Jazzfest sets up at St. John's College Benefit: Sixth event, with WJHU's Andy Bienstock as emcee, has stellar lineup of performers Sunday.

June 04, 1998|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

You can always tell a jazz buff. Like baseball buffs, they're the ones who know the stats.

Andy Bienstock, the host of WJHU-FM's weeknight jazz program since 1990, is one of these lifelong devotees.

An Annapolis resident, he also will be the emcee for the sixth Annapolis Jazzfest on Sunday. And he won't be referring to a pack of index cards when he steps up to the portable bandstand between acts at St. John's College.

Not that Charlie Byrd needs much introduction. "One of the best guitar players ever," says Bienstock. Also an Annapolis resident, Byrd has been a guiding force behind the Jazzfest since it started.

"He's a very elegant, very thoughtful player, not a flashy player," says Bienstock.

Byrd usually plays with his brother, Joe, on bass and Chuck Redd on drums.

At every festival, Byrd has brought an interesting guest to round out the ensemble. This year, it's steel drummer Derek DiCenzo.

"You can count the number of steel drummers in jazz on one hand," says Bienstock. "It must be a very hard instrument to improvise on -- or maybe I'm just imagining that because nobody does it."

DiCenzo has recorded with another festival guest, pianist Monty Alexander. "He's been a leading jazz pianist for decades," says Bienstock. "But the main thing about Monty is he's a lot of fun."

Jamaican by birth, Alexander has lived in the United States since the 1960s. A recent compact disc, "Echoes of Jilly's," presents his musical credentials: He was the house pianist for years at Jilly's, the club owned by Frank Sinatra's old friend Jilly Rizzo.

Keter Betts, a Washington-area musician who was Ella Fitzgerald's bassist for decades, will play with Alexander. Betts, pianist Dick Morgan and guitarist Steve Abshire also will offer instrumental workshops Saturday (information: 410-987-3559).

Byrd also will team with singer Susannah McCorkle. "I've loved her for a long time," says Bienstock. "She's on the cusp between a cabaret and a jazz singer -- and of course the same song can be done both ways."

Some jazz singers -- Fitzgerald, for instance -- use their voices as virtuoso display instruments, he says. McCorkle "stays much closer to the actual song itself."

"She leaves a lot of the improvisation to her band." Her singularity "has to do with how she phrases the song and the emoting she puts in."

McCorkle does well with Brazilian songs, he says. And that makes her a natural to sing with Byrd, who recorded "Jazz Samba," the breakthrough 1962 bossa nova album, with saxophonist Stan Getz.

Two local groups with a growing reputation also are on the festival lineup. One is the Main Street Octet, a group of former Naval Academy band members led by cornetist Mac McClaeb. The group owns and plays the swing arrangements of the West Coast's Dave Pell Octet. Singer Gayle Thompson-Steele is featured vocalist.

The other group is the Unified Jazz Ensemble, a quartet that came to Annapolis -- home of leader Mike Noonan, who plays vibraphone, trombone and piano -- right after graduating from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas).

For more than a year, the group has been featured Wednesdays at 49 West Coffeehouse.

Musicians of Byrd or Alexander's caliber usually can't be booked for a fund-raiser such as the Jazzfest, which is sponsored by Friends of the Annapolis Symphony. But Byrd more or less donates his performance out of local loyalty, and his friends reduce their fees accordingly.

The result, says Bienstock, is a much higher-quality event than Jazzfest can afford on its $6,500 program budget.

"It's always fun at the festival," he says. "You're right on [College Creek] there. Everybody brings lawn chairs and blankets."

Only once in six years has rain threatened -- and it held off until the last five minutes of the afternoon. "God loves jazz," says organizer Linda Elliott.

Annapolis Jazzfest

When: Noon to 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lower campus of St. John's College

Tickets: $15 advance, $20 at the gate, children free; available at Fresh Fields, Graul's markets, Jason's Music in Severna Park

Information: 410-349-1111 or 410-481-7328

Also: T-shirts, tapes and compact discs, food and beverages will be sold; free parking at state lots off Rowe Boulevard

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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