By JAY KENNEY
People travel from all over the world to visit Plymouth, Massachusetts. Whether it’s a trip to Plimoth Plantation to experience a period of American history or a day at the beach to enjoy the calm sea breeze, there’s something for everyone in Plymouth.
This Memorial Day weekend, Saturday, May 24th through Monday, May 26th, there will be another reason to visit the gorgeous coastal town, as the Spire Center for Performing Arts, located at 25 ½ Court Street, will present Plymouth’s first-ever Plymouth Rock Assurance Jazz Festival at their intimate 225-seat venue. The three-day event features an exciting lineup of regionally and internationally recognized jazz musicians, making it an unforgettable weekend for concertgoers and jazz aficionados.
“The premiere of Plymouth Rock Assurance Jazz Festival is a landmark event for Spire Center for Performing Arts, as much as it is for Plymouth,” said Michelle McGrath, who is handling public relations for the event. “The community is abuzz with a growing arts community, much of which stems from magnificent music offerings around town. This will mark the first ever jazz festival for Plymouth and the surrounding communities. The festival promises to draw a more eclectic, diverse visitor scene to the area, boosting the historic downtown district to cultural epicenter status in Plymouth’s hometown.”
Local jazz musician Johnny Souza, a member of The Spire’s music committee, organized the event and recruited musicians for the festival. He said he tried to include a variety of jazz stylings for each day when he booked the acts.
“As a performing jazz artist in New England, I was either familiar with or had performed with many of the musicians on the bill for the Plymouth Rock Assurance Jazz Festival,” he said. “I selected not only ‘top name performing artists,’ but also acts that I knew would draw an audience. In addition, I tried to select acts that would provide a variety of jazz stylings across each day.”
The festival kicks off on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The world renowned Rebecca Parris and her trio will headline the night. Other performers include The Bebop Guitars, a nine-piece jazz group consisting of faculty members from Berklee College of Music, and The Johnny Souza Quintet.
Commonly referred to as the “First Lady of Boston Jazz,” Parris has performed around the world and in festivals from Oslo to Monterey. She’s appeared with such musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Gary Burton, Buddy Rich, David “Fathead” Newman and Red Mitchell. She counts the late great singers Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn and Sarah Vaughan as friends and mentors.
“Along with being one of the leading jazz vocalists in the land, Rebecca is also a storyteller,” said Souza. “I’ve never witnessed a performance of hers where she’s failed to captivate her audience.”
The fun continues on Sunday with a matinees show beginning at 2 p.m. The roster includes the Amanda Carr Quintet, who will headline the day, the Greg Abata Quartet, and the Yasko Kubota Power Jazz Unit.
“Amanda is a world-class jazz vocalist and her performances are always very entertaining,” said Souza.
The festival concludes on Monday at 2 p.m. with a unique event called the Jazz Open Jam Session. For this concert, local and aspiring musicians are welcome to take the stage with the house band and perform. Use of a drum set, digital piano, bass amp, vocal microphones and the house sound system will be available to all performers.
“We all thought that this would be a great addition to the jazz festival programming,” said Souza. “There are many jazz musicians working throughout New England and we thought this would be a great opportunity to develop an annual ‘jazz jam’ where musicians could hang out and perform jazz in a setting where there was no pressure to perform commercial or popular music. This is a great opportunity for not only working jazz musicians to ‘sit in,’ but also for budding musicians to perform with a world-class rhythm section.”
McGrath agreed, saying it gives local musicians an opportunity to celebrate jazz music.
“The Jazz Jam Session allows local musicians the camaraderie and casual opportunity to play together or for each other, while celebrating one of America’s favorite music genres,” she said. “Attendees can either sign up to be a performer as a walk-in at the door or just sit back and enjoy the spontaneous music during a three-hour session. What better way could there be to wrap up a holiday weekend Jazz Festival than with musicians completely in a spontaneous jazz element?”
While there are a number of activities taking place in the area on Memorial Day Weekend, Souza said the jazz festival is definitely the one to attend.
“This is certainly an event that will appeal to a large cross section of people, but there is no other event in the area over Memorial Day weekend that will have as much to offer jazz fans…and all under one roof,” he said.
Tickets for the Plymouth Rock Assurance Jazz Festival are $25 per day for Saturday and Sunday’s performances. Tickets for the Jazz Open Jam Session on Monday are $10 for audience members or performers. Advance ticket purchases are recommended as seating is limited due to capacity. The Spire is handicap accessible. Free parking is available street side and in public lots in close proximity.
For more information about this event, to order tickets, or to learn more about The Spire, visit their website at http://www.spirecenter.org, call 508-746-4488, or follow the Spire Center for Performing Arts on Facebook.
(This story originally appeared in the June edition of The Clipper).