Berks Jazz 2006 Preview

Berks Jazz Fest
The Best Jazz fest in the world – March 17-26, 2006

by Val Vaccaro

This is one of the best smooth jazz festivals in the world!  If you’ve been to Berks Jazz Fest before (as have over 40,000 fellow fans), you know what I mean, and if you haven’t yet experienced the Fest, you’ll be in store for a great time!  The well-run fest is filled with great music, wonderful venues, and a friendly, inviting atmosphere of terrific people that manage the events; it’s also fun to check out the selection of creative merchandise (e.g., tee shirts, artwork, crafts, etc.). If the abundance of great music and exciting shows are not enough, Berks County is also known for its many shopping outlet stores. 

The 16th annual FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest ( runs from Friday, March 17 through Sunday March 26, 2006 and includes contemporary jazz, traditional jazz, big band, blues, Latin jazz, swing jazz, and other styles of music. This year’s Fest features more than 130 events at major venues, clubs and restaurants throughout Reading and Berks County, Pennsylvania. The fest is produced by the Berks Arts Council (

A Star-Studded Lineup

This year’s festival has another incredible lineup of top jazz luminaries.

The opening night festival kick-off concert will be a double bill with Grammy award winning vocalist Dianne Reeves and pianist Joe Sample on Friday, March 17th  at 7:30pm at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center. In addition, Grammy winner and internationally renowned flugelhorn player Chuck Mangione (known as the “cat in the hat”) will perform his magical music (e.g., “Feels so Good,” “Children of Sanchez”) at 7:30pm on Friday, March 24th at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.  

Another fantastic double-bill show will feature two favorite supremely smooth and soulful saxophonists Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum for two shows on Saturday March 18th at 2pm and 10:30pm in the Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom. The shows will be sure to include songs from their recent CDs, Albright’s Kickin’ It Up (2004) and Whalum’s new CD (which is topping the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart this February) Kirk Whalum Performs The Babyface Songbook on the Dave Koz record label Rendezvous Music.

Then there’s the winning combination of two dynamic performers of smooth jazz – the ever-popular  home-town PA trumpeter Rick Braun paired up again with tenor saxophonist and co-label Artizen Records captain Richard Elliot. They’ll be performing at 7:30pm on Friday, March 24th at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center. Elliot’s latest CD is Metro Blue (with the hit cover of “People make the World Go Round” which was number 1 on Radio & Records’ airplay chart for almost 3 months). Recently, Braun released his first CD for the new ARTizen label entitled Yours Truly, a collection of covers of Braun’s favorite all-time pop and soul songs.

Another addition is smooth jazz saxophonist Najee (topping the Billboard chart recently with his new CD   My Point of View on Heads Up) on Friday, March 24th at 10:30pm in the Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom.   Pianists Ramsey Lewis and David Benoit will be accompanied by the Reading Pops Orchestra on Saturday March 18th at 7:30pm at Sovereign Performing Arts Center.

Bassist Gerald Veasley will perform two shows with special guest vocalist Kurt Elling at Veasley’s Jazz Base club at the Sheraton Reading Hotel at 7pm and 10pm on March 24th. Veasley’s recent CD is a live recording At The Jazz Base! (Heads Up); Elling will be sure to bring his unique vocalese stylings and scatting on jazz songs from his various recordings.  There’s also the jazz/R&B legendary group Pieces of a Dream (whose soulful, sensual and funky new CD is Pillow Talk on the Heads Up label), will perform with special guest bassist Gerald Veasley on March 17th at 10:30pm in the Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom.

Variety of great shows

Here’s another whole slew of great shows that’s also in store for fans.

There’s the NEW sure-to-be-hot combo called Triad featuring guitarist/percussionist Steve Oliver (he was awesome on Rafe Gomez’ Groove Boutique TV show last September on QVC!), saxophonist Michael Paulo, and bassist Gerald Veasley, at Veasley’s Jazz Base club at the Sheraton Reading Hotel on Saturday, March 25 at 6pm and 10pm.

Another promising highlight will be Chieli Minucci & Special EFX featuring Ken Navarro and the Berks Jazz Fest Horns (The BJF Horms include Mike Anderson on saxophone, Bill Miller on trombone and Rob Diener on trumpet – last year they performed with the Heads Up Super Band).  This year’s show will also include a “meet the artists” with CD signings. The show is on Thursday, March 23rd at 7:30pm at the Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom.

