The Central Mass Jazz Fest returns with trios, quintets and free concerts

WORCESTER – Over its short history, the Central Mass Jazz Fest has proven to be adaptable, much like a good jazz musician improvising to the mood of the moment.

The festival started in 2019 as a free one-day event at Cristoforo Colombo Park (East Park) on Shrewsbury Street. There was no festival in 2020 due to the pandemic, but last year it returned as a hybrid virtual event with live “pop up” jazz concerts.

“We were really surprised. It went really well last year. We had a really good turnout and a lot of people watched,” said festival founder and organizer Mauro DePasquale.

Central Mass Jazz Fest takes on another new form this year when it runs from September 20-24 with free live events at five different venues, but once again featuring local, national and international jazz musicians.

The festival is a fundraiser, with a heavy reliance on sponsors, for public access television station WCCA TV and the media center, 415 Main St., where DePasquale serves as executive director. The festival is also intended to be a great time for music lovers and to show WCCA’s commitment to Worcester’s cultural renaissance. DePasquale is a jazz fan and musician.

“It’s an expensive program to present, but we think it’s worth it on many levels. It brings work to musicians and helps bring the community together,” DePasquale said.

Pamela Hines

This year’s festival kicks off at noon Sept. 20 at the Mercantile Center, 100 Front St., with a concert that will feature jazz pianist/songwriter and WICN 90.5 FM jazz radio host Pamela Hines and “the extraordinary horn runaway” Bill Fanning.

It’s a lunchtime gig and “we think it’s cool because it’s accessible,” DePasquale said. People working nearby can come in and relax, as well as more dedicated jazz fans. “It’s a nice place to relax.”

Hines and Fanning are “well known in the area,” he said.

The Russo Brothers

The same goes for the Russo Brothers Quintet who will perform from noon on September 21st at the Worcester Beer Garden, 64 Franklin St. The quintet have been a mainstay of the Worcester music scene for the past decade, receiving the Worcester Music Award 2021 for Best Jazz Act.

Jazz musician Jaki Byard

Starting at 6:30 p.m. on September 22, cinema-worcester and WCCA TV will present a short documentary about jazz legend and Worcester native Jaki Byard in the Park View Room, 230 Park Ave.

At noon on September 23, there will be a “Pop Up” concert at WCCA TV, 415 Main St., with guests including Peter McNemey, Joseph Reidy and Phil Madison of the Wachusett Jazz Quartet.

Worcester Youth Jazz Ensemble

The “grand finale” will be a concert at Mechanics Hall starting at 11 a.m. on September 24 with a lineup that includes the Worcester Youth Jazz Ensemble with Dan Gable; Cameron Campbell Trio; Donna Byrne (singer); and Greg Abate.

No registration is required; people can just show up, DePasquale said.

Donna Byrne

Byrne was invited by Tony Bennett to open several of his shows in the United States and abroad, including at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Abate is an internationally renowned jazz saxophonist, flautist and composer.

Meanwhile, the Cameron Campbell Trio are an up-and-coming band with strong Worcester ties. The trio is composed of Cameron Campbell, piano; his brother Conway Campbell, bass; and Jonathan Barber, drums. The trio will play a mix of compositions by Cameron Campbell and music by jazz greats.

Cameron Campbell, a graduate of St. Mary’s High School in Worcester, is a student at the Manhattan School of Music. He is no stranger to the Central Mass Jazz Fest, having performed there twice as a member of the jazz trio Isosceles Groove.

“The festival is a great opportunity and always fun,” he said,

Campbell’s Jazz accents modern jazz with a bit of avant-garde.

“My influences come from everywhere” he says

He started playing the piano at the age of 3. Later, he and his brother played with the Assumption University Jazz Ensemble, a community ensemble not just for Assumption students.

“At the beginning, it was difficult for me to play in this style (jazz). We definitely grew up in music,” he said.

Cameron Campbell

“We went from not being able to play music to being at the Central Mass Jazz Fest, so it’s been a cool journey.”

“He’s fantastic,” DePasqule said of Cameron and his trio. “It’s amazing. They just sound fantastic.”

Campbell said he would like to be a full-time performer and composer.

“I’m doing everything I can to advance my career,” he said.

For the September 24 performance at Mechanics Hall, “I would say that I want my music to be accessible to people while also being able to challenge people. Accessible, but also pushing boundaries.”

DePasquale tried to spread the word about the festival.

“I just want to make sure people know. It’s such a big event, I hope they show that by being there they’ll be supporting these artists. It’s free thanks to the sponsors.”

Sponsors include donations from the public; a grant from the Worcester Arts Council; thermal; David French music; OZARKS Community Foundation; Avidia Bank; Mall ; Bay State Savings Bank; Worcester Beer Garden; Cornerstone Bank; North East Property Management; mechanical room; AC Hotels; Berkshire Bank; and Worcester’s Downtown Business Improvement District. Media sponsors include Telegram & Gazette; WICN (90.5FM); Hunchback graphics; WCCA-TV; Alma Gaucha; cinema-worcester, and others.

Is the Central Mass Jazz Fest now a confirmed annual event?

“We hope so. Every year we evaluate it at the end. There’s a lot of work to do and we want to make sure it works,” DePasquale said.

“We are open for next year if anyone wants to volunteer.”

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