For 51 years, world-renowned saxophonists and trumpeters have made performance pit stops in Bushnell Park, conveniently situated along the route from New York City’s to Boston’s jazz scene. Celebrated bassists and vocalists have hailed from across the Atlantic Ocean, fresh off the summer festival circuit in Europe.
The free Paul Brown Monday Night Jazz Series, running from July 9 through Aug. 13, consistently ushers in “top-quality talent” and this summer’s lineup is no exception, says Diana Wimbish of the Hartford Jazz Society, which has produced the event since 2008.
“We’re spreading out in the realm of jazz, so it’s not always going to be that straight-ahead bebop music,” Wimbish says. “We’ll do a little avant-garde. We try to provide a platform for six weeks, which is hard to squeeze in everything.”
Each week, the opening-act — typically an up-and-coming artist from the Hartford area, says program director Maurice Robertson — takes the stage at 6 p.m. Headliners go on at 7:30 p.m., with all performances broadcast on WWUH 91.3 FM.
Jam sessions directly following the concert at Black-Eyed Sally’s, on 350 Asylum St., offer an intimate setting to experience the performances, Robertson says. Crowds topping more than 5,000 typically sprawl out at Bushnell Park, enthusiasts mainly coming from the Hartford area and nearby suburbs, Wimbish says.
The nights will look like giant picnics, as concert-goers are allowed to bring their own food and drink.
More jazz fills the park later in the month — July 20 to 22 — when the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz will feature a mixture of local legends and internationally renowned musicians who will play Latin and smooth jazz, reggae and jazz with subtle African influences. You can find that lineup at courant.com/jazzfest.
Here’s the lineup for the Monday-night series.
The series kicks off with the 18-piece big band Michael Palin and the Other Orchestra, followed by trumpeter Jason Palmer, a recipient of the French American Cultural Exchange Jazz Fellowship.
“We’re fortunate to have him,” says Wimbish.
Palmer has played with an impressive list of figures from the world of jazz and beyond, including Roy Haynes, Lee Konitz, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Common and Ravi Coltrane.
At this Hartford performance, Palmer’s band will feature wide-ranging saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who’s played with artists as diverse as the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra and Mark Kozelek and collaborated with David Bowie on the Grammy Award-winning “Blackstar” album.”
Seasoned guitarist Eli Williams will present the Blues Jazz Project to start the second week of the series. Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, the 2017 National Endowment for the Arts jazz master, headlines.
“He’ll bring his trio — that will be very special,” Robertson says. “He’s a pioneer who will bring a lot of taste and flavor.”
It’s a show jazz fans will not want to miss, Wimbish says.
“He talks in between his songs, so it’s always a story,” she says. “He’s something to hear…He’s quite a personality.”
Decades ago, Don DePalma was a staple at the long-shuttered 880 Club in the South End. Now, the Don DePalma Trio, with “top-shelf” vocalist Linda Ransom, will lead off the show, Robertson says.
The Laszlo Gardony Sextet, with three saxophonists, headlines. Robertson calls Gardony an “amazing pianist.”
“Laszlo is a wonderful composer,” Robertson says. “His set will feature original music by him, as well as other members of the group.”
It’s Latin Night for the jazz series. The different themes broaden the variety of the event, and “force you to think outside the box,” Robertson says. “All types of acts get represented, and it’s been very successful. There’s so many great musicians to offer.”
That includes David Goya Gonzalez and Sincopa, along with the Chembo Corniel Quintet. Percussionist Wilson “Chembo” Corniel Jr. has some “serious” chops, Robertson says, adding that the night will be a “lot of fun.”
“It should get people up and dancing,” Robertson says. “It’s always a great rhythmic flavor.”
West End Blend, a funk-soul-groove collective comprised of Hartt School graduates, is the opening act. It’s a young group of performers, Wimbish says, regulars on the local and regional music circuit.
The youthful vibe continues with the Theo Croker Quintet, the lead trumpeter following in the footsteps of his famed grandfather, Doc Cheatham.
“Theo is going to bring a more contemporary edge,” Robertson says. “He plays with a lot of grit.”
The series wraps up with a Women’s Night theme, and first on stage is the Sarah Hanahan Quintet.
“Sarah has got a very wonderful sound — very mature,” Robertson says. “She plays with a lot of zest and control. She is something else.”
The finale, Robertson says, promises to be “amazing” with the Helen Sung Quintet: the (re)Conception Project. Robertson says Sung, a pianist, will showcase new music that’s yet to be released.
“Hartford may have the opportunity to hear it firsthand in a live stage,” he says.
The Paul Brown Monday Night Jazz Series begins July 9 in Bushnell Park in Hartford and continues through Aug. 13. Opening acts are at 6 p.m., followed by headliners at 7:30 p.m. The rain venue is Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Ave. 860-242-6688, HartfordJazzSociety.com.