Jazz House Kids’ Founder and President Melissa Walker describes the coming Jazz Festival. Courtesy Chris Drukker for Montclair Local.

Montclair Jazz Festival

Saturday, Aug. 12
Noon-9 p.m.

Nishuane Park (High Street)



“Jazz is America’s home-grown music,” Melissa Walker told sponsors and guests at a kick-off event for the Montclair Jazz Festival this past Thursday. Walker, a celebrated singer, founded Jazz House Kids, which presents the Festival, 15 years ago.

This summer the Jazz Festival will have more music in it than ever: it will include a two week ramp-up, Chief Operating Officer Lynne Toye told the guests standing outside on a steamy night. “One day just isn’t enough.”

The big day will be on Saturday, Aug. 12. “No tickets required,” Jazz Festival buttons declare; as always, the eighth annual festival will be free. It will take place at Nishuane Park from noon to 9 p.m.

But first, “Jazz in Focus,” a photography exhibit with work from Richard Conde, Patrick Hilaire, and the late Ed Berger, opens tonight at The Gallery at Hillside Square, and will run through Oct. 27.

On Friday, July 28, there will be an Old School Funk + Soul party, spun by “D.J. Brother Mister,” who, Walker said, “looks a lot like Christian McBride.”

From July 31 through Aug. 10, McBride, who is the festival’s artistic director and a Grammy-award winning bass player, curates a mid-day summer concert + symposium series at the Cali Schol of Music’s Leshowitz Hall, at Montclair State University, as part of Jazz House Kids’ summer camps.

And on Saturday, Aug. 5, “Jazz across Montclair” will feature Jazz House Kids’ student ensembles performing in seven locations on Church Street, including Center Stage, from 2 to 10 p.m.

For Walker, the achievement of the festival, which started “with 300 people sitting on the grass,” to a free, nine-hour event with 50 vendors and two stages, is a personal triumph. Growing up the child of an interracial marriage in Michigan, she found many doors closed to her.

Her mother, “who’s right here,” and her father, told her the difficult situation was an opportunity to make a difference.

“This is the dream of that little girl that just felt shut out,” Walker said.

An ensemble of Jazz House Kids students had been playing for the guests. During the festival, 10 Jazz House Kids student ensembles and vocal groups, including more than 160 students, will perform.

“When you bring young people together, and give them skills and tools and inspired teaching, they can go on to great heights,” Walker said.

She praised the community for allowing Jazz House Kids to thrive.

Local politicians came to support the event, including New Jersey Assemblyman Thomas Giblin, Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill, Montclair Township Council members Bill Hurlock, Rich McMahon, and Renée Baskerville.

In an interview, Baskerville said that she loves that the festival “provides the entire community with top notch jazz. Maybe some of those people wouldn’t be able to afford to go to the city for a night out.

“And I love Dee Dee Bridgewater.”

The Tony and Grammy award-winning Bridgewater is one of the headliners of the festival. She will appear with her band Memphis Soulphony.

Actress S. Epatha Merkerson will again be Master of Ceremonies.

Other musicians to highlight the festival include keyboardist Cyrus Chestnut, trumpeter Ted Chubb, Louis Prima Jr., and A Christian McBride Situation. A Christian McBride Situation is the name bass player McBride, who is the artistic director of Jazz House Kids, uses for any eclectic group of musicians he brings together, according to a release.

George Hayes, director of development at Montclair Cooperative School, said that “music is a very big part of our curriculum. It’s so in line with the way we think and what we want to accomplish.”

Local contractor Tom Minden, who grew up in Montclair, said that “it’s amazing to see the talent [Jazz House Kids] can bring here. I like seeing the performers being themselves.”