Pianist Aaron Diehl, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and saxophonist Miguel Zenon are among the final additions to the 36th annual Atlanta Jazz Festival, taking place Memorial Day weekend in Piedmont Park. Singers Julie Dexter, Alexandra Jackson and Ginou, as well as saxophonist Uri Gurvich, are also slated to perform on one of two stages during the three-day event that begins May 25.
Those artists join the previously announced roster of saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, singers Cecile McLorin Salvant and Gretchen Parlato, and pianist Aruan Ortiz. Also, bassist Meshell Ndegeocello will perform a tribute to the late Nina Simone during the festival.
The festival organizers have also added a ticketed concert by the group BWB at Chastain Park Amphitheatre to this year’s event and are working on finalizing the popular “31 Days of Jazz” concert series.
Atlanta-based guitarist Jacob Deaton will perform with his band on the main stage, and high school jazz orchestras from around the metro area will kick off each day’s performances.
The local angle of the festival caught the eye of Brent Runnels, the executive and artistic director of Jazz Orchestra Atlanta. By including high school groups, he said, the organizers have put their focus on the jazz artists of tomorrow.
“This says a lot about their support for growing the young audience for jazz,” Runnels said. “I know this highly visible performance opportunity means a great deal to these young musicians and their parents.”
Spotlighting the next generation, even among the professional musicians, seems to be an unbilled theme of the festival. Runnels said he’s looking forward to hearing Salvant because he has read about her, most notably in Ben Ratliff’s New York Times feature story. Akinmusire, he points out, has also gotten a lot of press recently.
Christopher Alpiar, owner of local label BeHip records, said he didn’t recognize a lot of the names on the bill, but one artist stood out. Alpiar attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston from 1990 to 1994, at the same time as Mahanthappa.
“It’s been nearly 20 years since I have seen him,” Alpiar said. “While he was an amazing player in those days, he has really evolved into what I consider true modern mastery of the saxophone and jazz music.”
Alpiar said the festival has a large amount of pull to promote local artists and the Atlanta jazz scene. Deaton, one of the artists on the BeHip label, will perform on the main stage Sunday. Alpiar said he’d like to see even more local representation at future festivals; the inclusion of those acts will help spread the word about jazz musicians living and working in Atlanta. Alpiar also thinks that promoting more local acts on the festival stage will increase support for major international musicians.
“With the right business support, there is no reason from a talent perspective that Atlanta shouldn’t be as jazz-musically famous as New Orleans or New York City,” he said. “Kudos to the AJF and all the hard work they do organizing this wonderful event, and I hope they continue down this enlightened path.”
Like Runnels, Alpiar sees this year’s festival as a nod to the next generation. “The lineup is quite interesting in that it appears there is a strong emphasis on relatively unknown and up-and-coming artists,” he said. “However, many of these artists are established, especially in New York, and this year’s jazz festival will give Atlanta audiences a chance to hear who is on the rise.”
SATURDAY, MAY 25
Stephenson High School Jazz Ensemble — 1 p.m.
Aaron Diehl Quartet — 3 p.m.
Alexandra Jackson — 5 p.m.
Meshell Ndegeocello: A Dedication to Nina Simone — 7 p.m.
Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet — 9 p.m.
Tri-Cities High School Jazz Band — 2 p.m.
Aruán Ortiz — 3:30 p.m.
Rio Negro — 5 p.m.
Cécile McLorin Salvant — 6:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, MAY 26
North Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band — 1 p.m.
Rialto Jazz for Kids — 3 p.m.
Jacob Deaton and the Tribulation Band — 5 p.m.
Gretchen Parlato — 7 p.m.
Tia Fuller — 9 p.m.
J.C. Young Middle School Jazz Ensemble — 3:30 p.m.
Ginou — 5 p.m.
Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Gamak — 6:30 p.m.
MONDAY, MAY 27
Benjamin E. Mays High School Jazz Orchestra — 1 p.m.
Rialto Youth Jazz Orchestra — 3 p.m.
Julie Dexter — 5 p.m.
Dominick Farinacci — 7 p.m.
Jose James — 9 p.m.
Westlake High School Jazz Ensemble — 3:30 p.m.
Uri Gurvich Quartet — 5 p.m.
Miguel Zenón Quartet — 6:30 p.m.