When the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) had to cancel its über-popular Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival back in May, due to the COVID-19 crisis, its staff quickly began brainstorming ways to resurrect it. It wasn’t long before they decided to team up with Saratoga’s historic folk venue, Caffè Lena, which, in late April, was deemed “essential,” and has been hosting live performances there, with no audience, and streaming them to its YouTube page. Enter the Jazz Fest Stay Home Sessions, a weekend-long series of virtual concerts, featuring videos from national artists, as well as live performances from local musicians performing live on Caffè Lena’s stage.
“Freihofer’s has been a generous and steadfast supporter of Jazz Fest for the last 23 years,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of SPAC. “When presented with the possibility of creating a Virtual Jazz Fest, they didn’t miss a beat—pledging to support our efforts to bring great musicians and audiences together despite the challenges of COVID-19. Being able to create connection for jazz lovers—and support both national and local musicians, the latter performing from Caffè Lena—is a privilege.”
The sessions will begin Friday, June 26 and continue through Sunday, June 28. Jazz lovers can tune in for free to Caffè Lena’s “Stay Home Sessions” YouTube channel, without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Of the collaboration, Caffè Lena’s Executive Director Sarah Craig says: “Our devoted jazz audience gets to see some amazing talent from SPAC’s roster of stars, and Jazz Fest regulars will get a little taste of Lena’s intimacy.”
Stay Home Sessions performers include both Jazz Fest alumni and newcomers, creating a world-class lineup for this reimagined event. Viewers will experience produced video performances from national artists Jon Batiste, Béla Fleck, Abigail Washburn and Pedrito Martinez; in addition to live performances by local ensembles Chuck Lamb & Jorge Gomez, Garland Nelson’s “Reflections: A Motown Tribute Ensemble” and the Skidmore Jazz Institute Alumni Trio.
“It’s amazing how natural the fit is between two Saratoga legends—Caffè Lena and SPAC,” says Craig. “Our scale is entirely different, but underlying both organizations is a commitment to culture rooted in community, as well as an openness to innovation and change. Music brings out the best in people, and that’s what our audiences are hungry for right now.”
Below, find the full lineup for this year’s virtual Jazz Fest:
Friday, June 26 at 8pm
Four-time Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival headliner, and Grammy-nominated, Havana-born music sensation, Pedrito Martinez, will share his irresistible and seductive Afro-Cuban grooves to kick-off the festival.
Chuck Lamb & Jorge Gomez
Chuck Lamb and Jorge Gomez (Sobol’s husband) will come together to share their original “Cuban meets Jazz Fusion” music, which they will feature on their new recording project, currently underway.
Saturday, June 27 at 8pm
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Known to Saratoga audiences for his four festival appearances, fifteen-time Grammy Award-winning banjo virtuoso, Béla Fleck, has been nominated in more categories than any other artist in Grammy history; and remains a powerfully creative force globally in bluegrass, jazz, classical pop, rock and world beat. As a duo with his wife—singer, songwriter and banjo player, Abigail Washburn—Fleck has recorded two albums, including their self-titled debut that earned the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk Album.
Skidmore Jazz Institute Alumni Trio
The Skidmore Jazz Institute Alumni Trio is comprised of Brian Halliday (piano), Samuel Smith (bass), and Quinton Cain (drums). Members of the trio proudly hail from New York State and have attended the Skidmore Jazz Institute summer program as part of their musical training.
Sunday, June 28 at 8pm
Jon Batiste, who has performed at the festival three times, most recently in 2018, is a globally celebrated musician, educator, bandleader and TV personality (he’s the bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert).
Garland Nelson’s “Reflections: A Motown Tribute Ensemble”
Led by “soulist” and bandleader Garland Nelson—who was originally scheduled to make his festival debut with his Joyful Noise gospel program, “Reflections: A Motown Tribute Ensemble”—will bring an ensemble of singers from top Capital Region bands. “Reflections” pays tribute to the golden age of Soul Music from Motown, Staxx Records, Chess Records, and Philadelphia International.