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The Berks Jazz Festival

This past weekend I attended the first three days of Berks Jazz Fest, an annual, 10-day event in Reading, PA. This year marked its 33rd anniversary and the final year of John Ernesto‘s leadership of the event. Based on my experience, let me say, I regret missing the previous 32 years!

I missed my first concert, Marcus Miller and Jonathan Butler, due to travel delays. However, as I entered the venue for my second show, I walked right into Eric Marienthal. It was our first in-person meeting, but I had taken some online classes from Eric back in 2020 during the COVID break. It was great to finally meet him.

Friday night, Najee did not disappoint. Not only were he and his band the best dressed group of my visit, they played the heck out of their set! Najee’s sax and flute playing were stellar and the band was tight! His special guests included Alex Bugnon on piano, Tom Browne on trumpet and vocalist Alyson Williams.

Saturday was a marathon, beginning with Kirk Whalum. Kirk never disappoints and this was no exception. His guitarist, Andrea Lisa was also exceptional as they played Vortex, one her latest hits.

Lee Ritenour was next (Dave Grusin was ill and did not perform) and played a great set with a small group that included his son, Wesley, on drums.

My day finished with Andrew Neu, Bobby Lyle and the Bright and Tight Horns. In the small ballroom, this group made big sounds and really amped up the day. Bobby Lyle was pedal to the metal and the rest of the band kept up with the 80 year old’s non-stop energy. But this is Andrew’s band and his playing was top notch, featuring his arrangements to several great songs.

Sunday rounded out my trip with Jazz In Pink, an all-women’s group featuring Paula Atherton. Paula was joined by group founder Gail Jhonson on piano and vocals, Brooke Alford on violin, Keyanna Hutchinson on guitar, Kya Karine on bass and Tiffani Worldwide on drums.

The Berks Jazz Fest continues through April 14, 2024. It has a great lineup for the remainder of the event and I will definitely be back next year to dine on the incredible music it has to offer.

Fred

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