RIJF Night 9 | Trombone Shorty closes out jazz fest 

click to enlarge Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue closed out the 20th Rochester International Jazz Festival on Saturday, July 1.


Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue closed out the 20th Rochester International Jazz Festival on Saturday, July 1.

So many things are out of our control, especially when an afternoon thunderstorm sweeps through months of careful planning. But by Saturday night, the rain clouds had parted, and dusk was fading over the grassy knoll that is downtown Rochester’s Parcel 5 play space. And Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue took the stage.

Funk and R&B and rock boomed through the chests of the huge knot of humanity, climbed the buildings overlooking the site, and caterwauled down the streets.

The rain had no effect. COVID concerns were forgotten. Secret parking strategies were enacted. Cops leaned on the doors of their patrol cars. People sat in folding chairs on the far side of E. Main Street, bathed in the pale light of the Liberty Pole. Dogs, looking a little edgy, followed their leaders down the sidewalk. Get past the tangle of life in the city, and this celebration of thousands of people is how closing night at the ninth and final night of the 20th Rochester International Jazz Festival was meant to be.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue entered the stage to Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” blasting overhead. Shorty bellowed, “What’s happening Rochester?” And the howling cheers made it clear that this was happening. A nasty blast of horns, wailing guitar and Shorty’s exhortations and arm waving cleared the way for this extreme party band.

An event such as this is not a particularly easy target for artistic interpretation. Don’t think too hard. It’s a party.

Willis’s ‘Sex Machine’ blues

Jontavious Willis had old blues leaking out of his guitar. Solo acoustic guitar, corn likker jazz, with Willis playing his harmonica as though it was a cigar, and using his sleeve as a slide across the neck of his guitar.

When it’s the blues, you use whatever you have at hand.

The Little Theatre was full, about 300 people, for Willis’ first of two shows Saturday. This was time travel. A song he identified as W.C. Handy’s “The Atlanta Blues" is one most people would probably know as “Lay Me Down a Pallet on the Floor.” But the song’s origins and true title are murky, and that’s one of the charms of such a rustic art form.

click to enlarge Jontavious Willis plays at The Little Theatre on Saturday, July 1. - MARK DRUZIAK/RIJF.
  • Jontavious Willis plays at The Little Theatre on Saturday, July 1.

Born in Greenville, Ga., Willis spoke of the family he grew up in as all looking like train folks, everyone having 12 kids. So in a town with a population of 860, Willis said, that adds up to him being related to 400 of them.

Train songs. Willis loves the train songs. He had the The Little audience acting like kids, pulling their imaginary train whistles and hooting “wooo, wooo, wooo.” For “The Santa Fe Blues,” Willis was humming like a train into the microphone.

The blues is questionable relationships, and wicked humor. “Move on the Outskirts of Town” is about a guy who suspects his woman of infidelity. “You told me you were going to visit your sister for a while,” Willis sang, “I talked to your mother, she said you were an only child.”

So you drink. “Good whiskey has upset my mind, and is leaking into my brain.” Or you take a visit to the bottom of a whiskey glass where “the lurking devil dwells.”

He’s got all the blues imagery worked out. Roosters as sexual innuendo. The long-winded woman, “she’s gonna talk me to death.” Re-working the modern era for his purposes, dropping into a falsetto for Prince’s “Kiss,” leading into James Brown’s “Sex Machine, and that call to “shake your money maker.” All on acoustic guitar, mind you.

Today’s jazz haiku

Lay down a pallet
for the forgotten bluesman
who just needs a home

Spevak’s festival favorites, in order:

NIGHT 7 | Ms. Lisa Fischer, first show at Temple Theater
Ms. Lisa Fischer, one-time backing singer for the Rolling Stones, closed in the packed Temple Theater by caterwauling her way through the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” then turning to the wistful ache of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Stones aside, Lennon aside, on this night Fischer made those songs her own.

NIGHT 3 | Nduduzo Makhathini, second show at Kilbourn Hall
Sound, he said, is older and more mysterious than the human language. He spoke of homelessness and the notion of identity, and where your umbilical cord is buried. Sound is meaningless without cosmic sequence, Makhathini said. And he spoke of slavery and apartheid, a dark history to which, “the Black body is incapable of conforming.” Taking on the role of the African Carl Sagan of time and space, Makhathini suggested African people “have a different relationship to time,” and how “we have to agree there are multiple worlds.” And how “each geography dances differently,” but that is merely an invitation to dance together.

NIGHT 5 | Glen David Andrews, second show at Montage Music Hall
So often, music stands at the intersection of joy and sorrow. And perhaps helps pull them together. The joy was that celebratory New Orleans sound. The sorrow was the news from that morning — a nephew, who lived in New Orleans, had been shot and killed.

NIGHT 6 | Joe Robinson, second show at The Little Theatre
Robinson’s looping, guitar-balancing act and his popping percussion on the instrument’s body was quite a bag of tricks. Yet it was also stunning musicality. A one-man band of vocals, melody, bass line and chords.

NIGHT 2 | VickiKristinaBarcelona, first show at Temple Theater
Tom Waits is not simply a pop-music curiosity. He is one of the most-brilliant songwriters of the day. And the trio of VickiKristinaBarcelona – all sparkly pants and slouched hats – interprets every aspect of Waits. Joy and heartbreak, darkness and the angelic soaring chorus. And truth, unfolding in stunningly heartfelt songs such as “Innocent When You Dream.”

NIGHT 1 | Nellie McKay, second show at The Little Theatre
She does a Loretta Lynn song, “One’s on the Way,” about a woman who’s a baby-makin’ machine. Her lyrics bounce off abortion, gun control and vegetarianism. Then blatant goofy pop. A cover of The Cyrcle’s “Red Rubber Ball.” Herman Hermit’s “Mrs. Brown You Have a Lovely Daughter.”

NIGHT 6 | Twisted Pine, second show at The Little Theatre
A bluegrass version of Frank Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia.” Thank you.

NIGHT 7 | Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Parcel 5
A longtime personal favorite. This band feels your pain. And you feel its pain. That’s one of the jobs of rock and roll, to try and explain it all.

Collect ’em all: read Spevak's full nine days of RIJF reviews here.

Jeff Spevak is senior arts writer for WXXI/CITY Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].
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