Cover Story

Fests and Furious

Music writer Jessica Novak reports on this weekend’s Northeast Jazz and Wine Festival, which climaxes with Duke Robillard.

The 2015 edition of the Northeast Jazz and Wine Festival features much more than its name suggests. The event, first inaugurated as Jazz in the Square in 2002, has brought all types of jazz and soul to the stage. But this year’s expanded fest will include a variety of vibrations with a trio of themed days: Funky Friday on July 24, Jazz Saturday on July 25 and Blues Sunday on July 26.

“The reason we changed the name to Northeast Jazz and Wine Festival (six years ago) was to make it more widely accessible,” said founder and producer Larry Luttinger. “We wanted anyone, whether a jazz aficionado or not, to enjoy American food, drink and music. This year is just another part of that evolution. Within the three days of musical styles, we’ve put together a really interesting showcase of all kinds of American art music.”

The acts span an impressive gamut of talent, from local group Atlas, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary, to nine-time Grammy-winner Janis Siegel, the solo artist and vocalist for the Manhattan Transfer. Likewise, the partnerships to make this festival possible also span a wide range.

Luttinger noted that returning sponsor Pomco is a powerful force behind the fest as well as ArtsWeek, the umbrella title for the Downtown Committee of Syracuse’s annual summertime happening. (Also this weekend is the Arts and Crafts Festival and the Stage of Nations Blue Rain ECOfest; see sidebars on pages 11 and 12.) But there are also alliances with Tom Emmi, creator and producer of the up-close-and-personal music TV series Studio Jams, and Jim Murphy, former producer of the New York State Blues Festival.

“I pick Tom’s brain and he picks mine,” Luttinger said. “We use each other’s Rolodex and just brainstorm. We work together seamlessly. He frequently says we don’t know how we do it, but we always come up with a great lineup. And Blues Sunday is really the brainchild of Jim Murphy. He chose Duke Robillard: You can’t get any better. And Davina and the Vagabonds is a wonderful group; Davina Sowers is an amazing singer/piano player.”

Luttinger also enlisted local musician and Funk ‘N Waffles owner Adam Gold to corral some fresh talent. “He suggested ’Nuf Said and Formula 5, two amazing funky jazz groups, for Friday,” Luttinger explained.

Saturday’s jazz lineup will be headlined by another Luttinger favorite: Chieli Minucci and Special EFX. “I’m blown away by Chieli,” he said. “He’s one of the finest fusion guitarists out there, definitely one of the top five in his genre.”

Minucci started the group in 1982 and has released 28 albums as well as various solo releases. A graduate of Ithaca College, Minucci is also behind the TV themes for Guiding Light, Good Morning America, Access Hollywood and the touring stage production of Dora the Explorer.

Also on Saturday will be Janis Siegel’s Requinte Trio, featuring tenor saxophonist Harry Allen. “He inherited the mantle by Stan Getz,” Luttinger said. Allen has waxed more than 30 albums and is often featured on world-renowned jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli’s recordings.

Late-night music jams with local and national acts will also take place on Friday and Saturday nights at Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St. “We have a ball after the festival,” Luttinger said. “The house trio sets up and anyone who wants to play a tune sits in.”

Sunday begins with sets from local acts including Matt Tarbell and Against All Odds, Dr. Killdean and Los Blancos. The evening performances kick off with Davina and the Vagabonds, a blues-swing band that combines the Preservation Hall Jazz Band flavor with Etta James-style vocals. Playing more than 240 dates every year, the band just gets tighter every time.

Capping the fest will be headliner Duke Robillard, multiple-winner of the “Best International Blues Artist” award. His celebrated history includes being guitarist or music director for Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, John Hammond and Dr. John, as well as a replacement for Jimmy Vaughan in the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Also during the festival, select headliners will perform with local musicians during the taping of a new Studio Jams episode at SubCat Studios. The show captures jam sessions in the making and has featured artists such as Victor Wooten and Derek Trucks. It is aired on Voice of America’s radio and television broadcasting service. Visit for more information.

And let’s not forget the wine component of the festival. Wine tastings at the Red Cross Pavilion will take place on Friday from 7 to 10 p.m., and Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m.

“We have more diversity than any year in Clinton Square,” Luttinger said, “from country swing to smooth jazz to Chicago blues. And people don’t realize when they come down to the festival, it’s only part of ArtsWeek, which attracts more than 70,000 people to downtown Syracuse. This year our festival is looking forward to 20,000.”

When asked about his favorite part of the whole festival, it wasn’t because his birthday (July 26) falls during the fest. Instead, Luttinger admitted, “I enjoy watching the audience react to all the music.”

Here is a schedule of the festivities this weekend:

Funky Friday, July 24

Pomco Main Stage: ’Nuf Said (6:30 p.m.); Atlas XXXV (8:15 p.m. and 10 p.m.)

Mardi Gras Pavilion: Formula 5 (5 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.)

World Beat Pavilion: Brownskin (5 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.)

Jazz Central: Late Night Jam Session (11 p.m.)

Jazz Saturday, July 25

Pomco Main Stage: Stan Colella Parks & Rec All-Star Big Band (noon), CNY Jazz Alumni (12:45 p.m.), Rhythm-Airs (1:30 p.m.), Trade Wind (2:45 p.m.), Easy Money Big Band (4 p.m.), John DiMartino Trio with Harry Allen (6:30 p.m.), Janis Siegel’s Requinte Trio (8:15 p.m.), Chieli Minucci and Special EFX (10 p.m.)

Mardi Gras Pavilion: Joshua Breakstone (5 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.)

World Beat Pavilion: Skiffle Minstrels (5 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.)

Jazz Central: Late Night Jam Session (11 p.m.)

Blues Sunday, July 26

Pomco Main Stage: Los Blancos (2 p.m.), Dr. Killdean (3:15 p.m.), Matt Tarbell and Against All Odds (4:30 p.m.), Mississippi Heat (6 p.m.), Davina and the Vagabonds (7:45 p.m.), Duke Robillard (9:15 p.m.)

Header photo: Duke Robillard. Photo provided.

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