The annual Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival brings a mix of favorite musicians and new artists to the Morristown Green on Saturday, September 17th, starting at noon. An initiative by Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, the Festival returns for its 12th year thanks to the generous support of a long list of sponsors.
“We are so excited with this year’s lineup which brings very popular artists like Bria Skonberg, Walter Trout and Frank Vignola back to Morristown,” says Mayor Tim Dougherty. “Plus, we are so pleased to introduce the young blues sensation Veronica Lewis to New Jersey and the exciting big band of James Langton and Dan Levinson. It’s going to be a great day of music for everyone!”
This year’s Festival kicks off at noon with James Langton’s New York All-Star Big Band featuring Dan Levinson. Called “just amazingly great” by author and music critic Will Friedwald, the 14-piece ensemble plays arrangements from the big bands of the Swing Era including Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Artie Shaw. The ensemble includes many familiar names: pianist Rossano Sportiello, trumpets Brian Paseschi, Mike Davis and Joe Boga; trombones Jim Fryer and Harvey Tibbs; saxophonists James Langton, Will Anderson, Matt Koza, and Mark Lopeman; bassist Rob Adkins; drummer Daniel Glass; and vocalist/guitarist Molly Ryan.
At 2:00, the Festival continues a tradition established by the great Bucky Pizzarelli and showcases Frank Vignola’s Guitar Night at Birdland Band featuring guitarist Jimmy Bruno, keyboardist John DiMartino, bassist Gary Mazzaroppi, and drummer Paul Wells. Frank has invited the virtuoso clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski to join them for what has been called “the best jazz guitar lover’s show in the world.”
“We are thrilled to return to Morristown to play in this wonderful festival, particularly with Ken joining us. We plan to play some classic jazz standards which we know that the audience will love,” elaborates Frank.
At 4:00, the Festival brings back an audience favorite, trumpeter, singer and songwriter, Bria Skonberg and her quintet comprised of Gabe Schneider on guitar, Will Delisfort on keyboards, Adi Meyerson on bass, and Darian Douglas on drums. Bria, whom the New York Times called “the shining hope of hot jazz,” will blend some new material with classics, featuring her fiery trumpet work, award-winning vocals and always entertaining stories.
“It means a lot to me to make music with friends again,” Bria says, “and to share the healing power of music with audiences. I have loved performing at the festival in the past and look forward to returning.”
The 6:00 set introduces a 17-year-old sensation Veronica Lewis who has captivated the blues world with her rocking piano playing and soaring vocals. She has been compared to Dr. John and Pinetop Perkins, and her debut album garnered two Blues Music Nominations in 2022 for Best Emerging Artist Album and Pinetop Piano Player of the Year. She has also been awarded Boston Music Awards Blues Artist of the Year, the 2021 Blues Blast New Artist Debut Album Award, and the 2021 Blues Blast Sean Costello Rising Star Award. She will appear with Brad Dubay on guitar, Joel Edinberg on sax, and Mike Walsh on drum.
“I am thrilled to make my first appearance in New Jersey,” says Veronica, “and particularly pleased to be in Morristown which is the home of an organization that has been very important to my family, The Seeing Eye. My grandfather, who was a huge jazz fan and musical influence on me, has had a Seeing Eye Dog for more than 60 years.”
The legendary blues guitarist Walter Trout returns to the Festival for the final set of the day. Walter got his start in New Jersey and still considers the Garden State his home, but he honed his reputation with John Mayall and the Blues Breakers in the 1980s. Mayall has called him “one of the most talented rock and blues players on the world’s stage.” And he continues as one of the biggest names in the blues world with his newest CD, “Ride,” which debuted at Number One on the Billboard Charts in late August.
“I am looking forward to returning to my home state and am so happy to return to Morristown for this fantastic festival,” extols Walter. “I still consider New Jersey my ‘home’ even though I have lived in California for almost 50 years. And I cannot thank all of our fans enough for helping to make my new CD hit the top of the Billboard charts.”
The Festival is made possible thanks to a long list of sponsors including Morristown Airport, Bijou Properties, Deloitte, Hampshire Company, Inglesino Webster, Rainone Coughlin, Scotto Properties, Sills Cummis & Gross, Valley Bank, Atlantic Health, Delaware-Raritan Engineering, Headquarters Plaza, PFK O’Connor Davies, Alaimo Group, Colliers Engineering, Day Pitney, Greenbaum Rowe, MPAC, PSEB, Riker Danzig, Topology, Uma Flowers, Vin Gopal Civic Association, Vertical Capital, Whiting-Turner, and Morris County Tourism.
The Best Western PLUS Morristown Inn at 270 South Street is the official hotel for the Festival and is offering a special low rate for the weekend of September 16 and 17 so out-of-town guests can attend.
The Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival pays tribute to one of its founders Linda Smith and long-time committee member Mike Fabrizio, both of whom passed away in 2021.
Admission is free so bring your lawn chairs, blankets, and picnic baskets. For more information, visit www.morristownjazzandblues.org.