Once again I had the opportunity to emcee the Hampton Jazz Festival. This is truly a blessing for me because I grew up here. I can remember going to the Hampton Coliseum to see acts like The Jackson 5, The Commodores, The Temptations and of course, the hardest working man in showbiz, The Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown. So for me to share the stage with some of today's hottest artists in that same building is surreal. Add to that, I have history with the Festival itself. I was a patron of the 1st three Hampton Jazz Festivals. I remember being at Armstrong Stadium on the campus of (then) Hampton Institute for the 1st two Festivals and at the coliseum for the 3rd Festival (which was the 1st at the Hampton Coliseum). Stand out memories from the 1st Festival include performances by Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and Dionne Warwick. Of course, I had no knowledge of this music called jazz, I went because it was "a happening." That second year, I went solely to see Sly & The Family Stone but I have vivid memories of Rahsaan Roland Kirk(brother played 5 horns at the same time … phenomenal), Young Holt Unlimited and Ray Charles. All of the patron seats were in the bleachers. The only people allowed on the field were the press but when Sly finally showed up, the bleachers emptied and everybody jumped over the barriers and ran onto the field. We were up close and personal and we made sure we were able to "Dance to the Music." My main memory from the first Festival at the Coliseum was the performance of Mongo Santamaria. He turned that place out!!! And mind you, some of the other performers included Sarah Vaughn, Jimmy Smith and Miles Davis. My favorite Festival of all time (so far) was the 2nd one with Sly Stone. BUT, I have to say, THIS YEAR'S Festival almost topped it. It all started Friday night with the opening act, Sunshine Avery. She's one of those overnight successes that's been singing and performing for years. Her performance was personal because you felt like she interacted with every single member of the audience. And backstage, away from the lights and stage, she was so down to earth. I don't know what I enjoyed more … her performance or the person she is. Here we are cutting up backstage
The next performer was Eric Benet. Now, I knew what to expect from Eric because I've emceed many of his shows. I even remember emceeing a show he did at a nightclub in DC during his performing "shoeless" days. The brother can just straight up SING and he's really a cool dude. We reminisced a little just before he took the stage and after performing. We were about to take a picture when one of the roadies dropped something that startled both of us. That's why we look like this
While waiting for the stage to be set for Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, there was a commotion backstage. All these people all of a sudden showed up and were extremely excited. I'm looking around trying to see if I need to run away or what. Then I see the reason for the commotion … Jennifer Hudson was walking through.
I thinking, "What is she doing here? She doesn't perform until tomorrow." The ladies standing beside us asked her for a photo. She obliged. As you can see, Andre Senior (co-emcee) of WVEC, Channel 13 and I photo bombed the ladies taking the selfie.
Now it's time for Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue to perform and here they come from the dressing room. Looks like a photo opportunity to me. So ….
I have to admit, I had no idea who Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue were. Never heard up them. But in all of my 34 years doing this, Shorty was and is one of the most congenial artists I've ever met. Before his performance, we're chit chatting while he's warming up
He takes the stage and I head to the dining room. I figure, hey, it's a good time to get my grub on. I get in the dining room and my photographer (STUDIO COV) says "you want to get a picture with Jennifer Hudson?" I said, "is lard greasy? If I see her again, I'll ask." He says, "turn to the left." OH Snap! She was there with her band just kickin it. Of course, I asked and she was so gracious and sincere it caught me off guard
I asked her why she was here tonight since she didn't have to perform until the next night. Her answer … "Oh I gotta she my girl Jill Scott. The only thing I like more than performing is seeing performers. This is what I do." So we talked a little more and I, of course, got my grub then headed out to see what Trombone Shorty was doing. I stepped onto the main floor and was blown away. OH MY GOODNESS!!! I had visions of Mongo Santamaria's performance because Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue were TURNING THE HAMPTON COLISEUM OUTTTTTT!!!!!!!! EVERYBODY WAS STANDING AND PARTYING! I mean EVERYBODY!! By the ghosts of Mongo and James Brown, what madness is THIS!! They were performing "Shake it Fast" and the lead dude was sounding just like Mystikal(the original artist) and they were ALL THE WAY LIVE! At the end of the song, Shorty said let's hear it for … Mystikal. OH SNAP! It WAS Mystikal! After their performance, everyone was commenting how good it was. Even Dr. Harvey, President of Hampton University, stopped by to congratulate Trombone Shorty on his performance. Shorty said, "it's seldom I get to perform before this many of my (Black) people. Usually, my audience is predominately White. I'm loving this." Dr. Harvey asked him to perform at Hampton University. Shorty replied, "I'd love too."
By now, I'm tired (believe it or not, yeah I know), but there's one more performer, the headliner ... Jill Scott. I head to the stage to check with Stage Manager Steve who informed me that Jill had a produced intro. I ain't mad ...because that means my night is over. So I head out to the audience area to get my seat and watch a little of Jill.
So goes Friday night's Hampton Jazz Fest. Next time - Sunday's Hampton Jazz Festival.