Hot tunes on Hanover Street
The music stays alive with the AutoFair Downtown Manchester Jazz & Blues Festival
By Erica Febre efebre@hippopress.com

ROOMFUL OF BLUES
Headlining the AutoFair Downtown Manchester Jazz & Blues Festival is Roomful of Blues, a long-standing blues ensemble from Rhode Island.

Roomful is Chris Vachon on guitar; Dave Howard on vocals; Dima Gorodetsky on upright and electric bass; Ephraim Lowell on drums; Travis Colby on piano; Rich Lataille on tenor and alto saxophone; Bob Enos on trumpet, and Mark Earley on baritone and tenor saxophone.

Vachon, who also acts as band leader and coordinator, talks about the bands journey in the world of blues.

Being around for almost 40 years now, you guys are probably an inspiration to many artists, but are there artists that still inspire you?
Not particularly, I guess because we’ve been around long enough. We’ve covered a bunch of different stuff from different people but I think we really have our own style at this point. Roomful is based on Big Band blues, swing and jump stuff, so we have a lot of heroes but no one in particular.

Do you think that Big Band blues is still in demand?
Yeah, but I think it gets affected more by the economy at the time. People obviously are going out a lot when they have money and staying in when they don’t. It goes in and out. But we’re always working at it as a full-time thing, regardless of the time of year.

Has Roomful changed since 40 years ago, when you first stepped into the blues scene?
We are pretty much still doing the same thing. We have always been interested in that type of music, plus we have horns and stuff so we do cover all different kinds of blues. We are able to do a bunch of different things. That’s what we are into and that’s what we are still doing. I think we have 19 records at this point.

That must be a hefty amount of original material.
It is. Most of all the records have some originals and some cover stuff, obscure stuff that we pick up. We just recorded another album but it probably won’t be out for another five months or so, because we are still kind of working on it, but it has a lot of original stuff on it. The last one had a bunch of originals too. We like to kind of mix it up that way, with both covers and originals.

See them at the festival Saturday, June 16, 8:30 to 10 p.m.

THE TONI LYNN WASHINGTON BAND
Singing the blues and more is The Toni Lynn Washington band, from Boston, which consists of numerous members, not all performing at the same time. The Toni Lynn Washington band is Washington on lead vocals; Bruce Bears on keyboard (Bears also plays keys with Queen City Kings); Kevin Belz, Mike Null and Duke Robillard (also the bands producer) on guitar; Dave Jamrog and Mark Texeira on drums; Sven Larsen and Jesse Williams on bass; Scott Aruda on trumpet; Chuck Langford and Gordon Beadle on saxophone.

Washington, the bands alpha singer, speaks about the jazz and blues scene and their appearance at the upcoming festival.

Out of the 12 other members in the band, who will be performing with you at the Jazz & Blues Festival?
I’ve been with Bruce Bears for quite a few years. He’s always been my keyboard player. We also have Kevin Belz on guitar and Dave Jamrog on drums and Sven Larsen on bass. We also have the horn section, with Chuck Langford and Gordon Beadle on sax.

Would you say you’re a pretty regular performer in Manchester?
Well, we do play The Strange Brew in Manchester and there’s several other clubs in Manchester too but I can’t recall the names of them right now. Of course, we are going to be in the Jazz & Blues Festival, so we play that area quite frequently.

So are you classified as more of a blues or jazz artist?
I’m classified as more blues. But there is some flavor of jazz in our compilations.

How many releases does The Toni Lynn Washington Band have?
We have probably about four on the market right now and we have one more coming. We are having a CD release party actually in June. It’s called Toni Lynn Washington Live. That will make five. It includes music from shows all over the world. We have been to festivals in Canada, out west and well as Europe. So, it’s a collective of a number of festivals we have appeared at.

So do you listen to jazz and blues music too?
I actually love spiritual music. I put on my spiritual station sometimes and I really enjoy listening to the variety and different styles that there are in gospel. When we are on the road we listen to mostly blues. But my personal satellite station is the gospel station.

What will you be playing for the festival?
We are going to mix it up. We have some originals and we have a lot of cover tunes too that we have changed up and put a new treatment to them. On our CD, we have some jazzy stuff and some bluesy stuff so we are going to do a good mixture of the two. Usually it comes out really great and everybody enjoys themselves. I like to keep people dancing so we have got to give them something they can get up and shake their bodies to.
See them at the festival Saturday, June 16, 4:30 to 6 p.m.

RICO BARR & THE JUMP N JIVE REVIEW
Bringing some jazz elements to the festival is Rico Barr & The Jump N Jive Review, which is Rico Barr on vocals and drums; Dave, The Lip Dubinsky on trumpet; Carl Reppucci Jr., on piano; James Cameron on tenor saxophone; Peter Mundt on bass and lead vocals; Wayne Branco on trombone;,and Paul Hanson on guitar and lead vocals.

Barr explains what a jump n jive review is all about.

