The M&T Syracuse Jazz Fest took a different role in my life this holiday weekend.
Through more than two decades I’ve stuck a pad and pen in my pocket, hung a VIP-seating pass around my neck and made my way to wherever founder and executive director Frank Malfitano staged the fantastic event. For the bulk of the time my opinions were needed for the big daily. A few years after that I wrote for other media around town.
Saturday I went up to the hills of Onondaga Community College with my dear wife Karen for no other reason than to enjoy two bands on this busy holiday weekend. We packed our bags-in-a-chair and got to stake out ground, food truck dinner and relaxation.
The hills weren’t full yet, but with former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald as the end-of-the-evening headliner, they were filling fast.
We’d be packed up on gone by his smooth rock pop set.
A vocal tribute combining local singers Ronnie Leigh, Nancy Kelly and the New York Voices for jazz star Mark Murphy, who passed away in October, was the first act I wanted to see. Malfitano backed them with many great musicians, including New York City mainstay Randy Brecker and local star Joe Carello. It was an appropriate mash-up. Murphy was born in Syracuse and grew up in nearby Fulton before going on to worldwide fame.
Hover over a gallery photo for a description. Click on an image for an enlarged slide show.
I still had time to use my iPhone 6 to capture the mood around us.
And we headed to the food truck circle, too.
We both settled on Ponchito’s, the truck from the joint just up the road from the Little Bitty in the Syracuse city neighborhood of Eastwood. Two beef tacos for Karen, a beef quesadilla for me, smothered in fresh pick de gallo. We both decided that their food truck food tastes even fresher than the permanent takeout/eat-in place.
And it was an excellent entrée to the Tex-Mex swagger of the Mavericks. Led by Raul Malo, they are a longtime favorite of mine.
We’d settled on a spot adjacent to the food court, slightly elevated on a grassy hill and kitty-corner from the big stage. If you look at the far-range photo in the gallery, you can see the location we chose. It gave us a nice viewing vantage point. The sun was setting into our eyes, a bit, but I would not complain.
We spotted our dear friend Maureen, former reporter colleague at the big daily, and while chatting, she mentioned that significant Michael had nabbed VIP passes and they were sitting in the folding chairs up front. I declared that we were enjoying the change to our no-notes spot on the side this year.
I managed from my chair to shoot a short video of Malo and The Mavericks’ sound anyway.
I mentioned to Karen that when they’re swinging out, the Mavericks’ sound isn’t that far off from some of the Polka music I was brought up on.
The fest continues today, with Trombone Shorty headlining. If you’re heading up to OCC, enjoy.
Here’s a bonus video, with the New York Voices singing about beans a cappela.
Are you more of a fan of vocal jazz or instrumental jazz? Are you familiar with the work of The Mavericks, and if so, do you have a favorite song? Would you have stayed for Michael McDonald or gone on to other things this busy weekend?