crawler". He continued mostly on the acoustic piano with tracks like "Mr. Magic" and more material from the current album, displaying his great piano skills and taste. Bassist Michael Palazzolo contributed some great solos and a solid foundation to the music, while Billy Kilson killed it on the drums. They finished with the inevitable "Westchester Lady", as an encore the band played "Angela (Theme From Taxi)", leaving a satisfied crowd.

The Smooth Jazz JJZ Sunday Brunch took place at 10am at the Inn at Reading, the show featured
Brian Bromberg's Unapologetically Funky Big Bombastic Band, the band consisted of Tony Moore on drums, Tom Zink on keyboards, special guest Everette Harp on saxophone and leader Brian Bromberg on bass, they were complemented by the 5 piece Berks Horns. They kicked it right off with some hard slamming funky tunes, among them "Coup De Ville", before they slowed it down a bit with "Land Of The Rising Sun" and "Your Eyes", both from his current album Thicker Than Water. They played a few more tracks from this album, like the fun "Minneapolis, 1987" and "It's Called Life (For Mom)". Brian Bromberg was slapping and plucking like hell, for a change he played a bass that was tuned like a guitar, and occasionally he employed the help of his computer to add further parts to the music. Everette Harp provided lots of great solos being the featured guest. This was a fun show by a bunch of outstanding players.

Brian Bromberg's Unapologetically Funky Big Bombastic Show
featuring Everette Harp, Ray Fuller, Tony Moore, Tom Zink, and the Berks Horns!

by Val Vaccaro

On Sunday April 14 at the 2019 Berks Jazz Fest, Brian Bromberg performed a wonderful concert after the brunch at The Inn at Reading , Wyomissing, PA. 

Bromberg's show featured Everette Harp on saxophone, guitarist Ray Fuller, Tony Moore on drums and Tom Zink on keyboards, with the Berks Horns: Mike Anderson on saxophone, Mike Eben on saxophone, John Loos on trombone, Rob Diener on trumpet, and Bob Stoyko on trumpet.

Bromberg is an extraordinarily masterful bassist, gifted songwriter, and talented producer and arranger.  For the 2019 Berks Jazz Fest show, Brian Bromberg played his signature green electric bass and a piccolo bass tuned to sound like a guitar. 

The show featured original compositions from Bromberg's excellent CD Thicker Than Water which is getting well-deserved recognition (recorded at Be Squared Studios and Slice of Heaven Studios)  The title track "Thicker Than Water" is currently in the top 20 of the Billboard Smooth Jazz Songs chart and was co-penned by Brian Bromberg and Zach Bromberg (Brian's nephew), along with "Changes". The rest of the songs on the album were composed by Brian Bromberg including the first single "Coup DeVille" which was #1 on both the Billboard Smooth Jazz Airplay chart and The Smooth Jazz Network a few months ago.

Bromberg's show was a dichotomy of original upbeat, funky songs such as "Is That The Best You Can Do?, and "Minneapolis 1987" (influenced by artists like Prince and Morris Day and the Time), as well as lush, moving ballads with a creative flair.

The Berks Horns did a fabulous job of accenting the upbeat songs with precise, catchy, high energy, exciting arrangements (reminiscent of the 1960s Batman TV show fight scene music with onomatopoeia pop-art graphics like "Bam" or "Kapow").

Bromberg's song "It's Called Life" (for Mom) is a tribute to his mother's recent passing and the title was a quote that she used to tell him when 'stuff' happens... the song can serve as a beautiful and moving tribute to all mothers. The band also performed a catchy mid-tempo tune "Trials and Tribulations" from the current CD.  

Two songs from a more ethereal plane performed by Bromberg and the band - "Land of the Rising Sun"  and "Your Eyes" - included pre-recorded backing tracks from the CD.  "Land of the Rising Sun" is a painterly lavishly produced Japanese music-influenced song (that could be a dramatic movie-soundtrack) with Mark Hollingsworth on bamboo flutes, June Kuramoto on koto from the jazz group Hiroshima, and strings from 'The Rising Sun Orchestra.'  Bromberg's "Your Eyes" is a lovely, romantic ballad (supposedly inspired by Bromberg's cat!) with a great solo by Everette Harp on soprano saxophone at the live show (and with Marion Meadows on the CD).

