Jazz Fest Summer Festivities End With Leila Duclos - 27 East

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Jazz Fest Summer Festivities End With Leila Duclos

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Paris-based acoustic guitarist Leila Duclos closes out Hamptons Jazz Fest with her unique gypsy jazz. COURTESY HAMPTONS JAZZ FESTIVAL

Paris-based acoustic guitarist Leila Duclos closes out Hamptons Jazz Fest with her unique gypsy jazz. COURTESY HAMPTONS JAZZ FESTIVAL

Paris-based acoustic guitarist Leila Duclos closes out Hamptons Jazz Fest with her unique gypsy jazz. COURTESY HAMPTONS JAZZ FESTIVAL

Paris-based acoustic guitarist Leila Duclos closes out Hamptons Jazz Fest with her unique gypsy jazz. COURTESY HAMPTONS JAZZ FESTIVAL

Hamptons Jazz Fest creative director (and pianist) Bill O’Connell. COURTESY HAMPTONS JAZZ FESTIVAL

Hamptons Jazz Fest creative director (and pianist) Bill O’Connell. COURTESY HAMPTONS JAZZ FESTIVAL

Paris-based acoustic guitarist Leila Duclos closes out Hamptons Jazz Fest with her unique gypsy jazz. COURTESY HAMPTONS JAZZ FESTIVAL

Paris-based acoustic guitarist Leila Duclos closes out Hamptons Jazz Fest with her unique gypsy jazz. COURTESY HAMPTONS JAZZ FESTIVAL

Dan Ouellette on Sep 11, 2023

Most jazz festivals in the U.S. tend to open the curtains for a weekend or long weekend, then shut down almost as soon as they make an impression. Jazz comes and goes. It’s like the circus comes to town then moves on. That’s what makes the Hamptons Jazz Festival, now in its third year, such a rarity. This year throughout the summer the nonprofit Jazz Sessions Inc. team scheduled close to 40 shows on multiple stages throughout the Hamptons including the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, The Church in Sag Harbor and the Southampton Arts Center.

The 3rd annual fest launched on June 29 at The Church with the wonderful vocalist Nicole Zuraitis and her band the Dan Pugach Nonet. The sold-out affair was billed as the grand Opening Night.

This year for the first time, there will be a special End of Jazz Fest closing party at the Masonic Temple in Sag Harbor on Tuesday, September 19. The impressive lineup features the Paris-based rising-star singer, acoustic guitarist Leila Duclos who will fire up the stage with her unique gypsy jazz. Support on keys comes from renowned NoFo keyboardist/accordionist Gil Goldstein in his third appearance at this year’s fest.

Talking recently with Duclos shortly after she arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, for the weeklong Midwest Gypsy Swing Festival, she says this is her first time in America.

“I’m the only woman playing acoustic gypsy guitar created by Django Reinhardt,” she says. “I’m really the only one from France.”

She’s an astonishing player, conjuring up sizzling six-string rhythms, scatting with glee, and singing into the heart of original songs, Reinhardt classics and a sampling of American jazz.

After her debut in the Midwest, she’s heading east to New York for the first time to explore the “crazy, crazy city.” But her most important stop is the Statue of Liberty (“France gave this to you”). Duclos will also play the Village club Zinc Bar before heading to the East End where Hamptons Jazz Fest artistic director Joel Chriss has set her up with a jazz band for her last American stop.

She’s a remarkable artist who’s unknown in the U.S., so the fest has the opportunity to exclusively introduce her.

Highlights earlier in the 2023 festival represented a rainbow of jazz’s colors, including the straight-up cooker at Gosman’s Dock by Montauk-transplant pianist Bill O’Connell (the festival’s creative director) and his quartet featuring the legendary drummer Billy Hart and a superstar tribute to jazz god Charlie Parker by saxophonist Charles McPherson and East Hampton-based trumpeter Randy Brecker at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.

There was a tablas workshop, a Latin-fueled show, a rousing performance of the Harlem Gospel Choir and the first annual listening-and-guessing Blindfold Test by DownBeat magazine with O’Connell and scheduled for broadcast by LTV Studios. The only canceled show was tenor sax icon Houston Person who was unable to perform because of illness.

The presentation that turned heads the most was the dynamic performance at Parrish Art Museum by saxophonist J.D. Allen who drew an audience of 300. Described by a cross-section of attendees, his jazz ranged from radical to evolutionary.

When asked what the biggest surprises were in this year’s Hamptons Jazz Festival, Chriss at first doesn’t single out specific performances. Rather he looks at the big picture for the festival to even exist.

“The fact that this is happening is a big surprise,” says the East Hampton legendary jazz booker and agent. “After I had a near life-threatening illness, I came out here from my agency in New York to reflect. I had to figure out how to engage with the music in a different way. The answer came after seeing the drummer Claes Brondal leading his weekly jam session that was creating a jazz community. I recovered, and then it all came together. Should we do a festival? Even though we were still in the pandemic, we got great support, including from some key donors.”

Now just finishing up its third summer-long season, the festival has been produced by the nonprofit Jazz Sessions Inc. The executive director Brondal coordinates setting up incoming guest jazz performers and takes care of all the technical aspects of the sound.

“Am I exhausted?” he says. “More like fatigued. We have a shoestring budget that we see as an investment to keep the jazz alive in the East End. From the get-go 13 years ago in the jam sessions, we knew we could help to change the culture and its patterns out here by creating a jazz world. We set out to celebrate the music and bring it to the community. We produce eclectic, high-quality, unpredictable shows that we hope will educate and pique the curiosity of our audiences.”

Most of this summer’s shows were sold out, a testament to the increasing awareness and interest in the jazz idiom. Also, by stretching the festival out over several weeks, high-season residents and renters have the opportunity to go to a show or two.

“The whole experience of the festival amazes and shocks me,” says Brondal. “To get hundreds of people to see a show like J.D. Allen is a big step in our growth as a festival. Then there’s the Harlem Gospel Choir who were originally planned to perform outside at the Southampton Arts Center. Because of the weather they played inside. It was so emotional.”

Brondal also continues his weekly Tuesday night Jazz Night at the Masonic Temple with high-energy jam sessions.

“Jazz Night funnels into the festival,” says board member John Landes. “That means bigger crowds. Our volunteers and Claes and Joel pull it off. I didn’t grow up listening to jazz. I was a rock guy, but the more I’m learning about jazz, I’m more in awe of the musicians.”

“Over all, this season was very successful,” says O’Connell. “It was the best attended season. The quality is high, and we always get positive feedback from the audience. We’re building something here. We’re on schedule to make this a great thing for the community.”

But even though the artistic quality has been superb, there are bottom-line financial challenges. Without a flush of support, it’s not easy putting on a jazz festival of this nature that pays musicians fairly and compensates the venues for use of their concert settings.

“We’re basically breaking even,” says Brondal. “If we got $10 million, we could keep the music going for a long time. Constantly we need to find corporation sponsorship. Everything is getting too close. The math does not add up.”

“It’s the passion of all of us who are making this fest so successful,” says Chriss. “A key contributor this year was Spike Wilner who owns the club Smalls in the city and is also a fine pianist who played a great trio set at Parrish. Plus he co-curated all the Parrish concerts through his nonprofit SmallsLIVE Foundation. Spike has become an important partner for our festival.”

Even so, Chriss has said, “We are lagging in our fundraising push. We know people who love the music. That has made the Hamptons more cultured. In our demographic, we’re finding many people who grew up on rock ‘n’ roll, but as they get older have been evolving their listening tastes that often leads to jazz.”

Even though the end of the summer festival is fast approaching, the Jam Session Inc. keeps the jazz scene alive through its weekly Jazz Night at the Masonic on Tuesdays that is recorded by WLIW-FM and broadcast at 8.m. Sunday nights, perhaps more Blindfold Tests, and its successful monthly Winter Music Series with special concerts beginning in December.

The Jazz Fest End of Season Closing Party is on Tuesday, September 19, at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $40 which includes hors d’oeuvres and beverages. The Masonic Temple is located at 200 Main Street, Sag Harbor, above the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum.

— Shelter Island-based Dan Ouellette has been a contributor to DownBeat magazine (the jazz Bible) since 1988. He has written two biographies on Ron Carter and Bruce Lundvall and will publish his new work “The Landfill Chronicles — Conversations on Jazz and Eclectic Music Elevated to a State of Art” on Cymbal Press in early 2024.

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