After a two-year layoff, the Cambridge Jazz Festival returns with twice as much in reserve
“A lot of times Boston has musicians traveling all over the world, but we don’t often see them playing here,” says drummer and educator Ron Savage, who co-founded and produced the festival with Larry Ward, a former Cambridge alderman. . Likewise, Saturday’s spotlight on the Afro-Caribbean jazz connection is headlined by Eguie Castrillo, a Boston-based bandleader and timpani master. On Sunday, Savage’s trio will feature saxophonist Bill Pierce and guitarist Bobby Broom. Among the other artists present, the Latin-jazz combo EL ECO of Guillermo Nojechowicz and Gabrielle Goodman, who will pay tribute to Aretha Franklin.
The last live edition of the festival, in 2019, included a day of music and a day dedicated to a jazz and genre symposium organized jointly with the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, fronted by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Savage says that while the Cambridge Jazz Foundation, the non-profit festival’s parent company, will continue its educational work, “with so much we’ve been through since the last festival, we just wanted to give people a chance to come together in as a community and listen to live music. And we always emphasize the diversity of genres. Four of the nine acts will be led by women.”
The festival got off to a seemingly inauspicious start in 2014. “We chose the last weekend in July because historically it has had the least rainfall in Massachusetts,” Ward explains. It was raining, but Ward says some 2,500 people showed up anyway. In recent years, the crowds have quintupled.
Savage credits the festival’s success to “our three pillars: providing a diverse, world-class musical experience, strengthening our organization, and honoring all commitments.”
“I’ve played hundreds of festivals as a professional musician, and they’re run with more or less accountability to the artists,” he laughs. “But we don’t want to try to get our artists on the cheap. So if it takes more elbow grease to raise the funds to treat them fairly, that’s what we do. And knowing that it is free and open to all and family-friendly also appeals to many musicians. No one wants to be the musician who only plays in front of the $100 ticket crowd.
Green is also hosting another free Boston event that strives to be inclusive, BAMS Fest, in Franklin Park on June 11. Knowing that many R&B fans will be at bams festival, which will be headlined this year by 90s R&B trio SWV, Green plans to come up with different setlists. “I already know that we’re going to change up every show, just so it feels at home in both spaces,” she says. “People might see a picture of me looking dainty and holding a violin and think it’s going to be an unassuming classical performance. I tell them to expect the unexpected.
Thanks to a scheduling problem, this year’s Cambridge Jazz Festival falls on the same weekend as the famous Newport Jazz Festival. But a dispute that could doom other New England jazz events doesn’t scare away Cambridge festival organizers, who talk as enthusiastically about inviting music therapists to lead a session for neurodiverse children as they do it for the Grammy and Jazz magazine poll winners who grace the stage.
“A lot of our artists have also played in Newport, including myself,” says Savage. “But our festival is aimed at all jazz audiences. If you have cover and can get to the park, you can take advantage of it. And maybe people will come to our festival, want more, and go to Newport in the future, which is great. But the reason we survived is that we kept it simple: it was music that came from the people, and our job is to make it accessible to the people.
CAMBRIDGE JAZZ FESTIVAL
At Danehy Park, 99 Sherman St., Cambridge, July 30-31, 12-6 p.m. Free (paid seats also available). www.cambridgejazzfoundation.org