The 2014 Pittsburgh Jazz Live International Festival took place this past weekend in downtown Pittsburgh. I should probably write about how wonderful this event is for jazz fans and for the city of Pittsburgh, etc, etc ……. because it is. It’s free and they normally bring in at least a few notable acts each year. However, as a whole, it just seems so incredibly smooth, fluffy and boring that it’s hard for me to get too excited about it. I should follow that up by saying that jazz vocalists are NOT MY THING and, unfortunately, it seems like at least half of the acts were vocalists or featured one. Vocals engage an audience, I get it. But, there just could have been so much more variety and diversity at something like this. Basically, in a nutshell, I am not the target audience for this thing.
To me it seems like they booked performers that draw a crowd aged 40-75, many of whom THINK they like ‘jazz” music or like the idea of liking it or something. After the lineup was announced a few weeks back, I posted a few acts of the top of my head that I would have loved to have seen at this. Jazz artists like Christian Scott, Jason Adasiewicz, Rob Mazurek, Mary Halvorson, Jeff Parker, Marc Ribot, William Parker, etc., etc. could have brought a much more unique and expansive musical element as well as a younger and more eclectic crowd. For future events, assuming there will be more of these in years to come, I’d also love to see them branch out to other types of music that, to me, are as big a part of “jazz” (if not more so) as several of the acts on this year’s lineup, like hip hop artists, DJ/producers, and electronic musicians (i.e. Flying Lotus, Bonobo, Break Science, mndsgn, Gaslamp Killer, The Heliocentrics, etc.).
Plenty of people will disagree with my opinion on this festival and that’s OK. I wouldn’t call it “awful” or a “waste of time” or anything like that. I did enjoy watching the Messenger Legacy set which was a tribute to Pittsburgh-born drummer/legend Art Blakey (see photo above). After their set, I made my way down Penn Avenue to check out Gregory Porter while hitting up a couple of local food trucks. Porter’s band was great and his vocals weren’t too offensive, I suppose. But the highlights for me were the moments when he stepped back and let the musicians dig in. Here’s a video of Porter’s sax player, Yosuke Sato, taking a solo early in the set.