- Will Bernard
This just in: The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival rules. Even if you're one of those prickly purists who bristle every year at the ratio of jazz to, um, not-jazz music (found at jazz fests the world over), you have to admit these 10 days in June are an annual highlight of the year. And why not? With the likes of Diane Schuur, the Kenny Barron Trio, the Marcus Roberts Trio, Juan de Marcos & the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Randy Newman (see our interview with him) set to grace stages around the Queen City, it's a fine time to be a music fan in Burlington.
Here's the thing, though. It's incredible that all of those big names and more are descending on our cozy lakeside hamlet, but seeing them ain't exactly cheap. Sure, they're worth the money — and then some. But some of us could go broke trying to catch them all.
Fortunately, the BDJF offers a bounty of excellent shows that won't cost you anything but time. More than 150 of them, in fact. The only question is: Where to begin?
To get you started, we've combed through the BDJF calendar to identify some of the most intriguing free shows over the first half of the festival. Come back next week for the fest's closing acts. Oh, and don't be afraid to take a chance on something you don't see here. After all, it's called the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival for a reason.
Friday, June 3
We begin, well, at the beginning. While most of the opening festivities happen later in the day, veteran local jazz guitarist Dayve Huckett plays the first show of the 2016 BDJF with a morning set at Leunig's Bistro. In fact, you could do worse than to linger on the corner of Church and College streets throughout the day — or any day of the fest, really — to get a taste of the Vermont jazz scene and maybe some steak frites. Following Huckett come the Jake Whitesell Quartet, the Chris Peterman Quartet, and Jenni Johnson & the Jazz Junketeers.
The main free event downtown is the Long Trail Live series, happening on three stages on the Church Street Marketplace. Local roots-soul duo Dwight & Nicole headline on the Top Block Stage in front of Halvorson's Upstreet Café; Boston Afro-funk band Macrotones open. Catch Boston up-and-comers Sarah and the Wild Versatile on the City Hall Stage with locals Steady Betty. Balkan-inspired Cocek! Brass Band hold down the Center Stage with Burlington funky bunch the Renegade Groove.
Getting off the beaten path, neo-soul songwriter and Vermont expat Myra Flynn is in town from Los Angeles and plays the first of her roughly 58 jazz-fest gigs at the Skinny Pancake. American Flatbread is an underrated BDJF hot spot; its schedule kicks off with jazz singer Tiffany Pfeiffer. Close out your evening on a worldly note with Cumbancha's Daby Touré at the Light Club Lamp Shop.
Saturday, June 4
Saturday is Big Joe Burrell Day. In honor of the late, great local singer, saxophonist and Unknown Blues Band front man, City Hall Park comes alive with a trio of bands, including West African dance band AJOYO, acclaimed guitarist Will Bernard with his trio, and vocalist Michael Mwenso with his fiery ensemble.
Just a few steps from the park, saxophonist and vocalist Stephanie Chou unveils her fusion of jazz, pop and classical Chinese influences, alongside keyboardist Kevin Hays, kicking off the Jazz at the BCA Center series.
Church Street again comes alive on the festival's second night. Acts appearing on the outdoor Marketplace stages include Portland, Ore.'s "heavy groove power trio" Trio Subtonic, Boston "funk machine" Akashic Record and Vermont native Walker Adams with his genre-bending band.
On the club scene, swing by the gorgeous new waterfront brewhouse Foam Brewers for equally gorgeous vocal jazz from local chanteuse Audrey Bernstein with guitarist Joe Capps — and maybe stick around for some classic country from Eric George and the Honky Tonk Band. (It can't be all jazz all the time, right?)
Smooth Antics vocalist Stephanie Lynn Heaghney lights up the Light Club Lamp Shop with a solo set — see the review of her new EP. Then maybe pop in next door for some gritty Afro-funk courtesy of Oobleck at Radio Bean.
Sunday, June 5
After a full weekend of overindulging in ... er, jazz, ease into Sunday with the smooth stylings of local blues-soul man Dave Keller on the City Hall Stage. Then check out the BCA Center for Brandee Younger, widely regarded as one of the finest young jazz harpists on the planet. (Yes, jazz harpist.)
If you missed Will Bernard, swing by Flatbread for his trio's brunch set — because eggs Benny pizza goes great with guitar jazz and a Bloody Mary. Speaking of pizza, you could opt for a special version of the weekly Bluegrass Brunch Scramble at the Skinny Pancake featuring Zach Nugent and Ed Grassmeyer's Crepe Tapes, a tribute to Garcia-Grisman-Rice the Pizza Tapes.
Back outside, proggy local outfit Japhy Ryder bring their ethereal fusion of hip-hop, dub and Afrobeat to the City Hall Stage on Church Street. They're followed by free-jazz outfit Triage. Afterward, get sweaty to the deep grooves of Grundlefunk. At the Top Block Stage, dig on sax ace Matt Parker and his trio, with guest vocalist Emily Braden. Boston funk-rock — or "runk" — band Otis Grove open.
Monday, June 6
- Mal Maiz
One of the festival's great traditions is hosting practically every middle and high school jazz band in the state for afternoon sets on Church Street. Swing down on your lunch break every weekday beginning Monday for your fix of "In the Mood" and "Stormy Weather."
Another great BDJF tradition is welcoming back hepcat expats who return for heavy gigging throughout the festival — many of whom probably got their starts with those afternoon school sets. Now based in Montréal, Parker Shper is one such talented prodigal son. Catch the keyboardist at Leunig's for a lunch set. Later in the day, local trio Silver Bridget offer their eerie renditions of pop hits played on musical saw — you read that right — at American Flatbread. Things get steamy at Radio Bean with the island grooves of rocksteady outfit Steady Betty, followed by cumbia ensemble Mal Maiz.
Tuesday, June 7
A little-known rule in Burlington is that you haven't done jazz fest unless you've caught at least one set from local guitar virtuoso Paul Asbell. Cross that one off your list with his Leunig's set on Tuesday. After work, swing by Nectar's for a cold beer by the open garage-door window and hot jazz with the Pat Markley Trio.
Venerated local psychotropical jazz outfit Gua Gua get heady at Radio Bean, while Ethan Snyder & Friends get spacey with experimental jazz shenanigans at Halflounge. In the evening, drop by the Skinny Pancake and hear some of the finest jazzgrass around with local supergroup Hot Flannel. Then grab a nightcap at the Light Club Lamp Shop and bliss out to the effortlessly smooth sounds of the Julian Chobot Trio.