So what exactly is a jump n jive review?
It’s a collection of musicians. This particular group started out as a swing band in the late 90s, when swing was enjoying a resurgence of interest. Now we have kind of broadened our repertoire. We do some soul jazz and a lot of Latin. We are a jazz band that people can dance to, which is the way it was originally. But jazz is really not a term that’s descriptive anymore. At one time, if you said jazz it meant something. But now, it seems that there’s so many different styles and types. It’s like rock, what does that mean, when there’s so many different types of rock?

So how would you describe Rico Barr & The Jump N Jive Review?
I describe it as jazz that people can dance to and listen to. It isn’t just for musicians. It’s for people who enjoy music as well as musicians. We put our own style into our covers. This particular group was formed in the late 90s, but there are many alumnis of the Jump N Jive Review. Our CD, The Guido Shuffle, was nominated as Swing CD of the Year at the national swing awards. We will probably do that track too at the festival. It’s one of our originals, which you can hear on our Web site. [www.ricobarr.com].

Do you still think there is a following for the [jazz scene]?
If you look at record sales, it’s really the smallest category of record sales. … While there is a lot of interest in seeing it performed live, there just seems to be less interest in listening to it on CD. But regardless, I enjoy every gig. Even if there’s just thirty people in the audience. Sometimes, you can have a real nice crowd and the people are just ignoring you. So it’s not so much the number of people in the crowd but how much they’re into what you’re doing. That’s what stimulates us.

Do you think the younger generation is picking up on jazz?
It’s funny, we do ballroom dances and a lot of musicians would look at that as being on the square side. But not the way we do it. Most people wouldn’t think of them as standard songs for the chacha or mambo. I’ve heard people use Star Wars as a tango. I didn’t even think of that. So, I do think there is a lot of younger interest coming to the shows.

Have you always been in the jazz and blues scene?
Pretty much but I’ve played rock. My background, I actually played backup for Chuck Berry a long time ago and I had a soul band in the 70s. We played all the classic soul, like Otis Redding and James Brown and that style. There’s still a certain molding left of that in what we do now.
See them at the festival Saturday, June 16, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

QUEEN CITY KINGS
The Queen City Kings bring a mixture of blues, R&B and soul music to the festival, with Nick David on harmonica and lead vocals; Adam Connelley on guitar; Bruce Bears on keyboard (he also plays with Toni Lynn Washington Band); John Mederios, Jr., on drums; Mark Earley on baritone and tenor sax; John McGovern on trumpet, and Fess Moore on bass.

David, who acts as a sort of band leader, talks about how Queen City Kings was formed and then re-formed within the last few years.

Is Queen City Kings based in Manchester?
Well, we are the Queen City Kings so, yes, Manchester is the Queen City. But really we are from all over. We have got a couple guys in the band from Massachusetts but we’re a Manchester-based band.

How long has Queen City Kings been around the Queen City?
The band started about three years ago. It actually started out as something completely different. We did a residency on Tuesday nights at Black Brimmer for about three years. It started out with me and a few other friends and it morphed. It was originally called the Queen City Kings, which a friend of mine came up with. But he left the band and took the name with him. So, during that time, when he left, we just called it Mr. Nick and Friends, that was a five-piece. Then we decided to add horns and it turned into something that we really enjoyed more than it being just a Tuesday night thing.

Last year, you performed at the festival as Mr. Nicks Blues Mafia. Is that the same group as Mr. Nick & Friends or Queen City Kings?
Well, there is also Mr. Nicks Blues Mafia, but don’t get them confused, because they’re all different. I wanted to start booking the band, Mr. Nick and Friends, as Queen City Kings and asked my friend if it was OK to start calling it Queen City Kings and he gave me the go-ahead. So, that’s how we became Queen City Kings again. Now I’m doing more with them than I am with Blues Mafia. Blues Mafia tends to be a lot more traditional Chicago blues. We’re a four-piece, as opposed to a seven-piece. There’s some R&B stuff, but not a lot of it. It’s mostly straight-ahead blues, whereas Queen City Kings is a lot more R&B and soul. We do a combination of original and cover music, with Queen City Kings, we don’t really do too much blues. We really do a lot more soul, and R&B stuff. So it’s going to be something completely different from last year.

So you must be a full-time musician with all these different bands?
Yes. I have these two bands, Mr. Nicks Blues Mafia and Queen City Kings, and another band called Hoodoo Men, it’s all Boston/ Rhode Island players. They’re all professional touring players and all in different bands too. We don’t play as much as I’d like with the Hoodoo Men. We usually only do bigger clubs. Most of the stuff that I do is with Blues Mafia or Queen City Kings.

Where do you see the jazz and blues scene progressing to in the next few years?
Well, I’d just like to see it grow. Blues on its own is like a roller coaster. It goes in and out of being hip. Live music in general has taken a big hit over the last five, six years. It just seems that there’s so many things we’re competing with these days. That coupled with the fact that there’s a million TV shows that tell everybody on the planet that they have the ability to do what we do. So everybody thinks they’re a musician or a singer. So, we are competing with karaoke, American Idol, RockStar Supernova. Then we go to a bar and they have 10 TVs up so we are even competing with baseball now…and the pool table, and the bar, or whatever.