Another sure-to-please combination show sponsored by radio station WJJZ 106.1 is on “Smooth Jazz Saturday” March 25th at 1pm featuring guitarist Larry Carlton & The Blue Sapphire Band plus guitarist Richard Smith & keyboardist Freddie Ravel Power Quartet with special guest saxophonist Kim Waters at the Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom.

Super-versatile pianist and vocalist Joe McBride (who has his own special mixture of smooth and traditional jazz, influenced by soul, R&B, pop, and blues) will have a number of shows at the festival. McBride and his Texas Rhythm Club band (whose members include some of the Lone Star State’s most talented jazz musicians: Wayne DeLano on saxophones; Dave Von Blohn on flugelhorn and trumpet; Larry Spencer on muted trumpet; Todd Parsnow on guitar; Martin Walters on electric bass and guitar; John Adams on upright bass; and Dennis Durick on drums) will perform songs from their new CD Texas Hold ’Em  (Heads Up label) Wednesday, March 22nd at 9 pm at the Peanut Bar Restaurant.  McBride also is doing three special dinner shows at 5 pm at the restaurant L’Arte della Vita in the Wyndham Reading Hotel Thursday through Saturday, March 23rd-25th. On Friday and Saturday he will be joined by the tasteful and diverse alto saxophonist extraordinaire Kenny Blake.   

Popular smooth jazz keyboardist Brian Culbertson will perform with special guest saxophonist Eric Darius on Saturday, March 25th, at the Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom at 10:30 pm.  Brian will also accompany his wife soprano vocalist Michelle Culbertson who will sing traditional hymns from her new CD Be Still My Soul on Sunday, March 26, at Atonement Lutheran Church at 4 pm.

Fresh and unexpected – talented jazz bassist Kyle Eastwood, (son of film star and producer Clint Eastwood) will perform a show at 4pm on Sunday March 19th at the new GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading.  Kyle’s first CD released in 1998 is From There to Here, an upbeat collection of jazz standards and original music with vocals by Joni Mitchell.  Kyle’s most recent CD  is Paris Blue (2004). Kyle worked on the record while living in Paris with his own family – the CD includes from his father and his daughter, Graylen who recorded the introduction to the title track when she was only 9 years old. Kyle Eastwood is quite popular on the London jazz scene, and promises to be a hit at the Berks Jazz Fest.

After Kyle’s concert, the classic movie jazz biography “Bird” will be shown about the life of bebop legend Charlie Parker (produced by Clint Eastwood). Kyle was introduced to jazz at an early age by his Dad who is a well-known jazz fan. In addition to performing, Kyle has worked as a studio musician. Also, Kyle has played on film scores — one of which is Clint Eastwood’s composition for “Unforgiven;” More recently, Kyle wrote a few tracks for his father’s blockbuster film, “Million Dollar Baby,” starring Hillary Swank, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood.

Also, on Sunday March 26th,  the smooth jazz radio-station WJJZ will once again sponsor its Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch, this time with dynamic guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. at the Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom – two shows – 10 am. and 1 p.m.

Blues artists too

This year’s Fest will once again include blues artists.  Grammy-award winning guitarist Robert Cray will perform with his Band on March 25th. Pianist/vocalist/songwriter Mose Allison and Guy Davis will do a show on March 17th at the The Inn of Blues, Inn at Reading ballroom. Pianist/vocalist Marcia Ball, Clarence Spady, and the Deb Callahan Band will all perform on March 18th.
Great ensemble combination shows

There will also be five wonderful ensemble shows.

The first ensemble show will be the Festival’s 16th Anniversary Concert.  This show should be a blast –and will surely be a popular event: “The Music of Marvin Gaye & Motown” featuring Jason Miles, Bobby Caldwell, Peter White, Kevin Mahogany, Guida DePalma, Mike Mattison, Nick Colionne, Jay Beckenstein, Candy Dulfer, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Bashiri Johnson, Gene Lake, Sherrod Barnes, Jonathan Maron, Dominick Farinacci, DJ Logic and others. The show will take place on Sunday, March 19th 7pm at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center.

