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Third Christmas City Jazz Festival features Easton’s Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts

The Pennsylvania Jazz Collective presents a smorgasbord of jazz for the third annual “Christmas City Jazz Festival,” 1 p.m. - 10 p.m., Bethlehem Municipal Ice Rink, 345 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem.

The event features 10 groups on two stages.

Festival headliner is drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. The Easton resident has performed with a host of jazz greats, including Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Michael Brecker, Betty Carter, Alice Coltrane, Ravi Coltrane, and Troy Roberts.

He’s a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow in music composition. He has film and television credits as a musician and an actor. He is a composer and started his own record label, Dark Key Music in 2007. He performs with The Watts Project, the Jeff “Tain” Watts Quartet, The George Cables Project, McCoy Tyner and Geri Allen.

Watts will be be featured with Craig Kastelnik & Friends in the 8:15 p.m. set.

“Craig [Kastelnik] is one of the world’s greatest Hammond organ players. He’s known all over the country,” says Pennsylvania Jazz Collective president David Roth.

“One of the [Jazz Collective] initiatives is to highlight the really excellent players we have right here in the Valley. Jeff Watts lives in Easton. We have been trying to focus on the people who live in our own backyard,” Roth says.

Dan Danish and Friends kick off the proceedings at 1 p.m. The group features Danish, piano; Jack Lamson, sax; Ephraim Corsino, bass; Greg DeLucca, drums, and Vince Martin, vocals.

The next set features the Cayden Wisner Quartet, winners of the “Pennsylvania Jazz Idol Competition.” Pat Kerssen, piano; Ben Seitz, bass, and Tom Czajkowski, drums, join guitarist Wisner.

“The competition is based loosely on the ‘American Idol’ program. We have knowledgeable judges who give the [high school and college age] players positive feedback, ideas of how to make their playing better. Pat Dorian and Rob Stoneback have been judges,” says Roth.

“We have given several of the players scholarships to Moravian [College]’s summer jazz camp. We’re helping them [the young musicians] get connections to teachers to help them improve as players,” Roth says.

The Nicholas Krolak Trio hits the stage at 2:15 p.m. with Krolak, bass; Jon Katz, alto sax, and Gusten Rudolph, drums.

The 3:15 p.m. set features the Nancy Colleti Quartet with Colleti, vocals; Colby Inzer, drums; Paul Rostock, bass, and Dave Leonhardt, piano.

Trombonist Stoneback heads up a Dixieland sextet at 4:15 p.m. Following that will be bass prodigy Gabriel Severn and his band, Teen Town. Joining Severn are Connor Rohrer, keyboards, and Logan Bedard, drums.

“They are unbelievable. Incredible. They left us in shock when they played for Moravian’s jazz camp last summer,” says Roth.

Next up is the Last Thursday Band, composed of other top Valley performers, including Lou Czechowski, keybords; Brian Bortz, bass; Daniel Gonzalez, drums, with vocalists Vicki Doney and Chet Brown.

Vaughn Stoffey’s Abbicis Quartet performs at 7:15 p.m. Clay Lyons, sax; Tony Marino, bass; Adam Arruda, drums, join guitarist Stoffey.

At 8:15 p.m., Watts takes the stage.

The evening ends with the music of La Cuchina.

“They do Latin jazz. They are a very popular festival band. They really get a party going when they play. These guys really connect with people and they play at such a high level,” Roth says.

Players include Vinnie Bianchi, sax; Daniel Gonzalez, drums; Marko Marcinko, keyboards; Erin McClelland, guitar; Paul Rostock, bass, and Robert Velez, congas and percussion.

Of the Pennsylvania Jazz Collective, Roth says, “Main thing I see is that no one is going to take better care of our art form than the musicians. We’re trying to advance the music as best we can. We can’t do it without people. We encourage them to come and support live jazz.”

In addition to the “Christmas City Jazz Festival” and the “Pennsylvania Jazz Idol” competition, the Collective holds a “Fall For Jazz” member party in October.

The Collective host “Jazz Series VII,” Nov. 14-16, Moravian College. This year’s event features jazz arrangers Andrew Neu, David Springfield, and Mike Tomaro.

“There will be clinics and workshops all day long. The arrangers will have their pieces performed and work with the students,” says Roth.

There will be a concert by the Moravian College Big Band and guest artists.

Christmas City Jazz Festival tickets:


CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJeff “Tain” Watts, “Christmas City Jazz Festival,” 1 p.m. - 10 p.m., Bethlehem Municipal Ice Rink, Bethlehem.