EASTON — Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival will return to Easton this Labor Day weekend.
The festival features a lineup boasting some of the best — if not the best — jazz musicians in the country, including guitarist/vocalist Allan Harris, pianist Matthew Whitaker, pianist Cyrus Chestnut and the headliner, Monty Alexander.
The festival will run from Friday, Aug. 30, through Sunday, Sept. 1, with concerts at the Avalon Theatre in Easton, plus a Sunday morning brunch at Hunter’s Tavern at the Tidewater Inn.
Vocalist, guitarist, bandleader and composer Allan Harris will kick things off at 8 p.m. Friday with “Nat King Cole at 100” — a fitting tribute considering the Miami Herald referred to Harris as an artist blessed with “the warmth of Tony Bennett, the bite and rhythms sense of Sinatra, and the sly elegance of Nat ‘King’ Cole.”
“Jazz is a great expression of what we are,” Harris said, adding he’s also a fan of the freedom within the genre. “Every night when we do a song, we do it differently. We keep the template of what it is but try to stretch it a little bit.”
Saturday’s program will start with a free community concert starring jazz guitarists Randy Napoleon and Dan Wilson.
Rooted in jazz tradition, Napoleon is known as a forward-thinking musician and one of the most sought-after guitarists in New York. In addition to leading his own trios and other small combos, Napoleon tours with legendary singer/pianist Freddy Cole. Guitarist George Benson calls him “sensational.”
From a young age, Wilson knew he wanted to pursue a career in music. Though his style is jazz-focused, it draws influence from a variety of genres. He’s been touring nationally and internationally with three-time Grammy-nominated jazz organ legend Joey DeFrancesco.
The duo’s performance, titled “Guitars, Without Compromise,” will start at 11 a.m.
Matthew Whitaker, who made his debut on the festival stage last year at the Young Artist Showcase, will return, this time in the Saturday matinee spot.
Blind since birth, Whitaker began performing at the age of 3, when his grandfather gave him a small Yamaha keyboard.
By 15, he was named a Yamaha Artist, becoming the youngest musician to join this group of notable musicians. Hastily making a name for himself in the jazz world, the now 18-year-old recently was named one of seven rising stars for 2018 by USA Today network’s 201 Magazine.
Catch Whitaker in “An Exciting Debut, An Eagerly Awaited Return” at 2 p.m.
The festival’s eponymous headliner will take the Avalon stage at 8 p.m. for a lively celebration of his 10 years at the helm of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival.
Alexander’s musical expression combines elements of the blues, gospel, calypso and reggae.
Tickets for “Monty Alexander Celebrates the 10th Anniversary” will sell out.
Unlike previous festivals, this year’s Jazz Brunch will be held on Sunday, which is great news for jazz enthusiasts as that means they won’t have to wait as long between Saturday’s showstopper and Sunday’s matinee for live music.
From 10 a.m. to noon, attendees can indulge in brunch dishes while listening to the musical offerings of Wilson and Napoleon, the guitarists featured at Saturday’s free community concert. Reservations via Hunter’s Tavern are required.
Pianist Cyrus Chestnut, performing “Where Gospel Meets Jazz” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, will close out the weekend.
Born in Baltimore — his father the organist at his local church — the composer and producer said he always has believed in the deep connection between jazz and God. His works demonstrate this concept, blending facets of jazz with elements of gospel, R&B and classical genres.
Weekend passes for the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, along with individual show tickets, are on sale now.
During the past decade, the festival has grown from a modest venture — comprising two performances by saxophonist Grace Kelly on its opening night and Alexander the following evening — to a three-day jazz extravaganza, featuring talent from across the nation.
“The response has been exceedingly enthusiastic,” festival producer Al Sikes said.
The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is underwritten partially by the Maryland State Arts Council and Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to buy tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.