The beat goes on: Jazz Fest returns with strut and other live music in the Valley in early October

  • Longtime Valley acoustic duo Jim Henry and Tracy Grammer will play an evening’s worth of Simon & Garfunkel songs Oct. 2 at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center. CONTRIBUTED/Tracy Grammer

  • The Art Blakey Centennial Celebration honors the music of drumming legend Art Blakey at the Northampton Jazz Fest Oct. 2. Courtesy Northampton Jazz Festival

  • Flutist and composer Alex Hamburger brings her quartet to the Northampton Jazz Fest Oct. 2. Courtesy Northampton Jazz Festival

  • Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and California cellist Natalie Haas will offer souped-up Scottish dance music at Hawks & Reed on Oct. 6. Courtesy Signature Sounds

  • The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, made up of five Massachusetts singer-songerwiters, bring an Americana-based sound to Gateway City Arts in Holyoke Oct. 9.  Image from DSP Shows

  • The legendary Judy Collins performs Oct. 10 at Northampton’s Academy of Music. DSP Shows

  • Singer, songwriter and guitarist Erin McKeown will debut songs from her newest album, “Kiss Off Kiss,” at the Shea Theater on Oct.  8. CONTRIBUTED/Shervin Lainez

Staff Writer
Published: 9/30/2021 3:50:19 PM

The Northampton Jazz Festival, shut down last fall because of COVID-19, returns this weekend, Oct. 1-2, with a busy schedule of live performances, with shows in Pulaski Park, several downtown restaurants and other venues, and a final concert at the Academy of Music that will celebrate the music and legacy of the late drummer Art Blakey.

And thanks to the festival producers and their sponsors, all of the music, save the Art Blakey show, is free.

Tonight (Friday), what’s called the “Jazz Strut” begins at 4 p.m. in Pulaksi Park and runs until 10:30 p.m. at the The Deck Bar & Restaurant, as seven ensembles play in six locations, with sets ranging from an hour to two hours. On Saturday, “Jazz Fest Day,” another seven performers play in downtown settings such as the Northampton Center for the Arts beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Ruth Griggs, president of the festival’s board of directors, said this year’s event will feature more female players than ever before, including Lioness, a six-member collective out of Queens, New York that plays Saturday at First Churches of Northampton from 3 to 5 p.m.

The one ticketed event, beginning 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Academy of Music, features the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration, a seven-member, multi-generational ensemble that includes several players who at one time were part of Blakey’s band, the Jazz Messengers, first formed in 1954 when Blakey (1919-1990) was considered a seminal figure in post-WWII jazz.

COVID protocols such as face masks are in place for all events; visit for more information on those and the full lineup and schedule.


Jim Henry and Tracy Grammer, Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, Greenfield, Oct. 2, 8 p.m — These two Valley acoustic veterans, known for their repertoire of Dave Carter songs, originals, and rootsy arrangements of tunes such as Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” will offer something altogether different this evening: the music of Simon & Garfunkel.

In an email, Henry, a multi-instrumentalist who has gigged with dozens of artists over the years, said he and Grammer have been playing a regular series of online shows since the pandemic set in, filming themselves in a studio Henry set up in his basement. They’ve used different themes for the shows, such as songs that begin with the letter B, and at one point they opted to try some Simon & Garfunkel tunes.

Henry says he’s been a fan of Simon & Garfunkel “from way back because they were part of my growing up. I have been playing many of their songs for years. But I never really tried to play their music as a duo. Learning the intricacies of their harmonies has definitely been challenging for me.”

Aside from learning the harmonies, he and Grammer, known for her rich vocals and graceful fiddle playing, have adapted songs such as “The Boxer” and “Homeward Bound” for their own array of instruments, including two acoustic guitars, mandolin and fiddle.

“I love playing ‘Song For the Asking,’” said Henry. “Such a cool guitar part. And singing the harmonies on ‘Sounds of Silence’ and ‘Old Friends’ … it’s such a treat.”

Hawks & Reed has jumped into October with a very busy schedule overall, in part because Signature Sounds, the Northampton record company and concert producer, had planned to reopen The Parlor Room this month and booked numerous shows there — but then shifted the gigs to Greenfield after the rise of the delta variant made the cozy Parlor Room a little too dicey a venue for a return of live music.

“There’s more room for presenting a show [at Hawks & Reed] and giving people some space to be apart,” said Signature President Jim Olsen. “And Hawks & Reed has been really good about accommodating our shows.”

Among Signature’s October lineup (the Henry/Grammer show is not part of that) is the duo of fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas, who come to Hawks & Reed Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. According to concert notes, Fraser, Scotland’s “premier fiddle ambassador,” and the “sizzlingly-talented” Haas, a Californian, offer “dazzling teamwork, driving rhythms, and [a] shared passion for improvising on the melody and the groove of Scottish tunes” — helping to “reconstruct and revive the Scottish tradition of playing dance music on violin and cello.”

Erin McKeown, Shea Theater, Turners Falls, Oct. 8, 8 p.m. — The singer, songwriter and guitarist based in Franklin County, who’s forged an iconclastic musical path for years that embraces rock, jazz, show tunes and more, will celebrate the release of her newest album, “Kiss Off Kiss,” her 11th studio record.

McKeown, who’s been teaching in Brown University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies the last few years, also wrote the music for the acclaimed musical “Miss You Like Hell” in 2018. But with her new album, she’s conjured the sounds of late ’70s/early ’80s rock, with lots of punchy electric guitar: think Blondie, Elvis Costello, and maybe a bit of Lou Reed. She’s got a new single out, “Go Along/Get Along,” from the album and a funny video to accompany it.

Her Shea Theater show will also kick off a lengthy tour for McKeown — her first since you-know-what arrived in March 2020 — that will take her down the Eastern Seaboard, to the South and the Midwest, and then to California and the Pacific Northwest.

Opening the show will be SPOUSE, indie rockers led by lead singer and guitarist José Ayerve and drummer J.J. O’Connell. The band will also back McKeown during her set.

Also on tap

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, a band made up of five Massachusetts-based songwriters — David Tanklefsky, Tory Hanna, Billy Keane, Greg Smith and Chris Merenda — bring their Americana sound and unique syncopation to Gateway City Arts in Holyoke on Oct. 9 at 8 p.m.

The venerable singer, song interpreter and songwriter Judy Collins, whose career spans six decades of performing music ranging from pop to folk to show tunes and rock, brings her legendary voice and blue eyes to Northampton’s Academy of Music Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.

Postmodern Jukebox is the rotating musical collective started by pianist and arranger Scott Bradlee, who beginning in 2011 began reworking modern pop tunes for vintage genres like early 20th-century swing and jazz.

PMJ has now become a YouTube phenomenon that’s incorporated some 70 performers, with the slogan “Today’s Hits Yesterday.” The group comes to the Academy of Music Oct. 13 at 8 p.m.

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