In addition, the band played "Bass Face" (written by Bromberg and Jeff Lorber) from Bromberg's 2004 CD Choices and "Mr. Miller" from Bromberg's 2009 CD It Is What It Is

Brian Bromberg's Funky Big Bombastic Band show's fantastic euphoric finale ended with the upbeat Earth Wind and Fire R&B funk classic song "September" (which appears on Bromberg's 2012 CD You Know That Feeling!).

At 10pm, we were Remembering Grover Washington, Jr. At 75! at the DoubleTree with a very special performance. Before the show, his son and daughter spoke to the audience announcing a new website dedicated to the memory of Grover at On stage was the original band that worked with Grover at the end of his career before his untimely death in December 1999, it consisted of musical director Bill Jolly and Donald Robinson on keyboards, Steven Wolf on drums, Gerald Veasley on bass, Pablo Batista on percussion and Richard Lee Steacker on guitar. In addition, the 3 piece Berks Horns were added to the proceedings, while the frontline with four saxes was manned by Gerald Albright, Everette Harp, Kirk Whalum and Andy Snitzer. They went through a string of classic Grover tunes, like "Black Frost", "Winelight" featuring Gerald Albright, "Send Me Someone To Love" featuring Kirk Whalum, "Soulful Strut", "Jamming", "Let It Flow" and "Just The Two Of Us" sung by Bill Jolly, creating a great vibe. In between songs, each of the sax players shared his personal story with Grover, making this a very memorable night. They wrapped it up with his biggest hit "Mr. Magic", leaving a satisfied crowd.

At 7pm in the Miller Center of the Arts, we got the double bill of Lizz Wright and José James. This intimate venue was very suitable for those players, who both appeared with their quartets. Lizz Wright did the first part of the evening, she is stylistically hard to pinpoint, I would describe her music as folk and gospel, her natural voice is simply stunning and mesmerising, she captivated the audience with her songs and was well supported by her quartet, most notably the organist who contributed some smoking solos.

After an intermission, José James did his Lean On Me: Jose James Celebrates Bill Withers show doing his interpretations of the classic Bill Withers catalog. He went through classics like "Lean On Me", "Grandma's Hands", "Ain't No Sunshine", "Use Me" and more, often improvising around the songs with shifting and fragmented lyrics, which was mind boggling. The band was grooving with lots of great solos by all members of the band, especially the melodic and sensitive drum solo was outstanding. They finished their show with "Just The Two Of Us", having done the man ample justice.

Berks Jazz Fest 2019: Chris "Big Dog" Davis & Friends

Saturday afternoon, Chris "Big Dog" Davis & Friends appeared at the DoubleTree, the show featured
Phil Perry, Nick Colionne, Maysa, Kim Waters, Art Sherrod Jr., Althea Rene, Lori Williams and Angela Phillips. Chris "Big Dog" Davis has been under the radar of most people, being a record producer and session player, but today he got an opportunity to headline a show and bring a bunch of artists he worked with, which was a first for him. With all players on stage, they kicked it off with "Ride Like The Wind", before they alternated with various players doing their songs. The band consisted of Jay Williams on drums, Cory Baker on bass and Chris "Big Dog" Davis on keys, plus vocalists Lori Williams and Angela Phillips, who got their own spots to shine. The featured players all did great contributions, especially Art Sherrod Jr. did a beautiful solo during Phil Perry's performance of "Everything Must Change", while Althea Rene brought that funky 70ies vibes on her flute during a couple of songs. Another highlight was Maysa doing her classic and deeply personal "Deep Waters", while Kim Waters and Nick Colionne provided playing on the highest level. This was a very entertaining show by a bunch of top-notch artists giving "Big Dog" a chance to show off his work.

At midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, Gerald Veasley's Unscripted Midnight Jam was held at the Inn at Reading, the core band consisted of Richard Waller on drums, Gerald Veasley on bass and Donald Robinson on keyboards, this fun event is always well attended and usually lasts until 2am, with an endless string of alternating performers popping up on stage jamming together in a loose setting. This event started out as a free addition to the festival, due to the increasing demand, it has become a ticketed event and moved from the small club it started out to larger venues. Nevertheless, the spirit remains the same, and we got some nice versions of "The World Is A Ghetto" and "Always There" by players like Nick Colionne, Art Sherrod Jr, Andy Snitzer, Kim Waters, Bobby Lyle, Kayla Waters, Ray Fuller, Tony Moore, Brian Bromberg, Karen Briggs, even Kenny Blake showed up and did some nice sax work.

