By Leslie Hassanein, news correspondent
On Saturday, Sept. 24, music lovers, young and old, filled a six-block stretch on Columbus Avenue for the annual Beantown Jazz Festival.
The free event, sponsored by the Berklee College of Music, is known as “Boston’s biggest block party” and attracts thousands of locals every year. Though the name may lead some to think only jazz is featured, the festival hosts performers of all music genres – Latin, blues, funk, groove and more.
This year’s lineup displayed some well-known artists, including Pitch Slapped, a two-time winner of the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) award. The group, a product of Berklee, managed to fill the field surrounding the stage with eager fans.
The next musician slotted to perform on the Capital One Stage, seven-time Grammy Award winning jazz musician Al Jarreau, fell ill and a replacement from Berklee had to be called in. Jeff Ramsay, a faculty member in the voice department, served as a substitute, performing hits by the famed Al Jarreau to an appreciative audience.
Marcus Santos’s Brazilian Drum Group proved to be a popular spectacle among festival-goers. The group, consisting of 30 people, entertained listeners with original drum beats and led the audience in performing some choreography. The crowd was invited into the performance, and people took the opportunity to show off their dance moves to the audience.
Sean Campbell was among the many impromptu dancers at the Brazilian Drum set. A 61-year-old cancer survivor from Arlington, Mass., she has never missed a year of the festival. By her energy, one would never assume that she only has one lung.
“I love the interaction of this place, what brings people together,” Campbell said. “Music is about bringing your spirit to life and rejuvenating what you already have.”
Campbell’s enthusiasm and sense of community was shared by many others at the festival. Mike Sandstrom, a third-year journalism major at Boston University, commented on how much he enjoyed the musical talent of the band Seven Degrees.
“They were really good,” Sandstrom, a first-time attendee, said. “The food is amazing, the weather is great and the talent here makes me want to go to the corner and whip out my guitar.”
Rob Rose, the festival producer, explained this year’s theme of “Jazz: A Peace Supreme.”
“Every year, it looks like the United Nations out there,” Rose said. “You’ve got 500, 600 people embracing every kind of music, and everyone gets along. It’s really something.”
This marked Rose’s 10th year producing the festival. The vision, as Rose referred it it, started 15 years ago at Darryl’s Corner Bar on Columbus Avenue. The owner, Darryl Settles, originally held the music festival at his venue, which is famous among locals for its food and music. As it grew, he offered to pass the responsibility onto Berklee.
The Berklee College of Music has been teaching jazz since 1945. For 10 years now, the school has held this annual festival to celebrate musical expression.
Mark Shilansky, Berklee faculty member and piano player for the Bluegrass and Celtic group Fugue Mill, expressed his excitement toward the event.
“It’s a great way to be heard,” Shilansky, who has been playing jazz mainly on the piano for about 40 years, said. “Since it’s a free festival, more people show up, and more people hear your music.”
Excitement for Beantown Jazz Festival is palpable among the Boston population in the days leading up to the event and also provides artists a great way to reach new audiences.
“Every year we talk about how we can keep making the festival better,” Rose said. “We love providing the opportunity to performers, and it’s a great way for the community to learn about all types of music, not only jazz.”
Photo by Dylan Shen