Boney James kicks off the 2014 Berks Jazz Fest

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Boney James ensemble.
Pictured are Boney James on sax; Norris Jones, lead guitar and vocals; Dwayne "Smitty" Smith, bass; Vinnie Colauita, drums; and Tim Carmon, keyboards. (Photo by Malcolm Lewis Barnes)

READING, Pa., April 3, 2014 – Boney James kicked off the opening night of the 24th Annual Berks Jazz Fest in style on the stage of the Santander Performing Arts Center, better known to frequent visitors as the historic Rajah Theater.

The Berks Jazz Fest is host to over 100 musicians, 40 major concerts, and 85 local events from the funky neighborhood “Peanut Bar” to the First Baptist Church. Nearing its quarter-century mark, this annual signature event is a spring kickoff festival featuring a unique mix of smooth, R&B, funk, blues and traditional jazz that’s appealing to all comers.

On opening night, Boney did not disappoint that packed house of adoring fans. The opening night concert started on time, and just after a brief introduction, Boney’s band held forth for almost two hours that included an encore followed a rousing standing ovation.

James’ performance featured a wide selection of hits from his latest CD release “The Beat,” which earned him his fourth Grammy nomination as Best Jazz Album. His self-described “R&B and Latin mash up” featured his alto sax on the hard driving rhythms of “Batucata,” or “the beat” in Spanish.

Boney James & Co. kick off the 2014 Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pa. (Photo: Malcolm Lewis Barnes)
Boney James & Co. kick off the 2014 Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pa. (Photo: Malcolm Lewis Barnes)

Boney was backed by a four piece ensemble featuring Norris Jones on lead guitar, Dwayne “Smitty” Smith on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and Tim Carmon on keyboards. The band shared the leader’s stylish taste for black and white deck shoes and his signature black stingy brim hat and matching basic black jacket. Not only did they look sharp. An added plus was the fact that these outfits would never allow the audience to see them sweat during their vigorous, non-stop 105-minute performance.

Included in the numbers they performed was Boney’s signature excursion into the audience to dance and serenade a series of ladies in the aisles as well as climbing into the seats to get up-close-and-personal with eager front row patrons who typically order their greatly-in-demand tickets months ahead of this annual performance.

James has been coming to the Berks Jazz Fest since 1995, and considers it the feature kick-off event of the Spring. The Fest includes two weekends and ten days’ worth of morning, noon and nighttime performances, including midnight “Jazz Base” jam sessions hosted by Gerald Veasley at the festival’s central headquarters at the Crown Plaza Hotel.

The same weekend that Boney James opened this year’s festival, Brian Culbertson was also on tap to perform his “Long Night Out 20th Anniversary Tour” featuring fellow musicians Rick Braun, Eric Marienthal, Chuck Loeb and Lee Ritenour. One of the most energetic and dynamic performers on the Smooth Jazz Circuit, Culbertson is known for his non-stop funk style that showcases both his keyboard and trombone talents.

Culbertson’s collaborative style is typical of the type of performance that patrons of the Berks Jazz Fest have come to expect. The musicians treat this ten-day event as a reunion opportunity, and don’t just drop in for a 90-minute performance before hitting the road.

Other collaborative performances coming up include Washington’s WHUR Night “Sly Reimagined – The Music of Sly & The Family Stone” performance, with Baltimore’s Maysa, Jason Miles, Nona Hendryx, and Alex Bugnon. WHUR also sponsors a daytime performance event featuring Chuck Loeb & Friends, Phil Perry, Everett Harp, Bobbly Lyle and Andy Snitzer at the Jazz Base in the Crown Plaza ballroom.

Other well-known groups and artists appearing in this year’s festivities include Spyro Gyra, Rick Braun, Kevin Eubanks, Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown performing at the acoustically unique Scottish Right Temple in suburban Reading, and Nick Colionne and the Sax Pack featuring Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole and Marcus Anderson.

Reading, Pa.
Reading, Pennsylvania is host city for the annual Berks Jazz Fest. (Photo credit: CrashMaster007, Creative Commons license via Flickr.)

To mix things up and place the focus on educational and community events, Keiko Matsui will also perform in this year’s event with the Reading Pops Orchestra at the Miller Center for the Arts on the campus of Reading High School. Generation Next, featuring Julian Vaughn, Nicholas Cole, Lin Rountree and Lebron will host a Sunday Jazz Brunch.

Not to ignore the blues aficionados in the area, each Friday night the Inn at Reading will feature an all-night schedule of blues artists including Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King, a tribute to Stevie Ray, John Nemeth & The Bo-Keys, and vocalists Shemeka Copeland and Alexis Suter.

Wrapping up the second weekend of the festival will be a Gospel According to Jazz Celebration performance at the Crown Plaza ballroom featuring a mix of some of the leading gospel and jazz voices in the country. Vocalist Oleta Adams will join the festival’s featured jazz saxophonist and flutist Kirk Whalum, his brother Kevin Whalum, horn virtuoso Rick Braun, guitarist Gerald Veasley, pianist John Stoddart, and the Doxa Gospel Ensemble for a spiritual sendoff.

The Berks Jazz Fest is host to over 100 musicians, 40 major concerts, and 85 local events from the funky neighborhood “Peanut Bar” to the First Baptist Church. Now in its 24th year, this annual signature event is a spring kickoff festival featuring a unique mix of smooth, R&B, funk, blues and traditional jazz for all comers.

To get more information on these ongoing 2014 festivities, download the official festival app from iTunes or the Google Play store or go online and get the complete schedule at BerksJazzFest.com.

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