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At 55, the Hartford Jazz Society’s Venerable Jazz Cruise Still Steams Full Speed Ahead

Aug 31, 2016

Observing its 55th anniversary, the cruise shows no telltale signs of middle-age.

A king-size floating concert, festive party, picnic and delightful sight-seeing tour along the scenic Connecticut River Valley, the Hartford Jazz Society’s celebratory riverboat ramble weighs anchor on Saturday, September 10 at 11:30 am from the State Pier at Haddam.

Billed as the biggest, hippest, happiest floating jazz bash in Connecticut, the seven-and-a-half-hour round-trip odyssey sails down the Connecticut River to Long Island Sound and back to Haddam.

What makes this year’s run even a bit more of a jazz luxury cruise is that its headliner is the celebrated trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and his shipshape crew, Shock Value.

Pelt, a hard-swinging and top-tier trumpeter, plays in the groove or waxes eloquent in all genres, whether straight-ahead, acoustically pure, hard bop or plugged-in fusion. The trumpet master, who is invariably compared to the best and the brightest from both the distant past and the immediate present, will play continuous, alternating sets with the Paul Gabriel Blues Band.

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who will headline the Hartford Jazz Society's upcoming cruise.
Credit Maurice Robertson

With Pelt’s acclaimed and widely diversified discography as unassailable proof of his resourceful skill as a bold, fearless navigator, the trumpeter, composer and bandleader should be the ideal musical captain of the ship for the HJS’s popular river run.

Anywhere you go aboard ship, from stem to stern, from top deck to bottom deck, you’ll be able to hear the music. With Pelt at the helm on the bandstand, voyagers can enjoy the classy jazz soundtrack on a summer’s day as they cruise, schmooze, and nosh while wassailing on their way down the river on a Saturday afternoon. Choices abound.

On the long day’s journey into twilight, more intensely devout jazz fans can focus religiously on the music, checking out every element in Pelt’s palette: his expressive artistry, super chops, resilient grooves, mix of hard swing and lyrical expression, and refusal to be pinned down like an exotic butterfly into one simple defining category.

If so moved, you can dance to the music, savor the river’s flowing natural charm or just drift along lazily on your own wayward stream of consciousness. Or you can relax in your lawn chair and enjoy the panoramic pastoral riverside views and a fresh, picturesque perspective of life along the Connecticut.

Weather permitting, the top deck is your cozy place in the sun for soaking up a foretaste of early autumn, along with, of course, whatever nourishment and necessities you’ve stashed in your picnic basket and cooler.

Over the decades, the cruise has become an annual rite of passage, serving as an early marker for the end of summer and the arrival of fall with its promise of a bumper crop of jazz events throughout the region.

Paul Gabriel, who will play alternating sets with Pelt on the cruise.
Credit Maurice Robertson

Observing its 55th anniversary, the cruise shows no telltale signs of middle-age -- certainly not in picking Pelt, embracing the sound of the blues and even introducing spoken word performances by winners of jazz poetry contests.

A restless visionary, Pelt gets at the essence of the episodic nature of the narrative of his constantly unfolding artistry with a concluding literary riff in his liner notes for his fine album, Tales, Musings and Other Reveries. In it, the master reflects: “In recent years, I’ve come to regard my own recordings as a book, and as such it is my sincere hope that you find my stories as fascinating as they are seamless from chapter to chapter. Above all, I believe that when you finish listening to this recording, you will be better acquainted with me -- Jeremy Pelt -- a beautifully flawed human being.”

The Hartford Jazz Society's jazz cruise celebrates its 55th anniversary this year.
Credit Maurice Robertson

Boarding time for the HJS cruise is 10:00 am. Free parking is available next to the boat dock.

Bring picnic baskets, drinks, and coolers. Hot dogs are available on board. Ice and cold drinks are available free on the lower deck. Tickets: $65 per person; $70 for individual reserved table seating. All bottom deck tables reserved; tables of ten seats on bottom deck $600 until September 2, $700 thereafter. Adults only. No pets.

Tickets are available online via PayPal on the Hartford Jazz Society website, or in person at the HJS office, 116 Cottage Grove Road, #202, Bloomfield, during office hours Monday through Friday, noon to 5:00 pm through September 9. In-person purchases at other times can be arranged by calling the office at (860) 242-6688.  

Saxophonist Ben Wendel, who will open Firehouse 12's weekly Fall Jazz Series on September 16.
Credit Firehouse 12

Firehouse 12’s Fall Harvest

In yet another venerable seasonal rite, New Haven’s Firehouse 12 launches its weekly, 12-part Friday night Fall Jazz Series with saxophonist Ben Wendel on September 16, and closes with bassist and eminent string theoretician John Hebert on December 9.

Featuring top players in improvised music, the lineup includes cornetist/composer Taylor Ho Bynum, drummer/percussionist John Hollenbeck, pianist Kevin Hays and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.

Bynum, an original thinker with an irrepressibly inventive flair, comes fully armed to the Elm City avant-garde citadel with his 7-tette. His Magnificent Seven features himself on cornet in league with Jim Hobbs, alto saxophone; Bill Lowe, tuba; Ken Filliano, bass and electronics; Nicole Mitchell, flute; Tomas Fujiwara, drums; and Tomeka Reid, cello.

Here’s the complete schedule:

Ben Wendel Quartet, September 16; Taylor Ho Bynum 7-tette, September 23; Kris Davis and Craig Taborn, piano duo, September 30; trumpeter John Raymond-Real Feels, October 7; guitarist John Schott Trio, October 14.

Also, The Claudia Quintet with John Hollenbeck, October 21; keyboardist Matt Mitchell Quartet, October 28; percussionist Brian Adler-SHANKAR, November 4; vocalist/instrumentalist Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones Quartet, November 11; Kevin Hays Trio, November 18; Tomas Fujiwara Double Trio, December 2; and John Hebert Quartet, December 9.

Taylor Ho Bynum, who will perform at Firehouse 12 on September 23.
Credit Firehouse 12

Each concert is presented in two separate sets, at 8:30 and 10:00 pm. Tickets for all events are $20 for the first set and $15 for the second. They can be purchased online at Firehouse 12's website, by phone at (203) 785-0468, or at the box office beginning at 7:00 pm the night of the show. Season passes for both sets of every concert available for $210, a Firehouse fire sale bargain rate for all 24 sets.

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