Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival is fast approaching, and it’s letting some fresh new faces kick off this year’s star-studded event. For the first time in its 42-year history, Saratoga Jazz Fest 2019, which will be headlined by Grammy winners Norah Jones and George Benson, will open with two performances by local student jazz ensembles from Saratoga Springs High School and Shaker High School. Designed as a unique way to launch the festival while showcasing some serious Capital Region talent, the two high school jazz ensembles will take to the amphitheater stage of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) to open the festival with Saratoga High performing at 12:45pm on Saturday, June 29 and Shaker High at 11:45am on Sunday, June 30.
“Saratoga is an incredible jazz city, known for nurturing local talent through its many institutions, anchored by SPAC and the Skidmore Jazz Institute,” SPAC’s President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol tells saratoga living. “For the local high school students who will perform on our stage before Grammy Award winners and legends like Norah Jones and George Benson, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The Saratoga Springs High School jazz ensemble, which comprises 21 musicians, will also get to participate in a private meet-and-greet with three-time Grammy-winning bassist and composer John Patitucci before his performance on June 29 with the Mercy Project. Shaker High’s jazz ensemble, which consists of 18 instrumentalists and three vocalists, will get their own dedicated meet-and-greet the following day with wildly creative, award-winning saxophonist and singer-songwriter Grace Kelly (who will perform later that same day with Django Festival All-Stars). Additionally, both student groups will have the opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of the music industry from festival producer and president of Absolutely Live Entertainment, Danny Melnick.
“Many students performing at the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival are seniors in our program,” says Milton Lee, the Jazz Ensemble Department Head at Saratoga Springs High School. “To have the opportunity to perform on SPAC’s stage before iconic jazz artists makes for an outstanding last concert for these students. After learning about this performance, the students’ motivation and energy have soared to an all-time high.”
Both Saratoga Springs High and Shaker High have produced some impressively talented performers over the years. Two recent singing sensations and veterans of the reality TV circuit, American Idol finalist Madison VanDenburg and Latham-based rocker Moriah Formica are Shaker alums (and both are also teaming up for a Times Union Center concert later this month). As for Saratoga High, versatile jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Giacomo Smith, one of the leaders of the London, England-based internationally acclaimed Kansas Smitty’s House Band, will be performing on the Charles R. Wood Jazz “Discovery” Stage on June 30. Smith has performed onstage at NYC’s Jazz at Lincoln Center and even played for the Queen of England.