Jazz and Brew Fest boasts impressive lineup for Sept. 16

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Jazz will be filling the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center for the 14th year in a row Saturday, Sept. 16, when New Jersey Arts Incubator hosts the Jazz and Brew Fest once again from noon to 8 p.m. The event will host a variety of local and national jazz performers such as Oscar Perez, Bill Charlap, Alyson Williams, Vince Ector and Citrus, a band composed of West Orange High School alumni. A beer and wine garden will provide refreshments throughout the day while vendors sell international cuisine and merchandise.

“We get local and regional artists from New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia,” NJAI Executive Director Susan Anderson told the West Orange Chronicle in a phone interview on Sept. 7. “We try to highlight high-end jazz artists and the artists that are in town.”

The daylong festival is expected to draw a crowd of 300 to 400 and is for people of all ages, according to Anderson.

“This has always been an event for families,” she said. “Jazz is a classic genre from the 19th century. It already has a solid and loyal audience, so all of the jazz heads will be coming.”

David Peart, the producing director of NJAI, looks for local artists who have a solid following when booking them for the festival.

“Proximity and the musicianship of the artist are my biggest concerns,” Peart said in an email on Sept. 7. “They must have stage presence and be able to hold an audience throughout their set. Name recognition is essential for headliners, so a significant body of work is also important.”

Bill Charlap, director of jazz studies at William Paterson University, will be taking to the stage for an improvised solo piano set on the day of the event. Charlap, who said he knows thousands of songs, will decide that day what he will play.

“I play a lot of Gershwin and Cole Porter, and all of the jazz classics like Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck,” he told the Chronicle in a phone interview on Sept. 8. “It’s a relaxed atmosphere and a nice community event. It’s a nice way to end the summer.”

Charlap will be on his own at OSPAC, but he also plays in the Bill Charlap Trio with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, no relation; their most recent album, “Uptown Downtown,” was released Sept. 8. The trio was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2000 for their album “The Bill Charlap Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard.” Being accustomed to playing with two other talented musicians, Charlap is looking forward to seeing what else the jazz world has to offer at the festival.

“We all stand out from each other,” Charlap said about playing at a festival with many different types of jazz musicians. “So it’s nice to be around because everyone is doing something different.”

Right before Charlap plays, Oscar Perez will take the stage with his band, Oscar Perez’s Cuban-Afro Fusion. As the pianist of the group, Perez will share the spotlight with saxophonist and flautist Adrian Cunningham, bassist Anthony Perez, drummer Ronen Itzik and percussionist Emiliano Valerio.

“We’re going to be playing some Cuban folk music and Cuban-Afro fusion,” Perez told the Chronicle in a phone interview on Sept. 8. “We use some keyboards that will put a modern take on it. We’ll also be playing some Wayne Shorter and Thelonious Monk along with some original music.”

Perez, a West Orange resident, enjoys playing close to home.

“The commute is awesome,” he joked. “It’s actually nice because I’ve been traveling a lot and I’ll be traveling next year too, so friends and students of mine in the area can come and see me play. A lot of the time when I see people from and around West Orange it’s not in a musical setting.”

Perez said events like the OSPAC Jazz and Brew Fest are his favorite to play because of the number of musicians who are there. As a fan of Charlap, he said the OSPAC festival is a great place for them to connect.

“It’s a place where we can interact with each other, and I saw him play when I was there two years ago,” Perez said about Charlap. “He’s a hero of mine, so it was great to see him play. When you’re on tour and on the road, you’re not always with musicians who play the same instrument.”

Vince Ector is another West Orange-based musician who will be performing at the festival. A drummer, the Philadelphia native is currently the instructor of jazz percussion at Princeton University and performs regularly in New York City with several well-known jazz bands, such as the Charles Mingus Orchestra and Big Band, and the Orrin Evans Quartet.

His own band will perform music from their latest album, “Organatomy.” With Ector behind the drum set, Pat Bianchy playing the organ, Louis Williams on the saxophone and Rodney Jones playing guitar, Ector’s 14-year-old daughter Mikaili will make a guest appearance with her own saxophone.

“She doesn’t know about that yet,” Ector joked in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Sept. 8. “But I’m excited to bring her onstage.” Mikaili Ector is currently a freshman at West Orange High School.

Ector’s daughter won’t be the only young person taking the stage on Saturday. Citrus, a band made up of recent WOHS graduates will open the show. The band features drummer Justin Davis and guitarist and singer Sah Awundaga, along with a rotating cast who will fill in on other instruments.

“We’ve gone through a lot to get to where we are now,” Davis, who is now a freshman at Stockton University, said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Sept. 9. “We all both read music and play by ear. What we want to show is that we’re not really kids anymore, we’re young adults.”

Citrus will be playing a mix of their own original music and songs by popular artists like John Legend and Tank. Davis, whose career goal is to be an FBI agent, said that music and playing in bands will always be a huge part of his life.

“Most of my accomplishments haven’t been about being a police officer,” Davis said. “But I’ll always be a drummer no matter what I’m doing. We’re going to continue to do this until we can’t anymore.”

Just as these young adults return to West Orange for their music, the festival is a homecoming in many ways for several of the performers.

“I love playing here,” said Ector. “I love the town, and there’s a whole community of fans who support us a lot. At festivals I get to see musicians and friends I don’t normally see and we can all come together. It’s like a big family reunion.”