This year a second stage, reserved for emerging artists, was added to the spacious area of Piedmont Park where the weekend concerts are held. This caused some of the afternoon performances to overlap, but the second stage was usually finished in time for the headliners. One of the headliners, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes, actually performed on the second stage, because he didn't like the piano on the main stage.
The best performance of the weekend concerts belonged to veteran tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Known throughout his long career as a dynamic live performer, Rollins closed out Sunday evening with an uplifting set that left the huge audience screaming for more. On his composition "Biji" the ideas flowed like a river as he played chorus after chorus, never seeming to repeat himself. Even at age 70, Sonny still has the fire.
Besides Rollins there were other notheworthy performances. On Saturday drummer Brian Blade's sextet, with its unusual alto sax-vibes-guitar front line, played a very compelling set of original compositions. On the vibes was Monte Croft, who recorded two well-received albums on Columbia in 1989 and 1990, then dropped out of sight. Percussionist Poncho Sanchez and his group was another Sunday highlight, their driving Latin jazz always displaying a variety of influences, playing Wayne Shorter's "Juju" one moment, then bringing the audience on their feet with James Brown's "Cold Sweat" .
On Monday trumpeter Russell Gunn introduced his new Cultural Ensemble, playing fresh new music that wasn't either the post-bop or the jazz-meets-hip hop of his recent CDs. Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and her trio, fueled by the dynamic drumming of Teri Lynne Carrington, thrilled the audience with their mix of jazz classics and standards, featuring Bridgewater's high energy scatting. Unfortunately rain abbreviated the performance of the Terrence Blanchard Quintet and special guest Cassandra Wilson, bringing this successful festival to an abrupt end.