Feeling at Home – Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Eastman School of Music faculty member Clay Jenkins performs at a free Jazz concert at Eastman Hall (thanks, mom for taking the photos).

The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, featuring headliners like Wynton Marsalis, Sonny Rollins, Bonnie Raitt, Nora Jones, and yes, even wild and crazy Guy Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, has put Rochester, NY, on the map as one of the nation’s finest places for jazz.

Although the festival marks its 11th year, this is the first I was able to make it out. And all the tents, free music, food and festivities are 10 minutes from my house.

What’s been keeping me away? I’ve had three good reasons.

Our three children over these years have kept us plenty busy in June with evening soccer and Little League games and concerts of their own.

As we packed up our lawn chairs into the car to head for the field, my empty nested neighbor and her companion would don their festival passes and head downtown where music, paid and free, pours out of a dozen venues.

I’ll admit it, I’m not much of a soccer mom, and I was envious. I am far more at home in a crowd listening to music than I am on the sidelines of a soccer game.

As it turns out, my kids would actually rather pick up an instrument than dribble a ball down a field. Luckily, Rochester is the right town for both pursuits.

So, this year, we finally went, with all the kids. The three are all musicians in their own right.

  • My older son loves to “shred it” on his electric guitar that he plays in the Twelve Corners Middle School Band. He also plays clarinet, but he’d rather play guitar any hour of the day.
  • My daughter will next year play French Horn in Brighton High School’s Symphonic Band
  • My younger just started piano lessons this year.   His teacher has nurtured several young musicians that have already played Carnegie Hall before the age of 18.

In Brighton,  a suburb of Rochester, my kids not only have an excellent academic education, but a solid musical education as well.  For three years now, NAMM has chosen Brighton as one of the nation’s best communities for music education.

So, have my kids sit through 90 minutes of jazz? No problem. They have developed enough appreciation to sit and enjoy Monday’s Eastman Scholarship Concert in Kodak Hall at Eastman theatre:

I looked up at the golden ceiling

Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theater in Rochester has been the place for free jazz concerts performed by student musicians this week

knowing that my children’s’ high school graduation may take place in this great hall.

For one of the first times since moving here in 2000, I sat in this hall, for free, showing off to my parents the best Rochester has to offer, and felt I was a part of this city. Rochester, a city I barely knew anything about a decade ago, is one of the country’s best places for music.

I also feel at home here now because at the Jazz festival, as my neighbor with the festival pass says, going to the jazz festival is as much about running into people you know as it is about the music.

That night, after listening to student musicians, some who we knew personally, we ran into friends and classmates, track teammates, and band mates as we strolled along East Avenue and made our way through the tents on Gibbs Street.

Last night, husband and I were kid free. And we went back for more:

The Barrel House Blues Band performed for free at the RG&E Fusion Stage

We caught a set of the Barrel House Blues Band

Then,  with throngs of others, we danced and sang to Toronto’s Soul Stew:

did you ever think there were this many people in Rochester who like to go out?

Then, after we grew tired of standing and the blaring horn section (and, frankly, it was the guy smoking a cigar who did me in)

For a complete change of pace, when we had enough of the crowds, we ducked into an alleyway and discovered Blackdog Recording studios, where we were invited in down two flights of stairs treated to a free private concert by local pianist Mike Vadala:

Piano man Mike Vadala

Rochester, you’ve got two more nights of free music in the streets, so what are you waiting for? Go out & enjoy.

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

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