Jazz Fest marks a milestone

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The 20th edition of the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival is almost here.

Featuring more than 1,750 artists in 300 shows, including 100 free shows, jam sessions, and workshops, the festival runs from June 23- July 1. Last year, the Jazz Fest attracted about 210,000 people, a record-setting attendance.

The Rochester Beacon will highlight shows throughout the festival. Here are some artists to watch.

Pat Metheny Side Eye

The first day of the Jazz Fest kicks off with Pat Metheny. One of the finest jazz guitarists, Metheny has legendary status in the jazz world through his fluency in musical style and guitar virtuosity. Metheny has worked with a wide variety of musicians from  Steve Reich and David Bowie to Herbie Hancock.

Pat Meheny
(Artist photos in this article via RIJF)

He makes a stop in Rochester during the tour for his newest album titled “Dream Box,” which is as whimsical and minimal as the title implies. He’s joined by Chris Fishman on piano and keys, and Joe Dyson on drums as a part of a project of his called “Side Eye,” a way for Metheny to spotlight and collaborate with rising musicians in New York.

Performance: June 23
Venue: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Time: 8:00 p.m. 
Tickets: $43-$83 + service charges

Samara Joy

Samara Joy

Samara Joy is a young emerging vocal sensation whose 2022 album “Linger Awhile” has drawn attention from musicians and fans alike, and a successful 2023 Grammy run with the coveted “Best New Artist” award. It’s easy to see why. Her smooth and completely unfaltering tone is reflected in some of jazz’s greatest vocalists. 

A recent SUNY Purchase graduate as a voice major and an “Ella Fitzgerald Scholar,” Joy is just getting started as the next big name in vocal jazz. She will  grace some  favorite classics with her outstanding vocal skills. 

Performance: June 24
Venue: Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music
Time: 6:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m.
Tickets: $35/door or club pass

Omara Portuondo

Omara Portuondo’s most recent album “Vida” has launched what she is calling “The Farewell Tour.” At 92, Portuondo is on one more tour with her retrospective final album before she retires. Her work as a musician and with the group Buena Vista Social Club has cemented her as an icon.

Omara Portuondo

Portuondo is celebrating her life in music — a well deserved reward for her irreplaceable presence in traditional Cuban music. A dedicated advocate for the arts and arts communities, her last performances are sure to be uplifting and invigorating. 

Performance: June 25
Venue: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Tickets: $33-$63 +service charges



A progressive rock orchestra featuring 18 musicians is something to behold. Trust me, I saw them last year at the Jazz Fest and the concept did not disappoint. So much so that I had to see them perform a second time on the same day.

The NYChillharmonic boasts incredible instrumental talent from its members, and some powerful prog-rock-inspired songwriting and vocals from Sara McDonald, the mastermind behind the whole operation. Be warned: their performances can get a bit loud and a bit energetic. 

Performance: June 26
Venue: Theater at Innovation Square
Time: 6:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: $30/door or club pass

Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt needs no introduction. With her winning fusion of blues, rock, R&B, and pop music, Raitt has had a massively successful career spanning 21 albums, and many hits including 1991’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and “Something to Talk About.”

Raitt stops at the Jazz Fest during her “Just Like That…” tour following the release of her newest album of the same name. “Just Like That” is a soulful explorative record that is representative of the COVID-era.  Raitt  will play new songs from her 2022 album and beloved classics during her headlining set on June 27.

Performance: June 27
Venue: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Tickets: Sold out

Akiko Tsuruga Organ Group

Akiko Tsuruga

Jazz composer and organist Akiko Tsuruga has been studying organ since age 3  at Yamaha Music School, and it shows. She uses the organ to a masterful degree with an air of flawlessness. In every performance I’ve seen, Tsuruga has a tendency to completely win over audiences with climactic moments in her playing; she has an amazing sense of when to pull back and when to go all in. 

Tsuruga is joined by Jeff Hamilton on drums and Steve Kovalcheck on guitar in her 2023 tour which leads up to her new album release later this year.

Performance: June 28
Venue: Hyatt Regency Rochester Grand Ballroom
Time: 7:45 p.m., 9:45 p.m.
Tickets: $30/door or club pass

Ms. Lisa Fischer with Taylor Eigsti

Lisa Fischer is a storied singer and songwriter who started her career as a backup vocal for artists like Chaka Khan, Roberta Flack, and the legendary Luther Vandross, with whom she has collaborated with for decades. She is an electric and versatile performer with a voice that can move mountains. 

Ms. Lisa Fischer

Jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti joins her in this performance which displays Fischer’s willingness to explore different musical styles. The pairing is absolutely enrapturing, they bring out something transcendental in each other. It surely will be an unmissable performance. 

Performance: June 29
Venue: Temple Theater
Time: 7:00 p.m., 9:15 p.m.
Tickets: $30/door or club pass

Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra

Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra (Photo by Sheryl Aronson via RIJF)

With trumpet player Winston Byrd as artistic director and composer Charley Harrison as conductor, the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra has been emphasizing  the “big” in “big band” jazz ever since its inception in 2022. 

The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra has talented individuals, making the whole of the group a powerful unit. The orchestra will feature both renowned trombonist Conrad Herwig and vocalist and original lead singer of the Stylistics, Russell Thompkins Jr., during the second set on June 30, and the second set on July 1.

Performance: June 30
Venue: Theater at Innovation Square
Time: 6:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: $30/door or club pass 

Performance: July 1
Venue: Rochester Regional Health Big Tent
Time: 8:30 p.m., 10:00 p.m.
Tickets: $30/door or club pass 

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

Trombone Shorty

Trombone Shorty is the king of jazz pop and jazz funk, bringing catchy grooves, sticky hooks, and a large sound to match the audiences he ropes in. He’s certainly a crowd-pleasing act and a natural performer, with an energy reflected in his danceable and exciting music.

Trombone Shorty is joined by his backing ensemble Orleans Avenue, that have been part of his tours since 2009. As a whole, they can take over a festival stage, a fact that was evident when they lit up Parcel 5 in 2019. Trombone Shorty hopped into the crowd during one of his songs and led an audience participation section. His headliner show will be free. Don’t miss out. 

Performance: July 1
Venue: Wegmans Stage at Parcel 5
Time: 9:00 p.m.
Tickets: Free

Free shows + high school jazz bands

Most of these shows need tickets, but the Jazz Fest also provides countless free shows to attend, including five of the headliner shows. These include St Paul & The Broken Bones, Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Artimus Pyle Band, and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.

There are many local acts the audience can see for free as well. A personal favorite: high school jazz ensembles. These groups are impressive, and coming out to see them play is a great way to support the rich music programs in schools around Rochester. 

Jess Williams is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a student at Ithaca College. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

One thought on “Jazz Fest marks a milestone

  1. Best wishes for another great Rochester International Jazz Festival. Regretfully, this will be the first one I will miss, since I have moved to Simi Valley, CA.

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