Twenty Five Years of Jazz at SPAC

text and photos by Ronnie James
copyright © 2002 Ronnie James

This past June the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in Saratoga Springs, New York, marked its 25th year presenting jazz. SPAC President and Executive Director Herbert A. Chesborough noted, "This 25th anniversary of celebrating jazz artists is especially exciting because the talent in the line up seems to summarize the level of excellence in performances and reputation the jazz festival has achieved here."

The stellar line up included Manhattan Transfer's 30th anniversary tour, Dave Holland Quintet, Kurt Elling, Wynton Marsalis Septet, Roy Haynes Quartet, Cassandra Wilson, Natalie Cole, Angelique Kidjo, Steve Turre Quintet, Regina Carter, and Directions in Music: The Music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane featuring Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, and Roy Hargrove. Within a couple minutes walk of the main stage, the gazebo featured Ray Vega's Latin Jazz Sextet, Sunny Sumter, Cole Broderick, and the Roni Ben-Hur Quintet. Gerald Veasley and the Moutin Reunion Quartet performed double duty at the amphitheater and the gazebo. Rounding out this year's schedule was War, Soulive, Ben Nix Trio, Four Play, Living Daylights, Onaje Allan Gumbs Group, Vijay Iyer Quartet and Dave Koz and Friends featuring Norman Brown, Brian Culbertson, and James Ingram.

More than 20,000 people attended this year's festival on the grounds of the Spa State Park. The jazz festival at SPAC, in cooperation with George Wein, and sponsored by the Freihofer Baking Company, and additionally this year by Keeler-Mini at Keeler Motor Car, is always held during the last week of June. SPAC's line up traditionally includes cross over acts to satisfy the musical tastes of its thousands of patrons. In recent years acts such as James Brown, Ray Charles, Bruce Hornsby, and George Benson have appeared. Chesborough, who has attended every SPAC jazz festival, says this diverse line up is by design and has been ever since the first festival in 1978 when Sarah Vaughn was the stand out. Chesborough notes during that same festival blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn "played one of the best sets he ever played here." Chesbrough adds, "This is a big place and if we had to find 15,000 people who loved just pure jazz, it wouldn't happen."