It’s called “Juneau Jazz & Classics,” but as any festival goer knows, that label only tells part of the story. This year’s guest artists, as in previous years, have represented a wide range of musical genres -- from Arlo Guthrie’s American folk, to Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials’ Chicago blues, to Booker T Jones’ inimitable R&B and funk. (However, even if it’s more accurate, “Juneau Jazz & Classics & Blues & Folk & Funk” doesn’t sound quite as catchy.)
This year’s jazz guests included the Grace Kelly Quintet, vocalist Lorraine Feather and pianist Russell Ferrante. On the classical side, the lineup included returning guests the Jasper String Quartet, violinist Paul Rosenthal, pianist Richard Dowling and cellist Evan Drachman, as well as new visitors clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester and guitarist Robert Belinic.
Even within those main categories, however, there is lots of room for the unexpected -- a move into ragtime or rock, for example.
Pushing past expected boundaries is part of what makes the annual festival, begun in 1987 by Linda Rosenthal, so successful. Rosenthal’s flexible and fluid approach to planning extends past genre to include venue, structure, audience and cost. She’s sought out unusual spaces like the Alaskan Brewing Co. Depot and the Lucky Lady, attracting listeners across a wide range of age groups. She’s kept some events, like the concerts in the State Office Building atrium, completely free. And she’s kept the lineup interesting, mixing return performers with new guests, rising stars with true musical legends. It’s a non-formula that’s really paid off -- for Juneau listeners, especially.
This year’s festival, the 27th, is now in the final stretch, with three more days of performances. Tonight, May 16, it’s Mendelssohn & More! with Paul Rosenthal, Evan Drachman and Richard Dowling, Robert Belinic, and Jose Franch-Ballester. They’ll perform at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapel by the Lake out at UAS. Friday Night it’s jazz from The Grace Kelly Quintet
at the JACC, beginning at 8 p.m.
And Saturday, last up, is the grande finale concert with Booker T. Jones. He plays at 8 p.m. at Centennial Hall.
Jones is a great choice for this festival -- not just because he’s amazing, but because he’s a strong example of someone who’s been remarkably successful in spanning genres and generations of listeners with his approach to his work.
His impact on American music began in 1962, with the release of his band’s funky instrumental “Green Onions” (even if you don’t think you know it, you do) and took off from there. Over the next 10 years, Booker T. & the MG’s released what is widely considered some of the most influential soul music ever written. One of Jones’ four Grammys was a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 for his work with the MGs.
But, unlike many musicians who made a splash in the 1960s and 1970s, Jones is still shaping that impact in 2013. His first solo album, “Potato Hole,” released in 2009, won a Grammy in 2010 for Best Pop Instrumental Album -- as did his second, “The Road from Memphis.” released in 2011. Both feature interesting cross-generational collaborations: “Potato Hole’ features backing band Drive-by Truckers and guitar work by Neil Young on 9 out on 10 tracks, while “The Road from Memphis” features backing music from hip-hop band The Roots, and appearances by guest vocalists Matt Berninger of the National, Sharon Jones, Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, and Lou Reed; Jones himself sings on “Down in Memphis.”
“The Road from Memphis” was co-produced by the Roots’ drummer Ahmir Thompson. In 2011 article in the New York Times, Thompson said that just as Booker T & the MG’s 1960s recordings are still sampled by rappers, he wanted to make the kind of record hip hop artists of 2051 would want to sample.
If Thompson is right, Jones’ work will still be current 100 years after he started making music. Talk about pushing past boundaries.
Booker T. Jones will perform Saturday at 8 p.m. at Centennial Hall. For more information, visit www.jazzandclassics.org/
Also, on Saturday, Jazz & Classics has partnered with UAS an the JAHC to host Community Day on Campus, an annual event featuring local live music. For more details, see the brief on page C3 or visit Arts online.