After many years under the sun at the Goshen Fairgrounds, the Litchfield Jazz Festival is heading indoors this summer. The air-conditioned confines of The Gunnery’s Emerson Performing Arts Center in Washington will be the new home of the festival’s 24th edition, which is also expanding back to three days, July 26-28.
It’s the driving fundraiser behind the Litchfield Jazz Camp, which runs throughout July at The Gunnery. The camp’s 300 students — a quarter of whom receive need-based scholarships — are instructed by professional jazz musicians. Both programs are under the aegis of Litchfield Performing Arts.
The venue change was partly for financial reasons, as it is far more expensive to hold the event outdoors. And by putting the festival on the same grounds as the camp it serves, organizers hope audiences connect the two events. “There are so many people out there who don’t understand it’s all the same organization,” says Vita Muir, founder and executive director.
The festival will kick off Friday at 5:30 p.m. with an opening-night party in the Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens, a swath of land contiguous to The Gunnery and the First Congregational Church across the street, where jazz camp students perform all day Saturday. To recreate the outdoor nature of the festival from its fairgrounds tenure, organizers are offering free activities on the green Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with crafts vendors, artists and food trucks. A second fundraiser, Sunday morning’s Ladies of Swing jazz brunch, doubles as a show.
The festival lineup features veteran jazz musicians and emerging talents, including Randy Brecker and the Chad LB Quartet. The quartet’s saxophonist, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, is making his professional debut at the festival but performed as part of the jazz camp as a child. So did his drummer, Jimmy McBride, who was a longtime camper, and at age 8, one of its youngest.
Festival tickets are available for single shows or as multi-day/show packages. “We had wildly underpriced tickets for years because we figured we could get enough people on the lawn,” Muir says, adding that they just about break even on the festival in order to run the camp. “We are doing this with very a small staff; it’s a big mission.”
The festival’s goal is simple: to create an appreciation for the music and give ongoing employment to the people engaged in it. “We bring kids through jazz camp, run them up the line … and they hit the road as professional musicians,” Muir says.
LITCHFIELD JAZZ FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
Friday, July 26
5:30 p.m. Opening-night gala at the Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens
7:45 p.m. Litchfield Jazz Orchestra featuring Alexis Cole, Don Braden, Albert Rivera and Avery Sharpe
Saturday, July 27
1:00 p.m. Duchess
2:30 p.m. Randy Brecker and the Chad LB Quartet
5:30 p.m. “Goodbye to Childhood: A Tribute to Herbie Hancock’s Speak Like a Child” featuring Carmen Staaf
7:00 p.m. Mike Stern Band
Sunday, July 28
11:00 a.m. Sunday Jazz Brunch with the Don Braden Sextet and Antoinette Montague
1:00 p.m. Wycliffe Gordon & Friends
2:45 p.m. Mike Stern Band