Seven Shows Not to Miss at Jazz Fest 2023 | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Seven Shows Not to Miss at Jazz Fest 2023


Published June 7, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

  • Courtesy Of Luke Awtry
  • Bob Wagner

Since its debut in 1984, the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival has been one of the most important events on the state's musical calendar. Running Wednesday to Sunday, June 7 to 11, this year's iteration carries added importance as the fest marks its 40th year of bringing world-class jazz to the Queen City.

Produced by the Flynn and slimmed down from its traditional 10-day run to a tight, five-day party, the 2023 jazz fest has a new look. Guest curator/saxophonist/bandleader Lakecia Benjamin has packed the talent into that smaller package, which includes recent Best New Artist Grammy winner Samara Joy, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Meshell Ndegeocello, and singer Georgia Anne Muldrow, just to name a few highlights.

Burlington's jazz fest stretches across the city. And for every big headlining act, there are scores of smaller shows happening in parks, on streets, and in alleyways, nightclubs and restaurants. An added bonus: Almost every show on the slate is free.

To help you navigate all that jazz, here are seven shows not to miss this week.

Bob Wagner

Per adorable tradition, the first music played at jazz fest comes from middle and high school bands, which soundtrack daytime shopping excursions and lunch dates on the Church Street Marketplace. But every festival needs a proper, grown-up kickoff party, and this year Foam Brewers has the honors. The waterfront brewery hosts guitarist extraordinaire Bob Wagner (Kat Wright, Dark Side of the Mountain) and his pals for a set of folk, blues, rock and country music. Fresh off a set at Higher Ground's 25th anniversary celebration, where Wagner debuted a collection of brand-new original material, the Burlington guitarist is sure to deliver a night of rollicking jams showcasing the Queen City's best musicians.

When: Wednesday, June 7, 7 p.m.
Where: Foam Brewers
Why: Wagner knows how to pull together a local all-star show like few others.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Late-Night Residency

Giveton Gelin - COURTESY
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  • Giveton Gelin

Once upon a time, the building that houses the Vermont Comedy Club in downtown Burlington was the city's preeminent nightclub: R.W. Hunt Mill & Mining Company — or as locals dubbed it, Hunt's. To honor that legacy, the jazz fest is once again transforming the comedy club into a late-night jazz club called Big Joe's, in honor of local sax legend "Big Joe" Burrell.

Every night of the festival, Big Joe's will serve as a home base for visiting Lincoln Center jazz artists, such as trumpet player Giveton Gelin and vocalist Christie Dashiell, as well as a place for local jazz musicians to jam and interact with their out-of-town counterparts. Who knows what combination of musicians might take the stage?

When: Wednesday, June 7, to Sunday, June 11, 10 p.m.
Where: Vermont Comedy Club
Why: Not only a chance to see and hear some incredible musicians jam, this is where artists and fans interact after hours for what is becoming a welcome jazz fest tradition.

Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen

Marshall Allen - COURTESY
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  • Marshall Allen

Saxophonist Marshall Allen turned 99 in May. The Kentucky native, known for his intense and at times aggressive approach to the sax, first joined up with legendary jazz composer Sun Ra in 1958. A few years after Ra died, in 1993, Allen took the reins as bandleader of the Sun Ra Arkestra, which released several albums under his direction. He and his band, composed of Arkestra veterans and young talent alike, continue to pay tribute to the Afrofuturistic and deeply philosophical music of Sun Ra.

When: Thursday, June 8, 8:20 p.m.
Where: Top of the Block on Church Street
Why: A chance to see a legend playing legendary music. What more do you need?

Saturn People's Sound Collective

Brian Boyes - COURTESY
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  • Brian Boyes

Former viperHouse member Brian Boyes is back with his sprawling, sonically massive project, the Saturn People's Sound Collective. The composer and trumpeter has relaunched the experimental jazz ensemble — which includes two drummers, three vocalists and a 10-piece horn section — with a new focus on indie rock and incorporating electronics into the band's unpredictable musical orbit. Following up on the release of a 2022 self-titled live record, the collective is ready to bring Boyes' out-there compositions from deep space to the stage — if they can all fit on it.

When: Thursday, June 8, 5 p.m.
Where: Top of the Block on Church Street
Why: The Saturn People's Sound Collective are one of the scene's most daring and original bands, a position they solidified after a festival-stealing performance at the 2013 jazz fest.

Sampa the Great

Sampa the Great - COURTESY
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  • Sampa the Great

Zambian-born hip-hop artist Sampa Tembo, aka Sampa the Great, raised eyebrows with her excellent, soul-searching debut LP, The Return. The album, which focuses on the artist's relocation to Zambia after living in Australia for years, is a deep dive into Sampa's psyche and the search for a sense of home. Fusing hip-hop, Zamrock, jazz and gorgeous harmonies into one massive sound, she has quickly become one of modern hip-hop's bright, young rising stars. Alternating effortlessly between English and Bemba when she raps and sings, Sampa creates a truly dynamic performance. She headlines a stacked lineup at Waterfront Park featuring saxophonist Melissa Aldana, Burlington hip-hop mainstay Fattie B, and soul legends Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Memphis Soulphony.

When: Friday, June 9, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Waterfront Park
Why: Sampa is one of the buzziest names in international hip-hop, supporting the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Lauryn Hill, to name a few. Her ascent makes this a must-see performance.

Kamasi Washington, Cory Henry, WITCH, Guagua, Snacktime

Kamasi Washington - COURTESY
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  • Kamasi Washington

When the jazz fest lineup was announced earlier this spring, one of the first names to jump out was cosmic jazz guru Kamasi Washington. The renowned saxophonist and composer played the 2017 fest from the Flynn Main Stage. He returns this year with a free outdoor show at Waterfront Park, headlining a slate of diverse, sonically adventurous music on one of the festival's marquee days.

Local Latin jazz act Guagua kick things off, followed by Philadelphia funk group Snacktime. Zamrock band WITCH (an acronym for We Intend to Cause Havoc) might be the sleeper hit of the whole shebang. Formed in Zambia in the 1970s before disappearing for decades, only to resurface again in 2013, WITCH are shrouded in mystique and lore. The band plays a rhythmically heavy blend of blues, psychedelic rock and roiling funk.

Next up is singer-songwriter and keyboard wizard Cory Henry. A former member of funk act Snarky Puppy, Henry was a musical prodigy who played the Apollo in New York City when he was just 6 years old. He released the Grammy-nominated Operation Funk in 2022. Finally, Washington takes the stage to close out one epic night of music.

When: Saturday, June 10, 4 p.m.
Where: Waterfront Park
Why: Fans get a wide array of music from all over the globe, capped off by a modern master of the form.

Joe Moore Band

Joe Moore - COURTESY
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  • Joe Moore

It's hard to find a Burlington musician more steeped in local lore than saxophonist Joe Moore. A member of some of the state's most beloved bands over the years, including the N-Zones, Blues for Breakfast and Phish side-project Pork Tornado, Moore played the inaugural Burlington Discover Jazz Festival in 1984. Despite recent health problems, Moore makes his triumphant return as part of the Main Street Block Party that closes the fest. In a year when the festival is highlighting the history of jazz, it's fitting for a musician as integral to local music history as Moore to take the spotlight, along with the Youth Social Justice Band, Alex Stewart and Friends, Mal Maïz and the Trumpet Titan's Tribute Band.

When: Sunday, June 11, 5:40 p.m.
Where: Main Street
Why: Few musicians move through blues, jazz and rock music as effortlessly as Moore.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Jazz Quest | Seven shows not to miss at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival"

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