One of the highlights of the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland, Ohio, this past spring was a celebration of two musicians who have been dead for decades: the 85th anniversary of the year that Miles Davis and John Coltrane were born. It was more than a tribute though—the festival presented people who had worked with the two legends as well as having contemporary artists look at their work. The Jazz Masters Live program brought to the festival Benny Golson, who composed and arranged for both Davis and Coltrane, as the guest soloist for the concert. TCJF SoundWorks, the festival’s resident ensemble comprising Cleveland-based musicians, were the backing band for the show. The concert was free to the public, introducing new and interesting interpretations of these classics from the jazz canon.
Before the performance, Golson participated in a live interview at the venue on the Cuyhoga Community College campus, which—working with a group of local partners—sponsors the annual music festival. The interview, moderated by Willard Jenkins, touched on Golson’s experiences with Davis and Coltrane, such as his initial reaction to a young John Coltrane and the first time Miles Davis played one of Golson’s compositions. After the interview, Golson took questions from the audience. The interview nicely complemented the concert for the audience members.
In addition, the Tri-C JazzFest High School All-Stars—made up of northeast Ohio students—performed a tribute concert featuring the music of Golson and composer/saxophonist Bobby Watson. The All-Stars were joined onstage by the two artists, along with drummer Ndugu Chancler and pianist Mike LeDonne. A master class was held by Golson two days before the All-Stars concert with 40 student musicians, in which he assisted them with arrangements of his big band compositions.
The festival, which ran from April 28 through May 8, 2011, annually brings in 30,000 to 40,000 attendees for its performances and educational activities and is considered the largest music festival in Ohio. An estimated additional 200,000 people hear live interviews and performances that are aired on the local NPR affiliate.