So all these things have made it harder for musicians?
I think all these things have contributed to people going out less to see live music. A lot of venues don’t really have an identity anymore because they’re trying to cater to everyone and everyone has different expectations when they go out to a bar. There used to be a ton of places in town where people would go to see live music and that was the identity of the place. Now there’s maybe two or a few more places in Manchester. The city has, what, 140,000 people and there’s only two live music places in town? There’s so much over-produced, cookie-cutter [music] on the radio these days, that it’s just great to see people enjoying music that has something real to give them. There’s still plenty of great music that’s out there but the vast majority of it really just sucks.

See them at the festival Friday, June 15, 7 to 8 p.m.

DAVIS & DELEAULT
Davis & Deleault is a Manchester-based jazz duo featuring Joe Deleault on keys and Don Davis on alto and tenor saxophone. The duo have been together for almost two years, playing throughout Manchester. They have also shared the stage with Diane Reeves and Trio Globo, who both recently performed in Manchester.

Deleault has also recorded with Jon Bon Jovi for a national project called “Give Us Your Poor” to help benefit the homeless. Deleault is a Yamaha-endorsed artist.

Davis, also a shakuhachi, flute and multi-reed player, has shared the stage or recorded with The Kan Tu Blues Band, New Hampshire Jazz Orchestra, Ben Rudnick & Friends and many others.

Davis & Deleault are also taking part in the Hilton Garden Inn’s summer jazz series, performing on The Patio on Sundays, June 24, August 5 and August 25. Deleault talks a bit about the local jazz scene compared to the local blues scene.

Have you been looking forward to this years festival?
Well, I’ve always hoped that the festival would really make it big and become this week-long festival like some of the bigger jazz and blues festivals out there, like The Discovery Jazz Festival. It looks like the weather is going to hold up and give us a nice weekend, so it should be good times.

What will you guys be performing?
We’re actually one of the two jazz groups performing at the festival. We will be playing some stuff off our new CD. It’s very accessible music, not like the cats scream or anything harsh like that. We have a version of The Beatles, Strawberry Fields. Which a lot of people seem to like.

You guys are also involved in music education here in Manchester, right?
Yes. I also teach jazz piano at the Manchester Community Music School and Don teaches saxophone there also. I’ve been there for almost two years now and Don’s been there for, I think, more than four years now. They have actually been trying to get a steady jazz program at the school for some time now. It’d be nice if they were somewhat more involved with the festival. I think in the past, they used to perform at the festival, during the day, like before the other acts would perform. But I haven’t heard of them doing anything with the festival this year. It’s kind of disappointing.

You guys are the opening act for the entire weekend. Do you have the jitters about that?
Hell, no. We are gonna rip it up [laughs]. I kind of like that position. You’re the one that gets to get all the festivities going, get the crowd moving. It seems that the blues is really just taking it over. So it’s nice that we at least get to kick the whole thing off. Last year I performed with Kimberley Dahme Trio from Boston. But I also performed in 2004, it was just with a little trio, but we actually had the same slot too. We were the opener for 2004.

Did you say you think that blues is dominating the festival or was that just a general statement?
Well, with jazz and blues I definitely think blues has been the more popular of the two. Especially here in Manchester, actually the whole New England scene. They have both been around for a long long time but blues has definitely been more popular in this region. Of course I’m hoping to see jazz become more popular and make a resurgence. I find the more they do festivals like this, the more it gets out there and the more people start getting into it. A lot of restaurants feature little jazz duos or trios and I think it makes it more accessible to people.

See them at the festival Friday, June 15, 5:15 to 6:30 p.m.

FREESE BROTHERS
Founded by four brothers in 1982, The Freese Brothers Big Band is based in Concord and features numerous volunteer members, who may or may not be related to the actual Freese Brothers.

Jack, Bill, George and Courtland Freese also started a scholarship fund, which gives money to support students who wish to attend music summer camps. Composed of 20-members altogether, Freese Brothers Big Band in its entirety may not actually be available to perform at the festival.

The band performs Big Band-era music such as tunes from Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra and more. For more information on Freese Brothers, go to freesebrothersbigband.com.

See them at the festival Saturday, June 16, 2:30 to 4 p.m.

JAMES MONTGOMERY
Also headlining the festival is the James Montgomery Blues Band, a Rhode Island-based and New Hampshire favorite. Montgomery has played throughout the area for a number of years. This year Montogomery brings the horn section to the festival, kicking up the blues music another notch. Montgomery has toured with many artists, including Steve Miller, B.B. King, Patti LaBelle and many others. For more information on James Montgomery Blues Band, go to jamesmontgomery.com.

See them at the festival Friday, June 15, 8:30 to 10 p.m.

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