• Bourne's Mohonk: Jazz on the Mountain 2013, Day One

    January 28, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    This is the first of four posts about this year's Jazz on the Mountain festival.

    "Look at them!" Matt Wilson pointed to portraits of the Smileys, all around the parlor of Mohonk Mountain House.

    Albert and Alfred Smiley

    "They're swaying!" And so was the audience, standing and swaying...blissfully.

    That's because this year's jazzfest was the best ever.

    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    Mohonk, built by the Smiley family in the 1860's, offers thematic weekends throughout the year: a chocolate festival, a Scottish festival (complete with haggis), a rock fest, a classical fest, and then some. Mohonk is best known for the mystery weekend, when someone is murdered and the folks who come have to investigate whodunit.

    Photo by Jeff Riman

    I don't know when the "Jazz on the Mountain" weekend first happened at Mohonk, an enormous castle along a lake atop the mountain above New Paltz, NY. I first came on the Martin Luther King weekend of 2000. I was expected to answer the musical question "Where is jazz going in the new millenium?" I said that I did not know where jazz was going, but I knew that wherever jazz goes is cool.

    Photo by Beth Lasoff

    I also observed that nobody comes to a jazz festival to hear a lecture. I encouraged Mohonk to have more music played, and across the last fourteen years I've been hearing some of the best jazz I've ever heard. Every year during the JOTM weekend, I hear music that reminds me why I first fell in love with jazz.

    mohonk-sunday afternoon 1
    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    I'm the "artistic director," this year also called a "curator," but I think of myself more as "the jazz guy" of Mohonk. I unashamedly self-indulgently book artists that I like, especially artists who get "Mohonk-y" -- a new word coined this year to characterize musicians who get into what's become the spirit of the festival: come for the weekend, bring your loved ones, eat too much (especially at the dessert tables), enjoy being away from the noises of everyday life (no TV's in the rooms), and make music.

    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    Over the last several years, one characteristic of the jazzfest that I've especially enjoyed is that the musicians frequently join in each other's shows and play jazz as it's supposed to happen, in the moment. I booked last year two of the jazzfest's mainstays, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Martin Wind, as my "house band." They played last year three very different (and all thrilling) impromptu trios: with Ken Peplowski, Anat Cohen, and John Scofield.

    mohonk-friday night 2
    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    Fred Hersch, my favorite pianist, was game to join the "house band," and they opened this year's JOTM with wonderful Anat Cohen, playing Monk, a rollicking "I Mean You." They featured each other as composers and in the spotlight.

    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    Highlights for me were plentiful, especially Anat's clarinet and Fred playing prettily a Brazilian choro, "Doce de Coco," and Matt's drums climactically kicking the call-and-response of "Duck and Cover" into an avalanche, as if running from the rocks rolling downhill after Buster Keaton. They encored with a slow and sexy "Doxy."

    Photo by Jeff Riman

    And that was just for starters!

    --Michael Bourne

    Up next: Saturday highlights with Amy Cervini, Joe Locke, John Scofield and more

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