April 26, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
The annual Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival is returning next month and its lineup has been confirmed.
The weekend event, which is free, will take place on May 14 and May 15 at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, which is located inside the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) campus at 153-10 Jamaica Ave. JCAL is organizing the event.
The festival will feature eight different acts and will be headlined by Grammy-award-winning drummer Jeff “Tian” Watts, who is best known for his work with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
The event will also feature acclaimed performers such as the Roy Hargrove Big Band and the Johnathan Blake Quartet, which is headed up by drummer Johnathan Blake.
The festival, now in its fifth year, aims to promote jazz in Queens by bringing some of the best jazz artists to the borough.
It also celebrates the musical genre’s rich heritage in southeast Queens by paying homage to distinguished jazz musicians such as the late drummer Milford Graves, who was born in Jamaica, Queens.
Graves, who died last year, is considered a pioneer of free jazz, an experimental approach to jazz improvisation that was popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The festival also comes at a time when JCAL is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“This is a special moment in the history of JCAL,” said Courtney Ffrench, the Interim Artistic Director at JCAL.
“This year’s Jazz Festival is a dynamic continuum of the rich tradition and legacy of music in Queens. It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Queens, jazz and JCAL.”
Other performers include the Birsa Chatterjee Quartet, saxophonist Yosvany Terry, pianist Gabriel Chakarji, the Jaleel Shaw Quartet and saxophonist Caroline Davis.
Organizers say that Watts is likely to be the name that draws festivalgoers.
“Along with explosive power, blinding speed and mastery of complex rhythms and time signatures, Watts brings a rare sense of elegance, tried-by-fire composure and a gritty street funk to his music,” according to JCAL statement.
Watts has released ten albums and also featured in the Spike Lee movie Mo Better Blues.
The Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival Lineup:
Noon – Birsa Chatterjee Quartet
2 p.m. – Johnathan Blake Quartet
4 p.m. – Yosvany Terry
6 p.m. – Roy Hargrove Legacy Big Band
Noon – Gabriel Chakarji
2 p.m. – Jaleel Shaw Quartet
4 p.m. – Caroline Davis
6 p.m. – Jeff “Tain” Watts