It's back to the campus of Onondaga Community College for the 32nd edition of the M&T Syracuse Jazz Fest.
After two years at Jamesville Beach Park, the music returns to the hills below Gordon Student Center Friday and Saturday night, with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue headlining the first evening with a set scheduled to begin around 9:30 p.m., and legendary bluesman B.B. King closing the music the second night with a set that will start around the same time.
This weekend's fest includes local, national and international stars on the National Grid Main Stage, with Central New York award-winning high school vocalists Julia Goodwin and Nick Ziobro starting the music on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Syracuse star Mark Doyle continues the cool vibe Friday with his lush sound of Guitar Noir, followed by the retro swing of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and then the New Orleans funk of headliner Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.
Second up on Saturday is the rousing big band sound of Igor Butman & The Moscow State Jazz Orchestra, joined by one of the most popular pop singers in Russia, Fantine Pritoula. That 19-piece combo will be followed by Raul Midon, a singer and guitarist from New Mexico who's been blind from birth. The timeless blues guitar and voice of Mr. B.B. King wraps the music up.
I asked founder and executive director Frank Malfitano for his take on the 32nd edition he so carefully constructed.
Let's call it Five Quick Questions with Frank Malfitano.
Q: What would you say is the single biggest thing you are looking forward to about this weekend's /M&T Syracuse Jazz Festival?
A: The fact that it's actually here and happening for the 32nd year is what I'm looking forward to most, Mark. It's finally here after a year in the trenches preparing and shedding. I'm psyched. Can't wait to see how the Jazz Fest audience reacts to B B King and Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue and all the rest of our visiting national and international artists, along with the reception that will greet their local heroes.
Q: What went through your mind when you saw Julia Goodwin made it through and got glowing comments with her voice on "America's Got Talent" a few weeks ago?
A: Not surprised in the least. She's a superstar in the making. And big things lie on her horizon. She's going to be mega. As a 15-year old high school sophomore, she's already light years beyond many of her contemporaries. Hopefully her opening night Jazz Fest appearance will serve as a springboard to other festival appearances around the country, but there's no doubt in my mind that she's destined for greatness.
Q: When you saw Mark Doyle and all those gorgeous strings playing at the Auburn Public Theater in May, what did you want to say in the Jazz Fest liner notes then?
A: The guy's a flat out genius, and arguably one of the most versatile artists to ever emerge from Syracuse. In my eyes, he's an absolute musical giant. And he's an amazing human being and one of the sweetest cats I've ever been around. If we had a jazz, blues and rock hall of fame in Syracuse, he'd be in all three. As it is, he's a SAMMYS Hall of Famer and a 7-time SAMMY winner. But he's also a consummate fundamentalist, and his composing chops and arranging skills are superlative in every regard. I mostly want to thank him for bringing this amazing large scale Syracuse-based project to the Jazz Fest stage. It's what's been missing.
Q: To those not fortunate enough to have yet seen Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, what can they expect at OCC?
A: An amazing cat and a son of New Orleans keeping the Crescent City flame burning brightly, with a Treme-based band that's at the absolute top of their game and currently peaking. It's a flat out, high energy superfunk aggregation of the first magnitude that blends New Orleans traditional brass band sounds with funk, rock and hip-hop to create a contemporary musical style and sound like no other.
A: The last time I saw B.B. King and his Orchestra was when I presented them in Utica at the Stanley Theatre for their Grand Reopening back in 2008 or 2009. The exact date escapes me. The first time I saw Mr. King was when they were playing the chitlin' circuit back in the day on a series with the likes of Ike & Tina Turner and The Ikettes and James Brown & The Famous Flames in the 1960's at places like the old P.L.A.V. (Polish League of American Veterans on West Genesee Street).
The nearby presence of the SRC Arena, notwithstanding, be ready for two full nights of outdoor music at the free-admission event.
Malfitano says any word that's been filtering about town -- such as a comment at the introductory news conference in the lobby of M&T Bank on South Salina Street in April -- that rain this weekend could send acts from the main stage to a setup inside the arena is not true.
"Never," Malfitano reports. "An indoor rain policy has never been, and will never be, a part of the Jazz Fest plan. We're staying outdoors with Jazz Fest now and forever more. Period. For me, the definition of a festival is multiple days and outdoor stages. Other cities string together a bunch of indoor concerts in concert halls and call it a 'festival,' but there's nothing festive about that format and model. That may work for other cities and presenters, but it doesn't do it for me or for our fans or our artists, who love and thrive on the energy and vibe that an outdoor gathering brings to the party. So, mark these words, you'll never see us adopt that type of format or indoor rain backup policy at the M&T Syracuse Jazz Fest. It's never going to happen on my watch."
Hopefully, it'll be a non-issue. I've sat through enough Jazz Fest sets in the rain, though, at Long Branch Park, at Clinton Square and at OCC, though ...
Admission is free.
Parking is $5 per car.
Some seating is provided, first-come, first-served. It's encourage to bring your own lawn chairs.
No coolers, backpacks, alcoholic beverages, or glass allowed into the site.
5:30 p.m. Julia Goodwin
6:30 p.m. Mark Doyle's Guitar Noir
8 p.m. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
9:30 p.m. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
5 p.m. Nick Ziobro
6:30 p.m. Igor Butman & The Moscow state Jazz Orchestra featuring Fantine Pritoula
8 p.m. Raul Midon
9:30 p.m. B.B. King & The B.B. King Orchestra
After the music is the Price Choppers Fireworks Display
Which act are you looking forward to seeing the most this weekend? Who's been your favorite act ever at the Syracuse Jazz Fest? Are you glad the fest is back at OCC?