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Barbados Jazz Festival

During a week of warm January sunshine, and an occasional cool rain shower, the 9th Annual Barbados Jazz Festival brought an assortment of musical talent to this lovely Caribbean island.

As festival promoter Gilbert Rowe said, following a stirring performance by drummer Sonny Emory, "We took a chance this year on not running a pure jazz line-up, and it seems to be working. "

Judging from the crowds that came to see performers such as Dionne Warwick, Freddy Cole, Jesse Cook, David Sanborn, Rachelle Ferrell, the Cuban band Orquesta Enrique Jorrin and many others during this seven-day event, the festival was a smash hit, and perhaps a sweet appetizer to an even more spectacular 10th anniversary festival next year.

The festival opened at Sunbury Plantation House with Kalabash, a Caribbean band presently based in Canada. Pannist David Shepherd and keyboardist Andrew Craig offered funky music, including the calypso-style Bash and Pan Rebellion. Colleen Allen played sax, as well as a stirring flute solo of From Whence We Came, a wonderful, soulful Caribbean song.

As the evening grew later, Canadian guitarist Jesse Cook and his band took the stage, playing a selection of flamenco-style music that included such favorite pieces as Byzantium, Viva and Virtue, and That’s Right! Band violinist Christopher Church, drummer Paul Tongo, rhythm guitarist Kevin Laliberti, bass player Eric Lyons, and percussionist Art Avalos kept the crowd on its feet throughout the entire performance. Many of the songs were from Cook’s CD called Vertigo.

With the next night’s events moving outdoors, onto the grass and under the trees of the Sherbourne Conference Centre, the audience was treated to the music of Dianne Reeves and Della Manley. Reeves, who followed Manley’s opening act, created an emotional vocal mix of Sarah Vaughn and African tribalism. Opening with Morning Has Broken Reeves added her Yoruba chants to the song and got everyone into the mood for some unique music. Afro Blue came next, with conga drums and timbales, and more African chanting. Covering several Sarah Vaughn ballads, including Misty, the crowed was enraptured. Band pianist Peter Parker was a strong addition to her music, and Reeves, who has been invited to sing at the closing ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics on February 24, didn’t disappoint her many fans in the audience.

Jamaican singer Della Manley, daughter of the late Jamaican leader Michael Manley, opened the show but didn’t quite set the audience on fire with her soft, non-jazzy, songs. Although she played a few reggae pieces, like Bob Marley’s Waiting in Vain, most of the music was more sedate, gentle Caribbean tunes that festival promoter Rowe had in mind when he planned to mix up the shows with pure rock’in jazz and the less "in your face" music of performers like Della Manley.

The headline act came in the middle of the week, at the indoor Garfield Sports Complex, when Dionne Warwick and her band took the stage before about 3,000 adoring Bajans and tourists. Warwick, another of the festival’s "non-jazzy" entertainers, was true to form, and kept her rapt audience singing along to old favorites such as Don’t Make Me Over, Do You Know The Way to San Jose, Walk on By, and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. After about an hour of oldies, Warwick performed several Brazilian numbers, some from her CD Aquarela Do Brazil, and she was very vocal about mentioning her great love for the country of Brazil. Later, at a post-concert news conference, Warwick said that she was living happily in Rio, and was planning a move to the Bahia region of the country, where she will continue to collaborate with Brazilian musicians on upcoming CD’s.

The festival moved back outdoors (why not, it’s the Caribbean!) for the next two nights at the Foursquare Rum Distillery at Heritage Park. Although the 19th century sugar factory furnace, the working distillery, and the collection of quaint crafts shops and cafes were closed due to the late starting hour of the concerts, the Cane Pit Amphitheatre was brightly it, the Caribbean sky filled with stars, and true jazz returned to Barbados in the fingers and voice of Freddy Cole, the youngest brother of the late Nat King Cole. Arriving on stage shortly after the less than wonderful opening act of British singer Samantha Siva, Cole and his band, Curtis Boyd (drums), Zachary Pride (bass), and Gerry Byrd (guitar), really sparked up the evening. Comparisons to his brother always get in the way for the first few minutes of Cole’s performances, but as Freddy’s raspy voice and quick smile made clear, he is similar to, but quite different, than Nat, and oh so good!

