September 24th through 26th 2010 marks the third time that Christian Bößner of smooth entertainment Ltd. hosted the European rendition of the Smooth Jazz Festival. After Kurhaus Bregenz in 2008, Kesselhalle Munich in 2009, this year’s festival took place at Parktheater Göggingen, a historic building of the late 18th century era called Gründerzeit, which was designed as a full-fledged theater including orchestra pit and served as an additional part of Orthopedic Hessing Hospital Augsburg, the significant aspect being that he must have believed in the healing power of arts and music. The impressive design and outfit of this place provided for a worthy setting and was met with high appreciation by audience, sponsoring CO-hosts and participating artists.
No less refined than the venue was this year’s lineup of artists: David Benoit opened up on Friday night and performed songs of his latest CD “Earthglow” as well as a series of his well-known, popular songs like “Kei’s Song”, “Letter To Heaven”, “Blue Rondo a la Turque” and “Freedom at Midnight”, the latter being a new arrangement interceded with musical quotations of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and performed in a way reminiscent of the TV character “Schroeder” of the Peanuts. Benoit was backed by the “Heavy Mellow Quartet” spearheaded by guitarist Stefan Machalitzky. The formation has earned accolades as a dependable and accommodating side act to the artists in previous years’ Smooth Jazz festivals and managed to surprise headlining artists as well as audience with some fiery solo parts by individual band members.
Rick Braun took the stage next and delivered an organic, passionate performance of his hits, including “Hollywood and Vine”, “Notorious”, “Better Times”, “Grazing in the Grass” and “Tijuana Dance” with saxophonist Paul “Shilts” Weimar joining him. Not only did Mr. Braun honor the occasion and venue by announcing his songs in perfect German, he also had audience wowed with a stellar vocal performance of the Jazz classic “My Funny Valentine” with David Benoit sitting in on piano and returning Mr. Braun’s earlier favor. As an already well-proven act from last year’s festival in Munich, Mr. Braun’s show made for an exciting as well as entertaining set, which was topped off by a surprise appearance of Chuck Loeb, who had just arrived that day, but would not miss the opportunity to sit in on a song.
Walter “Chepe” Blanco on guitar and John Odio on saxophone make “Akusticos”, who opened up on Saturday. The two have successfully established themselves on the Costa Rican music scene with a blend of Contemporary and Latin Jazz, informed by the big names of the worldwide Smooth Jazz artist roster.
Paul “Shilts” Weimar headlined the first set with guest appearances by Rick Braun. He presented amongst others “Good Evans”, “Look What’s Happened” and a cover version of Stevie Wonder’s “Tuesday Heartbreak”.
After a short break Mr. Chuck Loeb graced the stage for the second set. He opened up with an improvisation reminiscent of the intro on the song “Hiram” of his latest CD “Between 2 Worlds”, using a technique that is known as “sample and hold”: Parts and phrases are being “sampled” into the digital equivalent of a tape delay back in the day and get instantly played back, while Mr. Loeb continued to solo over that impromptu backing track. On the count-in of drummer Kai Schönburg, the Heavy Mellow Quartet seamlessly segued into the groove of “Just Us”, the opener track on Mr. Loeb’s “Smooth Jazz Radio Hits!” 2009 release, followed by the uptempo track “Let’s Go” on “Between 2 Worlds” and his classic “The Music Inside”. “Brother Ray” turned the stage into a steaming hot Blues club with Rick Braun and Shilts joining the band on the uptempo track and blowing the roof off! The standing ovations and calls for an encore didn’t come as too big a surprise after such an exuberant performance by the greats of the genre. They met the audience’s excitement with a jam session-like delivery of the Joe Zawinul classic “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, where Mr. Loeb as musical director of the set gave every musician on stage their moment to shine with scintillating solo parts, delivered in a round-robin four-by-four bar manner as it is typical of a club-like stage situation with multiple artists sitting in on a song, picking up on each others previous parts and countering them with ever-increasing energy, thus raising the heat to levels that had every listener jump to their feet, chiming in and clapping their hands along with the two and four downbeat – which is a rarety to hear from German music lovers, b.t.w. – unless they’re Smooth Jazzers, of course.
Mr. Loeb found the perfect round-out by choosing Chet Baker’s melancholy tune “Body and Soul”, which he and Rick Braun performed in a minimalist, unplugged-like, lyrical version using guitar and trumpet only, thus giving both performers maximum room to unobtrusively demonstrate the depth of both their virtuoso musicianship. Of the many highlights the night had already seen, this was undoubtedly one of those magical moments that tend to happen when top-of-the-line performers get together and bring their individual energy to the stage, leaving the audience silenced in awe and admiration.
The morning of the third day bore another first in the German Smooth Jazz World: Levon Mitchell of “Genauso Music” managed to convince Joyce Cooling, Jay Wagner and Celso Alberti into appearing at Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg 2010. Her concert sported many a track of her latest CD “Global Cooling” along with some live percussion only interludes that set a nice impromptu counterpoint to the instrumental parts. For the performance of “Revolving Door”, Ms. Cooling placed herself comfortably in a seated position on the edge of the stage, thus creating a moment of considerate intimacy with her devoted audience, who applauded most enthusiastically and got the band to perform two encores. Christian Bößner presented Ms. Cooling with a huge bouquet of flowers, which along with being warmly received by her German and travelling U.S. fans apparently hit home with Ms. Cooling.
Given the number of attendees and overall response it is safe to say that Smooth Jazz fans from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the United States experienced a musical highlight, most professionally and tastefully framed by a venue and overall atmosphere that didn’t go unnoticed with anyone attending. Per closing hour it was confirmed that there will be a succeeding Smooth Jazz event next year to be hosted in the same well-proven venue. The headlining artists unanimously expressed their wish to be on the roster for next year again. It looks as if Augsburg is about to become a hot spot to the genre.
©Werner Nieke, 2010, Wessling, Germany, thanks to Peter Böhi for filling me in in some places.