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A Caribbean Flair Hits This Year's Greater Hartford Festival Of Jazz


The Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz carries the spirit of the Caribbean islands to Bushnell Park July 20 to 22 — though the Capitol building will replace glistening, sandy shores as its backdrop.

Local legends and internationally renowned musicians alike will play a fusion of Latin jazz on Friday, smooth jazz and reggae on Saturday, and straight-ahead jazz with subtle African influences on Sunday.

Summer's Monday Night Jazz Series In Bushnell Park »

“Our goal was to embrace the community in a different way by taking America’s truest art form — which is called jazz — and letting people come out, relax and forget about the pressures of their lives,” says Charles Christie, the festival president. “This thing we’ve built is about love. Period.”

The free festival also features food vendors, various artisans selling unique carvings and handmade jewelry and a kid-friendly zone filled with bounce houses and small rides, says festival vice president Ric Casciano.

The three-day festival — now in its 27th consecutive season — draws in crowds of about 60,000, with most visitors from Hartford and the New England area, but some from as far away as California and England, Casciano says.

“You get a big-time experience in a little city. It’s pretty accessible,” Casciano says. “You don’t have to understand jazz [to] enjoy the park and the experience.”

Food, drinks and pets are allowed. Casciano wants people to enjoy themselves.

“That weekend, we lose politics — all the troubles in life,” he says. “One thing we’re proud of is the diversity: You see all these people of all different colors, ages, ethnicities and financial statuses. Everyone gets together and has a fantastic time.”

The lineup and schedule follows.

Friday, July 20

Gates open for the Pavilion Stage at 5 p.m., and the opening ceremony is slated for 6:30 p.m.

Orquestra Espada featuring Flute Maestro Nestor Torres with Alisha’s House of Salsa Dancers (7 p.m.): Salsa and Brazilian rhythms merge with the diverse sounds of Latin Grammy Award-winner Nestor Torres for “excellent horn-driven music,” Casciano says. “It’s going to be a wall of sound.”

Spyro Gyra (9 p.m.): A jazz fusion band with 31 albums. “Somebody young or old would know their music,” Christie says. “That makes it really nice.”

Saturday, July 21

Trombeatz (2:30 p.m.): Trombeatz, a socially minded group from Puerto Rico, has been blasting Latin jazz and fusion since 2007.

Ace Livingston (4:30 p.m.): A Connecticut local born in Jamaica, bassist Ace Livingston is a mainstay on the national jazz scene, touring for “many A-list artists,” according to his website.

Michon Young (6:30 p.m.): With her songs topping the charts for soul and jazz in the United Kingdom, Michon Young is known for insightful original lyrics.

Elan Trotman Caribbean Connection featuring Bernie Williams and Nestor Torres (8:30 p.m.): “You get three artists for the price of one,” Casciano says, jokingly, since the performances are free.

Saxophonist Elan Trotman will play Caribbean rhythms from his native Barbados, accented by the notes of Yankees player-turned-guitarist Bernie Williams and Puerto Rican flautist Nestor Torres.

“The thing I like about [Bernie Williams] the most is that he doesn’t even use the fact that he played for the Yankees,” Christie says. “He lets his music speak for himself.”

Side Street: (10:30 p.m.): This professional dance company from Boston will shake up the festival’s late-night set list.

Andy Bassford’s Jazz Conspiracy (10:45 p.m.): The Jazz Conspiracy can often be found in the Caribbean neighborhoods of Brooklyn and the Bronx, testing out its improvisational styles. Guitarist Andy Bassford is from the Hartford area.

Sunday, July 22

Funky Dawgz Brass Band (2:30 p.m.): This Connecticut hip-hop and funk band’s music is steeped in the music of New Orleans.

Jocelyn Pleasant and the Lost Tribe (4 p.m.): Festival-goers will be on their feet, grooving to traditional Western African music infused with other styles like reggae and jazz. Jocelyn Pleasant and the Lost Tribe is based in Middletown.

Mike Casey Trio featuring Benito Gonzalez (6 p.m.): This headliner performance “should be excellent,” Christie says.

Casey, originally from the Hartford area, is a “great straight-ahead sax player,” Casciano says. The trio offers jazz and pop sounds and is expected to bring “surprise” musicians with them to the festival.

The Azar Lawrence Experience (8 p.m.): Saxophonist Azar Lawrence has performed with celebrated jazz artists like McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. “Azar is a true straight-ahead player who can pretty much channel John Coltrane and make you believe you’re listening to John Coltrane,” Christie says.

The Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz is July 20 to 22, rain or shine, in Hartford’s Bushnell Park, with performances on the Pavilion Stage. Music starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 20; 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 21; and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 22. There will be a kid zone as well as food and art vendors.

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