When jazz goes on vacation, it goes to Martha’s Vineyard. So trumpets the tag line of the inaugural 2011 Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival, which officially takes place August 6-13, but enjoyed an unofficial kickoff at Lola’s in Oak Bluffs this past weekend. Throughout the summer, you can find jazz all over the Island leading to the weeklong festival in August.
John Lee, executive producer of the festival, has an infectious energy. He decided to bring his festival to the Vineyard because his family has come to the Island for more than 40 years. “My plan is to marry America’s music [jazz] with a great American Island,” he said. “Our goal is to create an environment where jazz can go on vacation.” He continued:
“Jazz is more than music. Jazz has evolved in many different ways, and we’re just displaying jazz’s involvement in American culture.” Art exhibits, photography and even a parade will accompany the August show. The Steamship Authority, Berklee College of Music and WGBH are all sponsors of the event.
The John Alaimo Trio, which claims a repertoire of over 300 tunes, kicked off the summer of jazz on the Vineyard at Lola’s last Saturday. While Mr. Alaimo, a Vineyard veteran of 17 years, preferred to downplay his role and just play the piano, organizers said the night was in his honor. “It’s just a pleasure [to play with John],” said Michael Tinus, a member of the trio and also a music teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. “He just plays a few notes and off we go!” Watching John and his friends perform, it’s clear they are having fun. The grins are ear-to-ear as they play crowd favorites such as The Jody Grind by Horace Silver.
The trio adroitly performs the classic balancing act between improvisation and form that is the challenge facing any serious jazz musician. “There’s a road map but from there you can go anywhere,” Mr. Tinus explains. He cites influences as divergent as Charles Mingus and Led Zeppelin. But lately, after reading a biography of Miles Davis, he finds himself more impressed with the iconic jazzer than ever. “They [Miles and Charlie Parker] practiced 13 to 15 hours a day for three years,” Mr. Tinus said. “Do you realize how much time that leaves for sleep? That level of dedication is what drives me.”
Taurus Biskis, the drummer in the trio, is ecstatic to be reunited with his friends — Saturday marked the first time they had played together in two years. “We used to play at Atria, but now they’re cutting funds on jazz,” he said, bemoaning the lack of live music at most Island venues. He finished by proclaiming jazz the “most impressive American art form, sonically.”
In something of a testament to the insular quality of the Island, one of Mr. Tinus’s students, Evan Hall, was the leader of the other group playing that night. “What are you doing here, punk?” teacher jokingly chided student between sets. Evan, who heads to Berklee College of Music in the fall on a Gates Millenium scholarship, laughed. Mr. Hall’s band, which features another student heading to Berklee, Josh Stallings, on drums and Zion Morris on bass, was once known as Mourning Sons but now calls itself Echoes of Accord. The young group drew a smattering of industry insiders including Will Smith’s producer. “That’s how it happens,” said Norman Hall, Evan’s father and organizer of the jazz festival. “Everything happens, the energy kicks in.”
Performers for the festival include Nina Freelon, Jimmy Heath, Antonio Hart, Al Shackman, and the newly formed Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Quartet (including John Alaimo and Mike Tinus).
But the jazz doesn’t end with the festival.
“The festival is one component of creating a permanent presence of jazz on the Island,” said Mr. Lee, who plans to create the Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Society as well as the Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Institute, a summer program that would allow up-and-coming kids to connect with older masters. “We hope everybody will come out and support this inaugural event,” Mr. Lee said. “Early supporters are important.”
The festival also is a benefit; $5 from every ticket will be donated to the Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs.
This article has been changed from the original to correct a spelling error.