Two weeks ago, my band, MDIII, took part in the second annual Easton Jazz & Music Festival. Originally scheduled for early September, it was postponed twice due to complications following Hurricane Irene. It was held on the grounds of Helen Keller Middle School at Pond Field in the center of town. In fact, the previous day’s rain made the still-wet grounds feel like a pond while muddying my black and white shoes in the process.
The weather was perfect as I surveyed the large field. There were two stages side by side, as well as numerous vendors selling their wares, from food to handcrafted designs. I caught up with the organizer, Eugene Leone Sr., an area real estate agent and the brainchild of this event. He is also the director of the Fairfield County Jazz Guild, a great vehicle for young jazz musicians in the area. I’ve heard these guys; they are excellent. In fact, I will be working with them as a guest vocalist periodically. I sensed a relief and happiness from Leone that after all the logistical problems regarding the hurricane and loss of power throughout the region that this was finally going to come off. This was an all-day event, starting around noon, and going until dusk.
MDIII was not on the original roster of artists for the festival. Leone and I discussed the possibility of me performing with the fantastic bassist Steve Clarke and his band, something I’ve done on a number of occasions but only if time permitted. The fact that he asked me to perform is testament to his respect for me as an artist. With Mother Nature wreaking havoc on the area, some artists had to pull out of the event, opening up a spot for my full band.
The festival was packed with great acts: Jazz Guild of Fairfield, with alumnus Tuffus Zimbabwe, now the house keyboardist on Saturday Night Live, New York-based vocalist Antoinette Montague, Norwalk’s Maydie Myles, Chris Coogan & his Good News Choir, Paul Gabriel, a great blues guitarist, Bridgeport’s legendary Dubose family, with Kenneth, Jonathan Jr., one of the best guitar players in the world, a gospel giant who has played with Branford Marsalis and served as Harry Connick Jr.’s musical director, and a guy I played ball with on the playgrounds of Bridgeport growing up.
Guitarist Chris Morrison, vocalist Nicole Pasternak, and the super-charged What Up Funk Band, led by Anthony David and Kevin Franklin, who closed down the show as darkness and rain descended on the spirited crowd, also added to this most diverse lineup.
Leone has plans for an even bigger event for 2012, a two-day festival, enabling him to allot more time than the 20-minute slots for the acts. It was somewhat bittersweet for me as a vocalist because there’s so little time to present the public with the total package. But, at the end of the day, it was proof that music is healing, and it brings people together in these tough times.
Recently, a commercial began running on local TV stations, produced by Bob Abbate Marketing, promoting Downtown Bridgeport as an attractive destination. Now I have always had mixed feelings on the viability of the downtown area as an entertainment district, but the commercial took on a personal meaning, because I am featured in it.
A few years ago, when performing with another band at Two Boots downtown, a musical segment was shot for an ad that aired back then. This time they cut the other band members, leaving me in, and added a cool close-up, because as they explained, “You are a true Bridgeporter.” The rest of the ad featured other music clips, with social situations mixed in. All in all, the commercial is nice. The bigger issue is, can, and will, the city’s residents support an entertainment district?
For me personally, this commercial, while a great one, is a paradox of sorts. Yes, I am representative of the city to a certain degree. The reality is, I don’t get a chance to perform in downtown Bridgeport much. MDIII plays Two Boots every other month, nowadays usually during happy hour, after initially playing the late shows. That restricts our support system, as people usually don’t come out that early, and it creates the perception that we’re opening up for the later band, a concept that I reject totally.
Combined with the fact that I’ve been on the outside looking in on various downtown events, passed over at times for some mediocre acts, I can’t say that I am a regular on the Bridgeport downtown scene, if there is one. Maybe I will have to take advantage of this commercial and approach the powers-that-be here. If I am fortunate to receive a few bookings, maybe then, the ad will be truly reflective of what goes on downtown from an entertainment standpoint.
This city is in a good position to improve a cultural image that actually is on the comeback. I may be biased, but my advice to the club and restaurant owners downtown would be consider live music, of all types, from acoustic duos, jazz trios, R&B and dance/funk bands, Latin, rock, etc. Offer something for everyone, and most importantly, advertise, advertise, and advertise some more.
You can’t build Rome in a day, but you can be at the forefront on changing the image of the city. I am a cynic, shaped somewhat by what I’ve seen and experienced here from my childhood, a realist who knows that Bridgeport is a tough nut to crack.
I do believe that if you build it, the people will come. Again, it’s on those who want to create a viable entertainment district to do what is necessary to make it work.