Opening with a few pieces from his new CD Rio de Janeiro Blues, Cole played Words Can’t Describe, Something Happens to Me, and To Say Goodbye. He went on to sing This Heart of Mine and Fly Me To The Moon. The band’s Rio de Janeiro Blues was truly great, and the audience really got going during covers of Billie Holliday tunes Living For You, Until The Real Thing Comes Along, and Them There Eyes. He didn’t forget his brother’s hits either, singing Straighten Up and Fly Right, Sweet Lorraine, Mona Lisa, and Unforgettable. At the end of the show, just when the fans thought they couldn’t take more great songs, Freddy did a rollicking, lovable rendition of I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me, a playful song about the younger brother’s differences with his older brother, Nat. After a ten-minute standing ovation everyone truly understood what that last song meant.

Sonny Emory and Joseph Diamond performed in Heritage Park the next evening, with Diamond opening the show. Diamond performs a kind of Latin Jazz on his keyboard, and much of the music came off his Not Your Typical New Yorker CD, which has won rave reviews from Latin jazz fans. While drummer Vince Cherico (who plays so great on the CD) was not able to make the trip to Barbados, he was ably replaced by Diego Lopez. Leo Traversa handles bass on the CD and was also part of the band at the festival, keeping up with Diamond’s quick and expert keyboarding. Diamond, who often performs at New York’s Metronome, and has had songs used on HBO’s Sex in the City, played to an appreciative audience, a good warm-up for the feature act of the evening, Sonny Emory.

Emory was the drummer with Earth, Wind & Fire from 1987 to 1999, and watching him perform live, with his exciting stick-twirling and back-sticking, it’s no wonder he was such a well-liked member of the group. Emory also co-wrote the tune Cruising, which can be heard on the score to Spike Lee’s 1998 film Get on the Bus. The festival audience really responded to his drumming and theatrical stage show, as this Georgia native showed his fine skills as the clock approached midnight.

The jazz festival ‘s grand finale weekend was held at Farley Hill Park, a favorite venue because of its superb views across sun-splashed sugar cane fields down to the Atlantic Ocean, its rows of royal palm trees, and its picnic areas under the sprawling branches of Mahogany and Casuarina trees. A perfect place to listen to jazz, and the performers during this last weekend did not disappoint.

Even rain, which caused umbrellas to open and turned grass to mud, didn’t dampen the spirits of the fans who listened to Rachelle Ferrell, the American singer and pianist, and her younger brother, Russ Barnes, as they enchanted the audience with a delightful mix of tender songs, like Reflections of My Heart and the more energetic Satisfied and Sista. Ferrell’s latest CD is Individuality (Can I Be Me?).

Well known saxophonist David Sanborn, the local Bajan drummer James Lovell and his band Ngoma, and the Cuban band Orquesta Enrique Jorrin closed out the festival. Sanborn, including band members Don Alias (percussionist) and Nick Moroch (lead guitarist) kept the crowd revved up and well primed for Orquesta Enrique Jorrin, the Cuban band that combined vibrant and energetic dancing with fabulous vocals. With a multitude of instruments, including violins, flutes, timbales, congas, trumpets, and guitar, the band had everyone up on their feet moving to the Latin rhythms. Band leader Enrique Jorrin was born in Cuba, in 1926, and has performed throughout Latin American, Europe and Africa.

The Barbados Jazz Festival promoters will probably take a few days off before they begin planning next year’s show. Information on dates and performers will eventually be placed on their web site.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Barbados Jazz Festival
  • Concert Date: January 14 - 20, 2002
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