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Chester County Press

Branford Marsalis to headline Longwood's Wine & Jazz Fest

08/31/2021 11:02AM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Since its beginning in 2007, the annual Wine & Jazz Fest at Longwood Gardens has been the gorgeous harmony of what happens when the finest musicians in the world perform at one of the most stunning gardens of its kind in the world – all complimented by the pouring of wine handcrafted by the some of the finest winemakers in the region and the country.

For the sold-out audiences who have attended, the Wine & Jazz Fest has become the marriage of what happens when the quench of a cold Chardonnay melds with the hot steampipe of a saxophone; when a well-placed picnic blanket in the orchard connects a jazz aficionado with the headline performer; and where the tranquility of nature collides headlong with purposeful art.

None of this happened in 2020.

“As with many organizations all across the country, it was becoming evident by mid to late Spring that everything was either going to be shut down or pulled back quite severely for some time, because of COVID-19,” said Longwood Director of Performing Arts Tom Warner. “There weren't just insulated conversations that were taking place at Longwood. We spoke with artists and the wineries and as much as we didn't want to do it – it would have been the first time we had to cancel in 14 years – it just made great sense for everybody.

“But it was a very hard decision for all of us to make.”

On Sept. 18 – after a long and tortuous journey to resurrect what has become a Chester County tradition – the Wine & Jazz Fest at Longwood Gardens will return, as will headliner and Grammy Award-winner Branford Marsalis and other top acts in the recording industry.

Marsalis, who will be performing on the main stage with the Branford Marsalis Quartet, is one of the most influential and revered figures in contemporary music. The NEA Jazz Master, Grammy Award winner, and Tony Award nominee will headline an ensemble is revered for its uncompromising interpretation of a kaleidoscopic range of both original compositions and jazz and popular classics.

  In a span of two decades, 11 recordings, and countless stage performances, vocalist René Marie – who will perform with the René Marie Quintet – has cemented her reputation as not only a singer but also a composer, arranger, theatrical performer, and teacher. Guided and tempered by powerful life lessons and rooted in jazz traditions laid down by Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and other leading ladies of past generations, she borrows various elements of folk, R&B, and even classical and country to create a captivating hybrid style.

With his band Creole Soul, trumpeter Etienne Charles will bring a myriad of rhythms from the French-, Spanish-, English-, and Dutch-speaking Caribbean to the Longwood stage, as well as the New Orleans trumpet tradition, in his trademark instrumental swagger. Receiving critical acclaim for his exciting performances, thrilling compositions, and knack for connecting with audiences worldwide, he has performed or recorded with Monty Alexander, Roberta Flack, Wynton Marsalis, and many others.

Known for their unique ability to combine classic New Orleans funk and R&B with hip hop influences, High & Mighty Brass has shared the stage with legends such as Dr. John, Rebirth Brass Band, and Trombone Shorty.

Inspired by the music of Brazil, Philadelphia-based Ensemble Novo creates a tropical chill vibe with its unique sound, courtesy of its tenor saxophone, vibraphone, electric and nylon string guitars, bass, drums, and percussion.

The festival will also provide several wine stations throughout the festival grounds, featuring popular varietals from France, Italy and California, as well as wine from Pennsylvania winemakers 1723 Vineyards; Bella Terra Vineyards; Hungry Run Wine Cellars; KingView Mead, Wine and Cider; Nissley Vineyards; Paradocx Vineyard; Penns Woods Winery and Woody Lodge Winery.

Warner said that every one of the musicians performing at this year's festival have played there before, and when word circulated that the 2020 event would be canceled, several told the festival's organizers that they would commit to performing in 2021. It's no great surprise, given that the Wine & Jazz Festival has cemented itself as one of the most well-organized and highest- attended jazz festivals in the Northeast.

“Any performer who arrives here to play for the first time – whether they are going to be in our open air theater, one of our other outdoor locations or in our Conservatory -- are just blown away by the beauty of this place, and with the idea that they actually get to do their favorite thing in such a beautiful location,” Warner said. “It was as if they had died and gone to Heaven. Our performers began to talk about Longwood Gardens with other musicians, and now I get phone calls from agents, managers and artists, asking me if there is room for them to perform there.

“We feel that the Wine & Jazz Festival really perfectly capsulizes the mission of Longwood Gardens, which is to showcase the very, very best in horticulture, education and the arts,” Warner added. “This festival does just that. It brings so much to the individual palette while you're here and it puts all of your senses into play, as well.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].

Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens