Selby JazzFest doesn’t miss a beat with virtual shows in September
By Anne Murphy
Selby Avenue JazzFest will have a different vibe this year, according to founder and still director Mychael Wright. Rather than the one-day event that has become a September standard since 2002, the fest will be streamed online at 7 p.m. every Saturday in September.
Featured artists for Selby Avenue JazzFest-Virtual Edition will be the singing and guitar duo of Charmin Michelle and Joel Shapira on September 5; trumpeter Solomon Parham on September 12; JazzFest veteran Patricia Lacy accompanied by pianist Jacob Dodd and drummer Perry “Tree” Graham on September 19; and classic Latin jazz pianist Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera on September 26.
This will be Herrera’s first public performance since his recovery from COVID-19.
With the pandemic playing out as it has, those involved in planning the JazzFest concluded that it should continue this year only if was presented virtually. Wright didn’t want to disappoint the fest’s loyal following nor interrupt the fest’s legacy of local, national and international acts, but it was crucial to keep people safe, he said.
To keep his spirits up, Wright reminded himself of what famed pianist and composer Duke Ellington would say: “Gray skies are just clouds passing over.” Ellington is one of the jazz artists who has a beverage named after him at Golden Thyme Coffee Cafe, 934 Selby Ave. Wright and his wife have owned Golden Thyme for over two decades. It was out of a love of jazz and an appreciation for the music’s long history of bringing people together that he introduced the Selby JazzFest to the neighborhood 18 years ago.
“JazzFest has always been about the strong community spirit that is readily found on Selby,” Wright said. “It’s been an excellent way to galvanize the community. It’s helped change the rough edges and push it along in a positive way.”
“JazzFest has always been about the strong community spirit that is readily found on Selby,” Wright said. “It’s been an excellent way to galvanize the community. It’s helped change the rough edges and push it along in a positive way.
“In the beginning, we drew 70 to 80 percent of the audience from the area,” Wright said. “Now audiences are 60 to 70 percent regional and include people from other areas of the country. Attendance has gone from the hundreds to at least 15,000.
“In the beginning, we didn’t know if we could do it,” he said. “But we’ve been in the black every year and have solid support. It’s become a tightly knit group.”
Among that tight-knit group is Saint Paul’s Patricia Lacy. The singer has been a part of the JazzFest since headlining the event in 2005. “I’m just elated Mychael decided to go ahead with JazzFest this year,” she said. “It’s extremely important that he kept the event going. Hopefully a year from now we can go back to where we were before, but this is our current reality.
“When Mychael asked me to perform virtually, I said, ‘absolutely.’ We’re fortunate the technology is here,” Lacy said. “The music has to continue because if we don’t have music, what do we have? With virtual performances, everybody everywhere can listen and be uplifted.”
For this JazzFest, Lacy will be performing several standards and the haunting composition “Strange Fruit” made famous by Billie Holiday. The song alludes to the hanging of a Black man. Lacy recorded it several years ago and said she felt compelled to include it in her program in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
It’s important to remember the importance of jazz in the fabric of American life, said Lacy, who started out as a gospel singer and still intertwines the two genres. “What would America be without jazz?” she asked. “What kind of soundtrack would we have if we didn’t have jazz to interlace within the quilt of all music? So many songs in the jazz genre can take you to places that other music cannot. I think of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ when I need to play among the stars.”
Highland Park guitarist Joel Shapira will be playing in his first JazzFest with vocalist Charmin Michelle. Heard frequently at the Dakota Jazz Club and other Twin Cities venues, the duo had been performing together weekly for 10 years at Midtown Global Market on Lake Street in Minneapolis before it closed after the recent riots. So the invitation to join the JazzFest lineup was very welcome, Shapira said.
Listeners on September 5 will hear selections off Michelle and Shapira’s recently released CD, “Butterfly Wings,” a collection of eight songs by Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Billy Strayhorn, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and others.
“I think it’s crucial to keep Selby alive, to keep the momentum alive,” Shapira said. “Jazz and music can be comforting in these difficult times. People cling to music, and it holds a more sacred meaning when people seek comfort, peace and normalcy in it.”
Although recording music for streaming is not the same as performing it live, Shapira said he is happy to be part of the virtual event.
“For a lot of people who might not be able to make it to a concert location, this creates a whole new potential,” Shapira said. “It’s multi-faceted really. You can reach casual listeners as well as the people who already appreciate the music and the great instrumentalists and vocalists who have devoted their lives to the music.”
For more information on the Selby Avenue JazzFest and to access the performances online, visit selbyavejazzfest.com.
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