Ridgefield brings the funk with new music festival

The first annual Jazz, Funk & Blues Weekend is coming to Ridgefield Sept. 13-16, with four days of great music happening at venues across the town.

“This is being organized and facilitated by the Ridgefield Economic & Community Development Commission with the idea of having all the musical venues in town highlight what they can do under the theme of jazz, funk and blues,” said Geoffrey Morris, the organizer of the event and commission member. “We wanted to bring it all together in one weekend so people could appreciate the music.”

Morris knew any festival would have to start with the Ridgefield Playhouse’s involvement, and he then looked at the other venues that would work well. CHIRP signed on with a season-ending concert and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum always likes to remind people that they’re about more than just art.

“Then there’s the library, which is more than just books; and the Lounsbury House is such a great event venue and we thought a Sunday afternoon thing there would be a great showcase,” Morris said. “Once we had the pillars, we put the word out that anybody could be part of the weekend. We discourage people from doing something at the same time as our calendar, but we encourage everyone to do some jazz, funk or blues event at another time.”

To that extent, many of the Ridgefield’s restaurants will also be getting in on the action, offering performances from some local musical talent. Participating venues include TerraSole Ristorante, Village Tavern, 850 Degree Wood-Fired and Bernard’s & Sarah’s Wine Bar.

“We’re also encouraging anyone with their own band to come out on Main Street and play,” Morris said. “They should contact us and let us know so we can suggest the best location and time to play.”

Legendary blues guitarist Robert Cray will headline the festival with a performance at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Sept. 15, playing the songs that have earned him five Grammy Award wins. The Funky Dawgz Brass Band will open for Cray.

“Beside the fact that it is a beautiful venue with great acoustics, it is a hometown show for me,” said Tommy Weeks, tenor sax player with the Funky Dawgz Brass Band. “It’s always special to be able to play for my family and friends that I grew up with. We tour all over the world and coast to coast here in the States so they don’t usually have too many chances to catch a show unless it’s here in town at the Playhouse. Also, being able to open for such a legendary musician as Robert Cray is a humbling experience. I’m sure we will learn a lot from watching him as well.”

Project Grand Slam, a jazz rock fusion band led by acclaimed bassist/composer Robert Miller, will kick off the festival with a free CHIRP concert at the Ridgefield Playhouse at 7 p.m., on Sept. 13.

“We will be playing a 90-minute set comprised mainly of the songs from our latest album, ‘Trippin,’ which is currently No. 3 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart and has garnered terrific reviews,” Miller said. “We’ve performed several times in Ridgefield and thoroughly enjoyed it each time. This included opening for Boney James and performing at the Martin Luther King event last January.”

On Sept. 14, Dayramir Gonzalez, Cuban jazz pianist and noted composer, will perform and deliver a lecture on Afro-Cuban music at the Ridgefield Library beginning at 4 p.m.

“The audience will be able to experience a wide spectrum of today’s Cuban music — from classical to Danzón, to Cha Cha Cha to Afro Cuban Jazz, blended with New York vanguard harmonies and West African sentiments,” Gonzalez said. “My vision is to have a night where the audience can enjoy intellectual music with groovy rhythms.”

Gonzalez, who was accepted into Havana’s prestigious Instituto Superior de Arte and awarded a musical scholarship to Boston’s revered Berklee College of Music, is excited that an event like this is taking place.

“We are all going to have a superb night listening, clapping, singing along, dancing and smiling. The band and the audience are going for a musical ride as a locked unit,” he said. “The opportunity to expose the community to all different type of cultures and its music is a great thing. Meeting new people is always a great way to improve our community.”

Gil Parris, an American Grammy-nominated rock, blues, jazz and pop guitarist, will perform at 2 p.m., Sept. 15 at the Aldrich.

The final performance of the weekend will feature the Ridgefield High School Jazz Band, under the tutelage of conductor Michael McNamara, playing at the Lounsbury House on Sept. 16, starting at 2 p.m.

“I think, increasingly, Ridgefield is becoming a cultural destination and fall is such a great time of year, because people are home and back to school, but can still come outside and do things here,” Morris said. “Fall is a time when people like to explore and do things, so we saw this as a great opportunity to show people what the town has to offer, and we expect visitors from Westchester, New York City and Upper Fairfield to come out.”

The event also is an unofficial kickoff to Ridgefield Wine Week, which starts on Sept. 16 and runs through the end of the week, culminating on Sept. 23. The Ridgefield Playhouse will host a wine tasting as part of the Cray performance and there will be a Sunday wine tasting as well at a place to be announced shortly.

“We think if there’s really great interest and a lot of people come and ask for more, that it can certainly become an annual event and annual festival,” Morris said. “We hope to see a lot of people come out and just enjoy the music.”

Jazz, Funk & Blues Weekend is a collaboration between the participating venues and the Ridgefield Economic & Community Development Commission. For a complete schedule of events, visit jazzfunk.org.

Editor’s Note:

This story has been updated due to a venue change for one of the shows.