The next ensemble will debut a special new part of the Festival. On March 22nd at 7:30pm, the kick-off Berks Jazz Fest Fantasy Camp Faculty Concert will include:  pianist Mulgrew Miller, vocalist Kurt Elling, bassist Christian McBride, guitarist Jimmy Bruno, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, trumpter John Swana and drummer Steve Smith at the Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom.  The Jazz Fantasy Camp, with Director bassist Gerald Veasley, takes place March 21-22Eight special students will be selected to participate, will pay a workshop fee and bring their own instruments (except keyboards and drums) to participate in the two day educational workshop on Improvisation,Ensemble Performance, Instrumental Technique, Jazz Harmony & Theory Arranging/Composition.   For all of those wannabe jazz players who would like to further develop their chops, and the fans that love discovering and watching them perform, let’s hope the Fantasy Camp Concert becomes a regular highlight at future Berks Jazz Fests! 

On Thursday, March 23rd, one of the highlights Fest fans really look forward to will take place. This year’s Berks All-Star Jazz Jam at 10pm at the Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom includes:  trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonists Richard Elliot, Kenny Blake, and Eric Darius, bassist Gerald Veasley, guitarists Chuck Loeb, Chieli Minucci, Ken Navarro, keyboardists Joe McBride and Tom Coster and drummer Steve Smith.

The fourth ensemble show will be “Ivan Lins & Friends” on Saturday, March 25, at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. This show, produced by keyboardist Jason Miles, will feature the legendary Brazilian composer/pianist Ivan Lins, sensational traditional jazz vocalist Jane Monheit, renowned smooth jazz/R&B vocalist Brenda Russell, pianist/vocalist Eliane Elias, the wonderfully emotive saxophonist Nelson Rangell, Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer, Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, guitarists Leonardo Amuedo and Chuck Loeb, percussionists Café and Vinny Colaiuta, the cool and funky bassist Will Lee (from the David Letterman show), and top jazz trumpeter Tom Harrell.

The fifth ensemble show promises to be a memorable one for Wes Montgomery fans and followers. A “Tribute to Wes Montgomery” is the Fest finale on Sunday evening, March 26 featuring some of the top smooth and traditional jazz guitarists around:  Chuck Loeb, Pat Martino, Paul Jackson Jr., Larry Carlton, Russell Malone, Earl Klugh and Jimmy Bruno – with a rhythm section of keyboardist Larry Goldings, drummer Vinny Colaiuta and bassist Will Lee at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.

Other noteworthy concerts

Vocalist Liz Longley, a senior at nearby Downingtown High School will do an opening set for pianist prodigy Taylor Eigsti and guitarist phenomenom Julian Lage on Monday, March 20th, at the Albright College Wachovia Theatre at 7:30 pm.  Longley draws upon a potpourri of musical influences to create a savvy and captivating sound that belies her young age.

If you’re an “Old Blue Eyes” Sinatra fan, you’ll want to catch the City Rhythm Orchestra, a terrific 15-piece big band with vocalists from Philadelphia. The Orchestra will play a tribute to Frank Sinatra on Tuesday, March 21, at the Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom at 7:30 pm.  In a similar nostalgic vein, WEEU radio station presents “The One and Only” Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in concert on Saturday, March 25th at 2 pm at the Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom.

On Saturday, March 18th at 7pm, there will be An Evening of Strings”featuringMichael Manring, Tracy Silverman and David Cullen, at Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base in the Sheraton Reading Hotel. Then on Sunday afternoon at 2pm on March 19th, there’s “Jazz Goes to Church” featuring Cyrus Chestnut, Kevin Mahogany and Kendrick Oliver & The New Life Jazz Orchestra at the Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom. On Monday, March 20th, at 7pm, the U.S. Air Force Rhythm In Blues Jazz Ensemble will perform a free community concert with special guest Tom Coster plus Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Also, traditional jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller with his Trio will perform at 7:30pm on Tuesday, March 21 at Albright College Wachovia Theatre. On Thursday, March 23rd at 7pm, there’s B3 player Gene Ludwig with his Trio featuring Dave Stryker and Vince Ector at Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base at the Sheraton Reading Hotel.  The next evening at 7:30pm, Friday, March 24th, there’s the River City Brass Band at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Later that Friday night at 9pm will be a “Jimi Hendrix Tribute” with The Carl Filipiak Group at the Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom. Also, on Sunday, March 26th, there will be a show at 3pm with Bona Fide featuring Slim Man, at Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base in the Sheraton Reading Hotel.

