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Grammy Nominees Headline Fox Jazz Fest

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jazzfest_renemarieBY George Halas

Grammy nominees Tom Harrell and Rene Marie will headline the 22nd annual Fox Jazz Festival to be held in beautiful and idyllic Jefferson Park in Menasha on Saturday, September 5th and Sunday, September 6th, starting at noon on both days. Admission is free.

In addition, the traditional and always surprising “Festival Jam” anchored by The Noah Harmon Trio will be held Saturday evening at The Holiday Inn Riverwalk in Neenah beginning at 8 p.m. The Holiday Inn also offers a special rate for Fox Jazz Fest Fans.

Fox Jazz Fest also offers an educational component. Trumpeter Marlin McKay will conduct a clinic, free and open to all, at Jefferson Park on Sunday at 10 a.m. Those who have attended this interesting and fun session previously will note the change of time and location. McKay will also perform with his quintet in the Sunday lineup.

The festival continues to grow in stature under the artistic direction of John Harmon.

“This year in general is another winner,” Harmon said. “We definitely have a high-powered lineup from both the national and regional perspective. I’m excited about everybody. It’s all pretty cool to me.”

jazzfest_L1004314-2Saturday headliner Tom Harrell is widely recognized as a creative and dynamic jazz instrumentalist and composer. While he is a master of the jazz idiom, he constantly seeks new challenges and influences. Even with a discography of over 260 recordings and a career that spans more than four decades, Harrell has managed to stay fresh and current as he continues to actively record and tour around the world. He is a frequent winner in Down Beat and Jazz Times magazines’ Critics and Readers Polls and a Grammy nominee. Harrell is also a Trumpeter of the Year nominee for the 2012 Jazz Journalists Association Awards.

“Tom Harrell has been around quite a while and is considered to be one of the best and most forward-thinking trumpet players in the world,” Harmon noted. “I would say that we are pretty lucky to have him.”

His music is at once intelligent, soulful, fresh and accessible. In contrast to Harrell’s tenure as an RCA/BMG recording artist (1996 – 2003) when much of his focus was on projects involving large ensembles, Harrell’s last five albums were made with the current members of his quintet: Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax, Danny Grissett on piano and Fender Rhodes, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. Each of these albums – NUMBER FIVE (2012), THE TIME OF THE SUN (2011), ROMAN NIGHTS (2010), PRANA DANCE (2009) and LIGHT ON (2007) – has received wide critical acclaim and won SESAC awards five years in a row for topping the US radio charts.

Tom’s latest album, “First Impressions – Debussy and Ravel Project” will be released September 18th.

René Marie – singer, actress and writer performing as “Rene Marie and An Experiment in Truth,” will be showcasing songs from I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt)  out November 12 on the adventurous, multi-Grammy®-nominated label Motéma Music. It is René’s third recording for the label and her 10th career album.

The album is a never-been-done-before vocal recording tipping the hat to Eartha Kitt and her fiery, sensual and clever interpretations of songs. It burnishes René’s reputation as the most provocative risk-taker among today’s jazz divas. Featuring star turns by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, trumpeter Etienne Charles and Australia’s Adrian Cunningham on saxophone, clarinet and flute, I Wanna Be Evil opens with a cackle of mischief. Produced by René and veteran producer/writer/programmer Mark Ruffin, I Wanna Be Evil features René’s longtime band: Quentin Baxter (drums, percussion, washboard); Kevin Bales (piano); and Elias Bailey (bass).

René Marie also is a woman of great strength and humor who walked a similar journey to Kitt. Married at 18, a mother of two by the age of 23 and a Jehovah’s Witness, she only occasionally sang. When her husband of 23 years issued an ultimatum to stop singing or leave, she chose music over the turbulent marriage and self-released her debut Renaissance in 1998 and toured as Ella Fitzgerald in a regional play.

She began experiencing a whirlwind of success rarely seen in the jazz world, winning over critics; receiving awards such as the Best International Jazz Vocal CD (besting Cassandra Wilson and Joni Mitchell) by France’s Academie Du Jazz; gracing the Billboard charts multiple times; and becoming a headliner at major international festivals. A gifted songwriter, her previous Motéma release, Black Lace Freudian Slip, features blues-heavy originals. Her label debut, Voice of My Beautiful Country, is an ambitious celebration of Americana and a striking display of her incredible ability to forge connections between songs most would never think to merge.

jazzfest_Renemarie_hi-res_3A hit at the 2011 Fox Jazz Fest, The Tom Gullion Quartet is back as part of the Saturday lineup.

“He’s got a new CD out and it’s really hot stuff,” Harmon said. “It’s not to say that he is playing better now, but there is a depth in his playing that is very surprising.”

Led by trombonist Joel Adams, The Chicago Yestet follows Gullion in the program.

“I don’t know if there is a better trombonist out there,” Harmon said.

McKay and his quintet occupy the 1:00 p.m. slot on Sunday, to be followed by Continuum and Madisalsa.

“Madisalsa is such an exciting and festive group with a great following,” Harmon said. “They are a high-energy, very polished 10-piece band with a very tight book. They were here a couple years ago. They were very well received and I was impressed to see lots of people dancing.”

The St. Mary Catholic Middle School Jazz Band gets the party started at noon on Saturday followed by the Neenah High School Jazz Band. The noon Sunday slot goes to the Notre Dame High School Jazz Band with the Pulaski High School Red Raider Jazz Band at 12:30 p.m.

To reiterate, there is world class jazz in Menasha on Labor Day weekend…and it is free.

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