ROCHESTER — Grammy-winning singer Jill Scott adorned Rochester on Friday night, but not just with her fine-tuned vocals.
Her light aura and lyrical relatability made her an act to behold.
Scott paraded through her catalog with ease and cracked jokes to the audience’s amusement. By the show’s conclusion, she proved her place at one of Upstate New York’s biggest jazz platforms.
Scott was just one of the euphonious headliners rocking the stage in Rochester last week. Thousands of fans attended the city’s annual jazz festival, a nine-day musical celebration featuring over 300 shows. Headliners included heavily lauded singers like Grammy-winning singer Seal, country singer Alison Krauss and fusion group Béla Fleck & the Flecktones.
On Thursday night, jazz rockers Lake Street Dive brought a sold-out Eastman Theatre crowd on a musical road trip. Lake Street Dive, fresh off the release of their album “Free Yourself Up,” played a palette of cuts such as their “Bobby Tanqueray” trilogy along with new numbers like “Red Light Kisses” and “Good Kisser.”
Vocalist Rachael Price led the band through a mix of genres and a number of fans weren’t able to sit due to the group’s heavy volumes of funk and rock. Price’s grace and charisma delivered fun to the stage throughout the night, but others in the group played major roles, too.
On “Mistakes,” trumpeter Mike Olson soulfully played the horn under a quiet force of percussive chatter from drummer Mike Calabrese.
After a skirmish of sounds from the band’s “Bobby Tanqueray” trilogy, members offered audience members a taste of their solo talents. Distinctively, Price used her reflective voice to cut across auditorium acoustics on the song “I Can Change.” Newly-added keyboardist Akie Bermiss shined on the stage, as well, with a cover of Shania Twain’s classic song “You’re Still the One.” Bermiss’ approach painted the cover as an original, however, through his gliding tones and the band’s backing harmonies.
As the weekend rolled onward, Scott took her rightful spot at the Eastman Theatre’s vast auditorium, too. Scott hosted a fusion of arrangements, from a Wu Tang Clan opening to a stream of sensuality on “Love Rain.”
Scott never missed a beat and she was accompanied by a trio of backup singers who refused to do the same, as well. A few minutes into the set’s opening, featuring songs like “Breathe” and “Slowly, Surely,” she slid off her shoes with the help of a stagehand. She made the venue her home for the night and she equipped it with everything from candlelights to a large red rug. The singer treated the audience like family, as she dished out her thoughts on everything from racial profiling to her preferences in bed.
In one interlude, Scott notably thanked “big d---s” for “their service” but also acknowledged the “medium” ones. The crowd laughed but also applauded at other spoken segments from the singer, who looked back on immaturity in relationships during one musical interlude.
Still, her essence glowed from the downtown building’s interior and her vocals remained ever present. The singer closed with fresher tracks like “Rolling Hills” and “Say Thank You” but peaked as she played the fan favorite “Golden” about halfway into the set.
Acts weren’t just taking Eastman Theatre by storm, though, as less popular acts packed equal punches throughout downtown.
Nicholas Payton’s self-dubbed “postmodern” New Orleans’ music brought a sardine-packed crowd to the city’s Kilbourn Hall. Listeners gazed as Payton showed off his chops on the trumpet and piano.
Toronto’s TFunk Crew delighted inside Rochester Regional Health Big Tent. The multi-piece group made its first round at fest and they injected fans with a series of jams in the process.
The crew, complete with a tambourine player, horns and an organ, asked the large-scale lounge to “shake everything” while tossing together jazz classics like Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”
Elsewhere, Gap Mangione, a Rochester native, led his big band at the Xerox Auditorium on Saturday. Mangione played compositions from jazz greats like Charlie Parker along with cuts from his own record “Planet Gap.”
Mangione, accompanied by a baker’s dozen, smiled as horn sections blared and a singer rode the beat. Mangione manned the piano and scaled his keys to tunes like “As Long As We’re Together” and a hometown tribute “Rochester, My Sweet Home.”
The pianist closed the evening with his brother Chuck’s classic, “Feels So Good.” Mangione magically whisked away the audience with his grooves and he received a standing ovation for his efforts.
Pianos continued to keep fans in their seats thanks to Grammy-nominated artist Geoffrey Keezer. Keezer, who performed numbers from his Kickstarter-funded “On My Way To You,” played to a mostly full crowd at Hatch Recital Hall.
Keezer joked with the crowd often and his dry humor played as a likeable tune in-between the games he played with his piano. From rapid to slow key taps, Keezer’s skill set was on full display and his individuality proved to be a crowd pleaser.
By nightfall, Tower of Power and blues guitarist Joe Beard’s band, each on parallel streets downtown, closed out the musical festivities. Although next year’s fest is to be determined, fans left delighted with what the city along the Genesee River provided them this June.
Benjamin Blanchet is the senior engagement editor for The Spectrum. His words have been seen in The Buffalo News (Gusto) and The Sun newspapers of Western New York. Loves cryptoquip and double-doubles.