At 10pm, singer Chris Walker debuted his tribute show to Al Jarreau called "We're In This Love Together:" A Tribute To Al Jarreau featuring special guests Regina Belle, Rick Braun and Eric Marienthal. Chris Walker had been touring with Al Jarreau for 22 years on bass, Al was his mentor and honed his vocal skills, so after Al passed away it was Chris Walker's job to keep his music and legacy alive. A quote by Al said: "If you can, you must", which he took to heart. The band consisted mostly of members of the former band, most notably musical director Larry Williams on keyboards and flute, they even kept their manager. The show was started with some old footage showing Al Jarreau, before they delved into songs like "Mornin'" and "Breakin' Away", later they performed some of his earlier and jazzier material like "We Got By", "Agua De Beber", "Take Five" and "Spain", impeccably performed by Chris Walker who incorporated a large part of Al's style into his own, while still at the same time retaining his own personality. In the middle of the show, Rick Braun on trumpet and Eric Marienthal on sax were added to the proceedings, both delivering great solos. Another highlight was Regina Belle, who gave him his start at the beginning of his career, doing "We're In This Love Together". Another special guest was keyboardist Bobby Lyle, adding some nice work on the keys, before they got everybody on their feet with "Roof Garden". He was asked for an encore an did a moving rendition of "After All", ending a truly great show.

Friday night, I opted to see Jason Miles doing a show tagged Celebrating The Music Of Weather Report which was dedicated to the music of this seminal band, the show took place at the Miller Center for the Arts and featured a cast of top-notch players like Jason Miles on keyboards, Randy Brecker on trumpet, Bob Mintzer on saxophone, Gerald Veasley on bass, Karen Briggs on violin, Mino Cinelu on percussion and vocals, plus Richie Morales on drums. The band went through a string of Weather Report material giving each member of the band ample solo space, especially Randy Brecker and Bob Mintzer were featured soloists, with Jason Miles and Karen Briggs adding their shares to the music. Percussion player Mino Cinelu was an original member of the band and added his own flavour to the music, doing a great vocal next to his extensive percussion work. Gerald Veasley provided some monster bass playing, while Richie Morales held it all down on the drums. They wrapped their show up with the inevitable "Birdland", leaving a satisfied crowd.


Thursday, the always sold-out All-Star Jazz Jam took place at the DoubleTree, the event is now rebranded as Chuck Loeb Memorial All-Star Jam dedicated to the late great guitar player who died in July 2017 from cancer at age 61. Chuck Loeb has been a pillar of this festival for years and usually put the all-star jam together, so this night was held in his memory. In addition, the winners of the Chuck Loeb Memorial Scolarship dedicated to promote new talent were given the opportunity to perform before the all star jam.

So the evening was opened by scholarship winners The Trading Four, a straight ahead jazz quartet consisting of Sashank Sridhar on tenor sax, Joel Evans on drums, Isaiah Nygard on keyboards and Cormick Costello on acoustic bass, providing half an hour of great jazz with compositions from Joe Henderson, John Coltrane and Horace Silver, which was enthusiastically appreciated by the crowd.


Then the star-studded all-star jam was boldly kicked off with "Pick Up The Pieces", the stage was crammed with players, featuring hosts Rick Braun and Gerald Veasley, plus Brian Bromberg, Randy Brecker, Nick Colionne, Peter White, Ray Fuller, Richard Elliot, Kim Waters, Art Sherrod Jr, Andy Snitzer, Everette Harp, Althea Rene, Chris "Big Dog" Davis, Tom Zink, Jason Miles, Tony Moore, Chris Walker, Regina Belle and Phil Perry. Among the highlights were "Little Sunflower" featuring Althea Rene, Nick Colionne and Randy Brecker, the heartfelt "Body & Soul" done by Rick Braun on vocals, and the uplifting "Outstanding" featuring Chris Walker and Regina Belle, while Phil Perry delivered "Summertime" beautifully. The concert had a short intermission, and we got plenty of great music by our favourite artists during a varied show that lasted well over two hours. The evening ended with JB's "Sex Machine", led by Nick Colionne, wrapping up a great night.