Not the Same Old Jazz Promised At Clinton Square Fest

Performances at Northeast Jazz & Wine Festival cater to audiences of all generations.

Young and energetic horn group Dynamo is slated to perform on Saturday.

Fifteen years ago Larry Luttinger of CNY Jazz Central and the city of Syracuse were determined to continue having a jazz presence in the heart of downtown. Jazz in the Square was born. A handful of years later its name and concept would be re-envisioned as the Northeast Jazz & Wine Festival.

The free two-day music festival in Clinton Square, which takes place Friday, July 28, and Saturday, July 29, continues to add to the pleasures of Syracuse Arts Week. It will be joined by the Stage of Nations Blue Rain EcoFest in Hanover Square, the Arts & Crafts Festival in Columbus Circle and the Street Painting Festival in front of City Hall.


“It has legs,” Luttinger said. “There is a community need. We’re here to fill it.”

Luttinger said that putting a festival together in Syracuse isn’t an easy task. “It takes its toll over the years,” he admitted, “but there is still fire in the belly.”

After this weekend’s fest, he’ll soon be preparing for the July 2018 edition. He doesn’t receive money from the city and less than $10,000 from Onondaga County, so sponsorships are critical.

“It’s difficult to find the budget,” Luttinger said. “It isn’t the old days. The economy changed drastically as we all remember in 2008. The banking industry is different than it used to be. Syracuse continues to lose corporate ownership. There aren’t as many community stakeholders.”

“We applied for the third year, but did not receive, a $25,000 grant to market our festival and ArtsWeek,” added Luttinger. “It’s a great concept. The offerings are very diverse. Not many cities can offer festivals of multiple festivals. Syracuse is very unique and deserves more recognition. I wish there was some pot of gold we could access to really market like it should be marketed. It’s a potent cultural tourism vehicle.”

In 2013, a research firm helped calculate the attendance of Arts Week. Luttinger said about 37,000 “raw bodies” come to downtown Syracuse over a three- to four-day period. Should they visit, which is a very good chance they will, the attendance totals to about 60,000 festival attendees every year.

Aside from this weekend’s big festival, Luttinger and his team continue their regularly scheduled programming, including the summer jazz workshop and residency at the New York State Fairgrounds. It also includes the five-week-long Jazz in the City, which kicks off Thursday, Aug. 3, at Dunk & Bright, 2648 S. Salina St. This year showcases the most music and jazz-related programming they’ve ever done.

CNY Jazz Central also offers 11 music programs marketed directly to schools across the state. “We’re glad to be doing our part,” he said, “and whenever possible to find opportunities for students, who have gone through our and other community programs, to benefit from exposure at our events.

“One shining example is the Stan Colella City of Syracuse Parks & Recreation All-Star Band, which is run by the city and taught by us,” Luttinger continued. “They use Jazz Central as a rehearsal hall, we allow access to our library and provide them with instruments and music. They always are given a spot and given a clinic and perform with a national artist. This year that will be Joe Magnarelli.”

Syracuse native and trumpeter Magnarelli has gained international fame after moving from home in the 1980s to start his career in New York City. He’s performed and recorded alongside several groups and musicians, including Toshiko Akiyoshi, Harry Connick Jr. and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

“I’ve been wanting to bring him back ever since he recorded an album with the string orchestra,” Luttinger said. “I saw the opportunity this year, approached Symphoria and they said they’re in. We’re going to be able to provide symphonic jazz in Clinton Square.”

Luttinger admitted that the music programming has changed through the years. Syracuse’s festival history grows longer each year, and it’s inevitable to make changes to showcase fresh talent and keep the momentum going.

“We’ve become an eclectic festival with what I like to call a sampler approach to the arts,” he said. “We make sure to provide every kind of improvised American and multi-ethnic music that can be called jazz. Jazz is an all-encompassing term. It’s really the world’s music at this point, and it’s made in America.” 

Performers include the Motown appeal of Trumptight315, reggae and groove rockers Root Shock, avant-garde and eclectic jazz from Bob Holz & A Vision Forward with Chet Catallo and Ralphe Armstrong, plus Sam Kininger with Brownskin among several others.

There are other factors that help with tweaking the lineup and appeal. Luttinger called the 13202 zip code the fastest-growing neighborhood, and it’s a young population. “It’s programming with purpose. Cities have to have a rep as hip and fun, or people don’t move here or they don’t stay here,” he said. “We program for surroundings, to educate and to build new audiences so this art form does not age out and pass away.”

As a baby boomer, Luttinger gives credit to Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago as his gateway bands. “I couldn’t believe that music when I first heard it. I remember saving my paper route money, going to a department store and buying as many 99-cent jazz albums with a trumpet player or saxophonist on the cover as I could,” he recalled. “I still have those albums. I didn’t know what jazz was, but I heard it in a rock situation.”

This is why Dynamo, a young and energetic horn group from Nashville, is one of the featured artists at the fest. The band’s drummer Nate Felty is a West Genesee High School graduate, tying the headliner to the area.

“We’re spending more and more time searching for groups that will appeal to Gen X and Gen Y and millennial audiences. Every generation needs gateway music,” Luttinger said. “I hope they take away a great recreational and artistic experience. I hope we spark curiosity in adults and aspiring young student musicians.”

Friday, July 28

Main Stage

  • 7 p.m.: Symphoria with Joe Magnarelli
  • 9 p.m.: Atlas XXXVII

Mardi Gras Pavilion

  • 5 & 8:15 p.m.: JASS All-Stars with Ron Joseph

World Beat Pavilion

  • 5 & 8:15 p.m.: Root Shock

Jazz Central (441 E. Washington St.)

  • 11 p.m.: Late Night Jam

Saturday, July 29

Main Stage

Scholastic Festival

  • Noon: Stan Colella City of Syracuse Parks & Recreation All-Star Band
  • 1 p.m.: Ray Middle School Katz Pajamaz Jazz Ensemble

Battle of the Community Jazz Bands

  • 2 p.m.: Rhythm-Airs
  • 3 p.m.: Brig Juice Mini-Corps
  • 4 p.m.: Easy Money Big Band

Evening Performances

  • 6:30 p.m.: Bob Holz & A Vision Forward featuring Chet Catallo & Ralphe Armstrong
  • 8:15 p.m.: Bobby Militello
  • 10 p.m: Dynamo

Mardi Gras Pavilion

  • 5, 7:30 & 9:15 p.m.: Trumptight315

World Beat Pavilion

  • 5, 7:30 & 9:15 p.m.: Sam Kininger with Brownskin

Jazz Central (441 E. Washington St.)

  • 11 p.m.: Late Night Jam
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