Friday, July 22, 2011

Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival
set for Saturday, September 17

The Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival has announced the lineup for its 2011 event, which is scheduled from noon to 11:00 p.m., Saturday, September 17 in and around the intersection of Lockwood and Gore in the old business district of Webster Groves.

The free festival's two stages will feature ten bands, with a roughly equal split between jazz and blues. Acts returning for this year's event will include an ensemble of jazz faculty members from Webster University and the jazz big band from nearby Webster Groves High School, as well as the Funky Butt Brass Band (pictured), who this year will be on the Allen Ave. stage instead of marching around the festival site, and blues singer/guitarist Marquise Knox.

The Latin-pop-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist Javier Mendoza will make his debut at the festival, closing the night on the Allen Ave. stage with a version of the expanded ensemble he debuted last season at Jazz at the Bistro. Others playing the OWJ&BF for the first time include R&B-oriented saxophonist Jim Stevens (who also has worked with Mendoza); blues singer and guitarist Alvin Jett and Phat noiZ; guitarist Tom Byrne's Pat Metheny tribute Have You Heard?, including pop/R&B singer Ralph Butler (on a bit of a busman's holiday); and the Rum Drum Duo, from the old-timey blues band Rum Drum Ramblers.

The winner of something called the "Old Webster's Got Talent Contest" will kick off the day on the Gore Ave. stage, a slot which in years past usually has been filled with something that might most charitably be described as "budget-friendly." No word yet on who's involved with that contest or when it will take place, but presumably more details will follow.

At first glance, this could be a somewhat stronger musical lineup than last year's fest, although how much stronger obviously depends on one's opinions of the individual acts. I can't claim to be a fan of Mendoza's at all, as what I've heard of his music always has seemed rather bland to me, but he does have a fan base and his gig at the Bistro was well-received enough to merit a repeat performance, so I may be of a minority opinion there.

As for the rest, your mileage may vary. Last year, festival head Jennifer Bellm (who also runs Webster Records) took exception to StLJN's criticisms of the lineup, in particular our decrying the deployment of a blues band fronted a local television personality whose musical dues-paying remains highly suspect. At least this year's lineup doesn't repeat that misstep, so that's a plus. It'd be nice if the event also included some older jazz styles, which predominated in its first years, but I suppose tastes do change and no one event can be everything to everyone.

(Edited to add: To her credit, after our exchange last year Bellm also asked me if I had any suggestions as to who she should book this year. I sent her a list of musicians and bands, at least a couple of whom seem to have wound up on this year's lineup, though whether my recommendations played a role remains unknown. She also made a public effort to solicit demos from interested musicians, and I don't know the end result of that. Though I'm not all that enamored with one of this year's headliners, that's an issue of personal musical taste. In terms of opening up the process and being willing to try some new acts along with the tried-and-true, the OWJ&BF has moved in the right direction.)

On the positive side, the Webster faculty ensemble contains some very fine jazz musicians, and the WGHS big band is one of the stronger student groups in the area. Moreover, the Funky Butt Brass Band, Byrne, Stevens, Knox and Jett also are all pretty good at what they do, so as long as your expectations are calibrated properly - this is, after all, a free festival with a rather modest budget - in total there should be plenty of enjoyable musical moments at this year's Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival.

Edited after posting.

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