Free Shows at the Fest (non-ticketed events)

In addition to all of the great ticketed events, the Berks Jazz Fest always includes a number of entertaining free non-ticketed shows.  The town will be once again brimming over with lots of talented musicians who will perform at brunch,  lunch, dinner and after-dinner, and late-night events, from jazz, to blues, to rock and Sunday jazz worship services at various venues.   Check for details on times and places of non-ticketed events.  

Here’s a list of the artists:
  Groovemasters, New Fusion Assembly, Sax Summit II featuring Chris Heslop, Tim Price, Tom Strohman, Larry McKenna, Chris Heslop Band, Relatively Speaking & Friends featuring Ed McCartan and Suzie Ernesto; Erwin Chandler; Ray Allen & Bill Bower; Neil Wright; Jim Murray & Dave Eltz; Bunchafunk featuring Reggie Brown; The Blue Method; Groove Dawgs; Chuck Cahoe & The Fun Junkies; Fisheye; From The Hip featuring Mike Eben & Friends; Duck Soup & The Fowlmouth Horns; Ken Gehret’s Oui 4; Ed McCartan; Sharon Bailey Trio; Ray Allen Trio; The Blues Factor; Been There Done That; Uptown Band; Porch Dogs; Ken Gehret & Steve Rudolph; Tony Sands; Polish American Heritage Association Jazz Reception & Art Exhibit; Ken Blekicki Quartet; Paul and Robert Strause; Robbi K & Friends; Eric Steckel Band; Gerald Veasley’s Bass Boot Camp Jam III; U.S. Air Force Rhythm In Blues Jazz Ensemble, with special guest Tom Coster plus Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band;  Ken Gehret & Friends featuring Al Seifarth, Andy Roberts, Hector Rosado; Pretzel City Dixieland Jazz Band; Lower Case Blues Band; Alligator Zydeco; Bones of Contention featuring Doc Mulligan, Chuck Dressler, Jim Smale; Ken Gehret & Al Seifarth; Barbara Trumpio Trio; Ray Allen & Bill Bower; Mr. J; Great Jazz Divas featuring Julie Davis & Kelly Dow; Jump City Jazz Orchestra; Mike Guildin & Rollin’ & Tumblin’; Berks Music Educators Big Band plus Berks High School Jazz Chorus plus KU’s AfterHours Jazz Chorus; Scotti Mann; Sharon Bailey & Mark Huber; Deanna Reuben; Ray Allen Quartet; Frank Guido & Friends; Deanna Reuben Quartet; Loose Cannon; Pretzel City Dixieland Jazz Band; John King’s Dance Band; High Maintenance; Tim Price & Sue Terry; D3 & Company; The Blues Factor; Marty Mellinger & Friends; Burning House; The Steely Dan Show; Royal Scam; Rob Diener & Anomaly; Dave Mell’s Blues Band; Steven De Bonaventura; Skip Moyer Trio featuring Toni Lynne; Steve Walker; Rhett Tyler.

Hope you and your friends can be there at the March 2006 First Energy Berks Jazz Fest – one of the coolest contemporary jazz festivals in the world!


For additional information see the Festival’s website,, including concert schedules, ticket prices, artists profiles, hotel and other visitor information.
Also when you arrive, be sure to get a complimentary copy of the excellent free Reading Eagle Berks Jazz Fest newspaper supplement, for details on the artists and shows (available at all of the hotels and concert venues)!

Tickets are available for purchase three ways: 1) Order at
2) Call Ticketmaster at 215.336.2000 or visit Have a credit card ready
Ticketmaster has built a special online site for the Berks Jazz Fest. It’s fan friendly and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For Seating Chart information at the major venues:; Or 3) Stop by in person to the Sovereign Center Box Office, Seventh and Penn streets, Reading.

For information about the Berks Arts Council, check

For more  information about the artists, check out the artists’ websites, and also the write-up by Jonathan Widran at:

NOTE:  The author would like to thank Mike Zielinski, Publicity Director
and John Ernesto, Festival Manager of the FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest, the Berks Arts Council members, the artists,  and everyone that make this Festival terrific each year.