COLTRANE FESTIVAL PREVIEW
For the fourth year in a row the sounds of jazz will float over the lake by Oak Hollow Festival Park in High Point. The John Coltrane International Jazz Festival will welcome newcomers and legends to the Triad to celebrate a genre of music that was defined, in part, by Coltrane himself.
Joe Williams is one of the founding members of the Friends of John Coltrane, the non-profit organization that birthed the music festival, and the lead organizer for the event. For him the festival is about honoring a legacy.
“It’s about acknowledging such a fantastic legend who grew up in the area and had such a strong and long-lasting influence on music,” said Williams.
Williams says that he expects more attendees to this year’s festival than ever before, estimating that 4,000 jazz lovers will come to High Point from all over the country.
“The phone has been ringing consistently for the last 30 days,” said Williams. “I’ve gotten calls from Richmond to Atlanta.”
One of this year’s festival headliners is 10-time Grammy Award winner, George Benson. As a child playing on the street corners of Pittsburgh, Benson was hailed as a prodigy. He later went on to record the original version of “The Greatest Love of All” for the 1977 film depicting the like of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest. Benson later teamed up with Quincy Jones and dabbled in R&B flavors of jazz.
Williams is especially excited about some of the newcomers to the festival, including Morgan James and Andreas Varady.
At just 16 years old, Varady has already made his mark on jazz as a guitarist. He recorded his first album in 2010 and started headlining shows in Europe at age 13.
“At his age to have accomplished what he has – that’s impressive,” said Williams. “You kind of get that new blood to be that next great jazz person. We’re getting a chance to see him in his infancy, live in High Point.”
When Williams saw Morgan James perform at a club in New York City, he knew that he wanted to bring her style of jazz to High Point as well.
“I was impressed with the soulfulness of her vocals,” said Williams. “Not a lot of people are able to sing with that kind of emotion an expressions.”
James has received critical acclaim from The New York Times for her debut album, “Morgan James Live – A Celebration of Nina Simone”. James embraces the passion and sultriness of the classic jazz sirens. “Often, I think I’m from another time,” said James. “I just want to bring back the power of the singular legacy voice.”
Another festival artist who enjoys revisiting the past is Latimore, the Tennessee soul icon. Like Coltrane himself, Latimore got his start singing and playing in churches. He has been a fixture for classic blues since the 1970s, never straying from his roots, and he can still be spotted on late night TV programs.
“He’s a legend in his own right,” said Williams. “His style of music is kind of making a comeback.”
Rounding out the pack is saxophonist Boney James, who has been nominated for a Grammy four times. He has amassed a devoted fan base through the 14 albums he has released since 1992.
The festival will also welcome budding jazz musicians through student concerts. Williams says that the student concerts have encouraged families to attend with their young children. Winners of a student essay contest will be presented with new instruments.
“A lot of parents want to expose their kids to different elements of music,” said Williams.
Williams says that both the artists and attendees have commented on the beauty of the Oak Hollow Festival Park, and that he has noticed a lot of repeat visitors. According to Williams the artists love looking out onto the lake and enjoying the breeze during their performance. Other headliners have expressed an appreciated for the festival’s laid-back vibe.
“It’s becoming a truly international jazz and blues festival,” said Williams. “It brings a diverse group of people to High Point who explore the area and decide to come back.”
The Triad has embraced the festival, and local musicians will perform in the NC Coltrane All Star Band.
“We’re honoring a great jazz musician and people are respecting it and looking forward and asking me what we’re going to do next year already,” said Williams. !