Berkshire Gateway Jazz Returns to Lee

A centennial birthday tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and the reunion of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band with legendary blues guitarist Duke Robillard highlight the sixth annual Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend, June 15-18 in downtown Lee.

The four-day festival also includes a Fine Art show, al fresco food vendors with daytime jazz, and a wine and beer tasting under a tent in Church Park. The weekend activities are bracketed by a documentary movie screening on Thursday, June 15 and a Father’s Day jazz brunch.

A collaboration of Berkshires Jazz, Inc. and Berkshire Gateway Preservation, Inc., the affair takes place in the western Massachusetts town of Lee, the “Gateway to the Berkshires.” The principal performing venue is the Lee Meeting House (a.k.a. Lee Congregational Church), 25 Park Place.

The headline concerts kick off on Friday, June 16, when the Vermont Jazz Center Big Band and Wanda Houston celebrate the 100th birthday of the firstWanda Houston lady of song. Performing and breathing new life into the same musical arrangements used by Ella Fitzgerald, the concert features acclaimed vocalist Wanda Houston singing Ella’s renowned parts. She will be backed by the Vermont Jazz Center Big Band. The repertoire will be a tour-de-force of the great American songbook.

Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century…and perhaps the first jazz artist to become a household name.  One of today’s outstanding interpreters of vocal jazz and blues, Wanda Houston has loved –and sung along with– Fitzgerald’s music since she was a young girl.  Like Fitzgerald, she is a great singer as well as a superb storyteller; she colors the spaces between her songs with fascinating stories of her youth and the trials and tribulations of life on the road.

The Vermont Jazz Center Big Band is a professional community band that comes together under the auspices of the VJC to rehearse and take on projects. The 16-piece band is directed by trumpeter Rob Freeberg and features many top-flight ensemble players and soloists.

Tickets (click here) are $25 in advance ($30 on the day of the event, if available), and at several locations in the Berkshires, including the Lee Chamber Visitor Center and Wood Brothers Music in Pittsfield.

Traditional Jazz At Its Best

On Saturday, June 17, one of the longest-standing, best-known and highly-respected traditional jazz groups, The New Black Eagle Jazz Band returns to the Berkshires after a three-year hiatus. The band has dozens of audio recordings and DVDs to its name, including one that garnered a Grammy nomination. Of their prowess and creativity, the late N.Y. Time critic John S. Wilson wrote that the band is “So far ahead of other traditional bands…there is scarcely any basis for comparison.”

In 2009, the Black Eagles teamed-up with famed guitarist Duke Robillard for a recording called “Nothing But the Blues.” After many years, they are reunited exclusively for the Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend.

Duke Robillard had his first band in high school, and he was fascinated from the beginning by the ways in which jazz, swing, and the blues were linked. In 1967, he formed Roomful of Blues, and the band was tight enough and tough enough to accompany two of its heroes, Big Joe Turner and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson on recordings and in live appearances. The Grammy-nominated guitarist won The Blues Music Awards (formerly W.C. Handy Awards) for “Best Blues Guitarist” four times.

Tickets (click here) are $25 in advance ($30 on the day of the event, if available), and at several locations in the Berkshires, including the Lee Chamber Visitor Center and Wood Brothers Music in Pittsfield.

The event is supported in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, as well as sponsorships from Big Y, Adams Community Bank, Onyx Specialty Papers, Consolati Insurance, Inc. and Aldam Press.



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