Sixth Annual Monty Alexander Jazz Festival To Showcase Rising Jazz Star Alicia Olatuja
Contact: Don Buxton 410 819-0380
or Amy Steward 410 829-0436
By Amy Blades Steward and Beth Schucker
The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival will celebrate its sixth anniversary at the intimate Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD on Labor Day weekend from September 3 – 6, 2015. The extraordinary energy and virtuosity of Artistic Director Monty Alexander have vaulted the Festival into a four-day event showcasing new talent, as well as jazz greats. One of the new artists to be featured at this year’s Festival will be Alicia Olatuja whose solo with The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” reached millions of viewers at President Obama’s 2013 Inaugural. According to Olatuja, “Success just exploded.”
Growing up in Saint Louis, Olatuja sang in churches, seeding her passion for gospel, which in turn was her springboard for jazz. Up against New York’s demanding jazz scene, she’s performed at legendary venues such as Minton’s and The Jazz Standard. She’s also classically trained as a mezzo-soprano. She made her recital debut at Carnegie Hall.
Downbeat underscores Olatuja’s tone, precise pitch and personal engagement at the lowest whisper or highest wail. Other critics emphasize her instinctive harmony and her ability to synchronize her vocals with the plucked beats of the acoustic bass, as well as her gift of fusing the dividing lines between generations and genres.
That’s exactly what Olatuja is trying to do with her music — transcend genres. “I’m more than a singer on stage,” she says. “I am a live instrument that respects, moves and whets appetites. I have the opportunity to grow my instrument and tell stories of human experience.”
Olatuja recently released her solo debut album, titled “Timeless.” It features music ranging from “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” to Michael Jackson’s pop tune “Human Nature,” to “Amazing Grace.” Critics say the album demonstrates her rich R&B/soul register and Natalie Cole’s elegant style. Others liken her voice to Joan Baez and Nancy Wilson.
Olatuja’s voice picks up the beat as she outlines plans for her September 6 concert at 2 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre. She’ll be accompanied by two bassists, Christian McBride, a three time Grammy winner, and her husband, Michael Olatuja. A pianist and drummer will round out her quintet. “We’ll expand and contract on ‘Timeless’,” she says. “Definitely expand and contract,” she emphasizes as her mind wanders off onto the Avalon stage.
Festival audiences know what jazz pianist Monty Alexander does with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and we all now know what Alicia Olantuja did with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Will they both get into it at this year’s Monty Alexander Jazz Festival?
In addition Olatuja, this year’s Festival will feature jazz vocalist René Marie, a 2015 Grammy nominee for her recent tribute album to Eartha Kitt, who will open with her Quintet at the Avalon Theatre on Friday night, September 4 at 8 p.m. In addition to Marie’s concert on Friday night, New York-based tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander will lead Saturday afternoon’s concert at 2 p.m. Monty Alexander and Friends take the stage on Saturday night at 8 p.m. Monty’s eclectic musical offerings will include reflections on his time with Frank Sinatra at the legendary Jilly’s Club in New York City.
A Festival tradition will continue this year on Saturday morning with a free New Orleans jazz concert at 10:30 a.m. in Thompson Park by The Conservatory Classic Jazz Band. The band will then lead a second line parade to the Tidewater Inn where a jazz brunch at 11:30 a.m. will precede the afternoon showcase.
A returning favorite vocalist, Caterina Zapponi, will perform in an intimate night club-style concert on Thursday night with an All-Star ensemble, including Yotam Silverstein, Lorin Cohen, and Chuck Redd at the Academy Art Museum. This concert will not be a part of the Festival Pass and the number of seats available will be limited.
This year’s lineup of world class artists makes The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival an Eastern Shore destination for Labor Day weekend. The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, presented by Jazz on the Chesapeake, is a program of Chesapeake Chamber Music. For further information on the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, visit ChesapeakeJazz.org.
Brooklyn singer Alicia Olatuja, who performed at the President’s 2013 Inaugural, will blend jazz and gospel for the Sunday afternoon concert on September 6, 2015 during the 2015 Monty Alexander Jazz Festival on Labor Day Weekend.
Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Chamber Music