Many years ago, Anne Davison, the wife of jazz cornet player “Wild Bill” Davison (1906-1989), used to wear a large button that read: “Show Me the Melody.” Methinks she’d be mighty pleased with the programming of this year’s Ventura Music Festival.
The 2017 version, “An American Season,” runs over two weekends with a range of musical styles presented in nine concerts in a variety of locations that include the Olivas Adobe, Ventura College Performing Arts Center, Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Pierpont Inn and even cozy Squashed Grapes, where student jazz competition winners will perform. Ojai talent appears in the form of singer Perla Batalla, jazz pianist/composer Roger Kellaway and composer John Biggs. Indiana-based crooner Michael Feinstein even has an avocado ranch just up the road, over the county line in Carpinteria. These and other performers will dazzle audience members, all under the calm guidance of conductor/artistic director Nuvi Mehta of San Diego.
From Buckingham Palace, the White House and venues across the globe (including his own eponymous nightclubs) as well as appearances on PBS and NPR, jazz crooner Michael Feinstein has engaged audiences with his “embraceable” preservation of the Great American songbook. He will be gracing the stage at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, accompanied by Sam Kriger (piano), Kirk Smith (bass) and Albie Berk (drums).
“I am going to mix it up with songs that people know and love and expect from me, along with great, lesser-known songs,” Feinstein said during a brief phone interview. “There are so many amazing songs out there that deserve to be heard.” He promises to present the music in a way that “brings out the timelessness” of the material, while peppering the program with amusing anecdotes and bons mots.
Lovely Perla Batalla promises a powerful program as she processes her grief over the passing of her dear friend, noted songwriter Leonard Cohen. Batalla (Cohen’s back-up singer for a decade) has created a tribute to the sage poet (with the blessing and support of VMF) for her special concert.
“I made a promise to Leonard to continue his legacy and sing his songs,” Batalla said. This will be the first time she performs with a string quartet. Later, the show will go on the road and be performed in other California locations, including Stanford University, the Broad Stage in L.A., Pasadena and Irvine.
Patrons can expect to hear Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah,” “To the End of Love” and “Take This Waltz” (from a Garcia Lorca poem) as well as “so many good songs” that Batalla “adores.”
“I never get tired of singing Leonard Cohen lyrics. They are always new to me every time I sing them.”
A “surprise” singer on the program this year is the award-winning jazz pianist/composer/arranger Roger Kellaway. Kellaway has recently returned from a tour in Japan. “Jazz is played everywhere, even in the elevators as background music!” he exclaimed.
Kellaway will be performing an adaptation of his evocative composition “Visions of America” for piano, violin and voice. Calabria Foti will accompany him on violin and voice, and Americana photos by yet another Ojai resident, Joe Sohm, will add to the experience.
Expect a rash of local friends and fans in the audience cheering on the Ojai folks — and if we are lucky maybe one or more of Michael Feinstein’s celeb pals will show up for his show.
I asked all of the artists about luring younger audience members to their shows. All had their own take; but the consensus all around was that music education in the schools and/or family members turning young people on to music is the best way to build fans. Feinstein cited his friend Liza Minnelli’s 1989 hit album, Results, with Pet Shop Boys, as her crossover vehicle to younger listeners (much like Tony Bennett was able to do). She told Feinstein: “Lots of fans are coming to see me now. Honey, all I have to do is get them in the seats!”
That being said, other performers during the festival that may draw a younger crowd include Simply Three and piano duo Anderson and Roe. Both have big followings on YouTube.
“Elton John is not alone in regarding John Jorgenson as the ‘guitarist’s guitarist,’ ” VMF Executive Director Susan Scott noted of J2B2, or the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, which opens the festival.
Classically trained millennial artists Anderson and Roe and Simply Three members are “classical rock stars devoted to arrangements and music that resonate for younger listeners and the 21st century,” Scott added. Both groups, she noted, are hugely popular on social media like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube “with millions of viewers. Their live performances are wildly popular for audiences of all ages, including boomers and seniors!” And with ticket prices starting at $10-15, depending on the concert, tickets are reasonably priced.
Young and old alike will find common ground at this year’s Ventura Music Festival. Hallelujah.
The Ventura Music Festival takes place July 13-16 and July 21-23. Times and venues vary. For more information, call 648-3146 or visit www.venturamusicfestival.org.