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A taste of the 44th Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square

A prior festival shows people listening to jazz outside
Tri-C JazzFest
The Tri-C JazzFest launched in 1980, but it didn't move to its current weekend festival format until 2014. Despite a break during the pandemic, JazzFest has continued presenting a variety of jazz performances at Playhouse Square and on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.

Playhouse Square is alive with jazz this week for the 44th annual Tri-C JazzFest. There's music, workshops and even a mini street fair with food trucks and pop-up shopping right on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. Festival Director Terri Pontremoli said this year’s festival brings the world to Cleveland with Afro-pop stars Angélique Kidjo and Richard Bona, local jazz masters Dominick Farinacci and Dan Wilson, Journey’s Steve Smith, bassist Christian McBride and pianist Herbie Hancock.

“He hasn't been in Cleveland for years, and so we're tremendously excited about Herbie Hancock,” she said.

In the 1960s, jazz purists were outraged as Hancock integrated electric piano into what had been a largely acoustic genre. Five decades later, Trombone Shorty is injecting hip-hop into jazz. He’ll perform Saturday night after Hancock. The juxtaposition is part of Pontremoli’s belief that jazz continues to evolve and reflect America and its diversity.

“It is a very alive music,” she said. “What I love about the musicians themselves is that they listen to everything. They are very aware of different music and different styles. They incorporate so much into their current stuff.”

Many of the young people studying jazz at Tri-C have worked with artist-in-residence Braxton Cook. He’ll give a talk on Friday about saxophonist Wayne Shorter in the Jazz Kitchen, a pop-up tent where visitors can see, hear and even taste the work of alumni from Tri-C’s hospitality program.

“They'll cook up a recipe,” she said. “We generally have jazz musicians acting as the sous chef carrying on the banter with them. When the segment is finished, the audience gets to sample the food. It's just kind of like the way people hang and talk in their kitchens.”

It’s all part of Pontremoli’s belief that cooking and jazz go together.

“Cooking is like taking a bunch of really groovy ingredients and making something special,” she said. “It comes with food, but it also comes with music and especially jazz.”

The Tri-C JazzFest kicks off Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with Angélique Kidjo as part of the ticketed, indoor programming. The free outdoor programs start Friday at 3 p.m. with singer Reggie Kelly. The festival wraps up Saturday night with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.
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