It’s that time of year when stubborn patches of snow finally melt, flocks of birds return north, and a host of musicians converge on Alaska’s capital city for the annual Juneau Jazz and Classics Festival.
“I hope everyone will come out, and if they think they’re just jazz lovers they give classical a try, and if they think they’re just classical lovers they’ll give jazz and blues a try,” said second-year artistic director William Ransom. “All the music and artists are really remarkable, and are not only some of the best players in the world, but it’s really important to me as an artistic director to choose people who really relate to the audience from the stage.”
In its 32nd year, the festival boasts an array of headliners, from Richard Stoltzman to Rhonda Ross and many more.
Opening the festival on Friday, May 4, is Texas-style blues band Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones. Jones received his first guitar when he was seven, which he practiced on every day. After seeing how dedicated he was to music, his family gave him another one, and he has continued to make music for the last 50 years and has toured across the country.
The Grammy nominated classical group Eroica Trio is also coming to town. Comprised of Erika Nickrenz on piano, Sara Parkins on violin, and Sara Sant’Ambrogio on cello, Ransom said they’re a highly sought after bunch.
“This is actually a group I’ve known since my student days at Juilliard. They went off and became big stars. I was delighted that they were willing and able to come out to Juneau. I think the whole community is going to fall in love with these three girls. Amazing talent and amazing people, both on stage and off,” he said.
Ransom called Stoltzman “a legend.” A virtuoso clarinetist, he has had a prolific career, playing as a soloist for hundreds of orchestras. In 1986, he became the first wind player to be given the Avery Fisher Prize. He’s also won two Grammys. His wife, Mika Stoltzman, a marimba player devoted to jazz, has had an impressive career as both a live performer and a recording artist. The LA Times called her a “high-wire Jazz marimbist.”
“It looks like she’s dancing when she plays,” Ransom said. “It just brings you into the performance and you get as wrapped up in the music playing as she is. She’s one of those players that you sense is just so involved and it just pulls you along completely.”
Closing the festival on Saturday, May 19 will be singer/songwriter and actress Rhonda Ross, daughter of Diana Ross, and her husband Rodney Kendrick.
“I can’t wait to meet her and hear her in person myself. I haven’t heard her in person and she’s supposed to have the most extraordinary stage presence, the way she works with the audience,” Ransom said.
Other headliners are violist Luke Fleming, band Doug Deming & the Jeweltones, Johnaye Kendrick of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, performer Bradley Howard, jazz pianist Gary Motley, and returning, The Vega Quartet. William Ransom will also play with his sister Kate Ransom.
There will be a variety of special events associated with the festival. Executive director Reggie Schapp said the festival is bringing back the concert on a cruise events due to popular demand; the “Classical Lunch Cruise: ‘Eine Kleine YachtMusik’” and the “Blues Cruise: Andrew ‘Jr. Boy’ Jones Band” both happen on Saturday, May 5. Smaller concerts like the cruises or “Strings at the Shrine” are expected to sell out fast, she said.
Like previous years, there will be Brown Bag Concerts, which are free and open to the public, generally occurring on Mondays and Wednesdays. The goal of these is to provide accessible music; frequently students from local schools have attended. Many of the headliners will also provide workshops on their specialties, like Richard Stoltzman with clarinet, on Wednesday, May 16.
For a complete listing of festival events, go to www.jazzandclassics.org.
• Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.