Swing Easy in an Idyllic Setting on Saturday, As Caramoor Presents Its 25th Annual Jazz Fest

Jul 19, 2018

The 25th annual edition of the Caramoor Jazz Festival takes place on Saturday, with a daylong series of performances and a marquee evening concert by vocalist Dianne Reeves. But the appeal of this fest goes beyond its headliners, at least for many loyal fans making their return.

I paid my own first-ever visit to Caramoor last summer. This was long overdue: I’d been meaning to attend the jazz festival, on the immaculate grounds of a nearly hundred-acre estate in Katonah, New York, ever since I first heard about it more than a dozen years ago.

What I experienced was something that a good many savvy jazz fans already know well. Caramoor offers an idyllic and welcoming setting for a summer jazz fête, with performances not only in a range of grand Italianate buildings — notably the Venetian Theater, which seats about 1,500 people — but also in courtyards and clearings, fields and lawns.

I caught a pair of memorable sets at the Sunken Garden, by The Westerlies and the duo Secret Keeper, featuring Stephan Crump on bass and Mary Halvorson on guitar. The crowd was perfectly attentive, whether seated on folding chairs or blankets, and the music sounded exquisite in the open air. (Notwithstanding the name, which invites an awkward evocation of the movie Get Out, the Sunken Garden is a gem of a place to hear a small combo.)

It should be noted, too, that I brought my daughters to the Caramoor Jazz Festival, which takes pains to be a family-friendly event. At one point we all sat on a grassy slope while trumpeter Riley Mulherkar presented a kids’ program called Riffin’ with Riley, featuring jazzed-up nursery rhymes and Louis Armstrong tunes. The girls had just as much fun running around the grounds between sets — the best way to make a jazz festival appealing to the under-7 set.

The Mariel Bildsten Trio performs at the 2017 Caramoor Jazz Festival
Credit Gabe Palacio

The 2018 edition of the festival will feature Mariel Bildsten playing a children’s set (“Melodies with Mariel”) as well as a more grown-up performance with her Septet. Among the other returning artists are the saxophonists Patrick Bartley (who’ll pay homage to Cannonball Adderley) and Eddie Barbash (who’ll appear with the jazz-meets-bluegrass outfit Sam Reider and the Human Hands).

The lineup for Saturday also includes pianist Benny Green, with his trio; French gypsy guitarist Stephane Wrembel; a duo of tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana and guitarist Lage Lund; drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., with his band THREE; and soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett, with her all-female Afro-Cuban band Maqueque. Singers Shenel Johns and Vuyo Sotashe will co-present ‘A Revolutionary Friendship: The Music of Miriam Makeba and Nina Simone.’

The Eddie Barbash Band, led by Barbash, at far right, performs at Caramoor in 2017
Credit Gabe Palacio

The Caramoor Jazz Festival programming has, for the last four years, been the result of a collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center. That affiliation shines through this year’s lineup, perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the evening concert by Dianne Reeves, a longtime headliner at Jazz at Lincoln Center and a 2017 NEA Jazz Master. She’ll appear with her superb working band, featuring Peter Martin on piano, Romero Lubambo on guitar, Reginald Veal on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums.

Among other things, the Caramoor Jazz Festival is a WBGO Member Event. If you are a WBGO member, reserve tickets by calling 973-624-8880, ext 232.