Arts music festival

Bringing jazz from all over the world to Boston

A free annual event organized by the Berklee College of Music

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Children and adults played with musical instruments at the Instrument Petting Zoo during the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival held in Boston this past Saturday.
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The Berklee P-Funk Ensemble performs during the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival.

The Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival

Columbus Avenue, between Massachusetts Avenue and Burke Street

12 p.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013

Each year in Boston’s South End, thousands of people — from all around Boston and all around the world, aged six to sixty — gather around for one reason: jazz. Tents line several blocks along Columbus Ave., with vendors for ethnic art pieces, t-shirts, cotton candy, and potato tornadoes. Most of the attention, however, is directed towards three stages, where rising jazz giants lay down the real goods on stage.

In the annual Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival, the Berklee College of Music brings in an eclectic array of the world’s best jazz musicians in an event free to the public. Now, in its thirteenth year, the festival continues to draw both old and new jazz lovers.

This year’s festival showcased groups playing a variety of jazz subgenres, from bebop to reggae to funk. Several distinguished artists, like drummer Will Calhoun, were also featured alongside Berklee’s own jazz groups. The Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors brought current Berklee students from around the world to the stage: “I’m from Japan,” said trumpeter Mao Sone, “the harmonica player is from Israel, the guitar player is from São Paulo.”

“We try to make a conversation in the music,” said Sone. “We speak different languages, but we all connect with music.”

While each stage was surrounded by eager jazz listeners from college to retiree ages, the BeanTown Festival reserved a special area for the younger crowd (i.e. anyone old enough to hold drum sticks). In the activities area, kids could go to the “Instrument Petting Zoo” and try their hand at a trumpet or drum set, or join in a “Scat For All” session.

Antonia, a previous resident of the South End, has been coming to the jazz festival for the past eight years. For the past four, she has also brought along her four-year old son. “He enjoys being able to come see the artists, hear the music, play the instruments, and he’s trying to find a place to get his face painted.”

The jazz festival is similarly a draw for jazz musicians, like John Funkhouser, an associate professor at Berklee, and the bassist of the Matt Savage Quartet who performed this year with the renowned saxophonist Bobby Watson: “I’ve been coming for years, but this is the first time I’ve played, and it was a total blast.”

Each year at the festival, an accomplished high school jazz musician is also recognized and granted the Natixis-Berklee City Music Scholarship Award, sponsored by Natixis Global Asset Management. This year’s $5000 scholarship will go to Samuel Joseph, from Readville, Massachusetts, who will also gain a spot in Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program.

As electronic, pop, and rock songs dominate radio stations and Billboard’s Top 100 list, many people express concern that jazz may be losing its appeal in the younger generations.

However, the Berklee BeanTown Festival — this year, with the theme “Jazz: The Next Generation” — may be a starting point for new listeners in finding a passion and appreciation for jazz. With the crowd of young faces bobbing their heads, tapping their feet, and even dancing among the audience to the music, it seems that jazz is definitely here to stay. For it seems that everyone agrees about one thing — as Funkhouser puts it, “I love the music, and it feels good.”