St. Lucia Jazz Festival 2003

Festival Report 2003
St. Lucia Jazz
by Mark Ruffin

Just imagine, while most of your friends are at home working, you’re being treated to a night of music with Cuba’s hottest jazz band, Elio Reve Y Su Charrangon, followed by the bad-ass 13-piece English acid jazz whirlwind known as Incognito, then the smooth jazz super-group Fourplay, and topped by an hour of Earth, Wind and Fire singing all of your favorites.

Pardon the EW&F pun, but this was no Fantasy.

It was just last month, the Mother’s Day weekend that recorded the most tornadoes in any two day period. It was


rainy and cold throughout the mid-west and northern seaboard, and even snow in Denver. It was 80 and sunny in St. Lucia where thousands of Americans experienced an unbelievable night of music.

No matter the time of year, the St. Lucia jazz festival is undisputedly the best music celebration in the Caribbean. It is a world-class event on par with North America’s best festivals, including those in Montreal, Newport, New Orleans, and any of Chicago’s three major jazz festivals.

If St. Lucia’s annual May schedule don’t fit your vacation plans, there are many islands that now have major jazz festivals including Grenada, St. Kitts, Barbados, Puerto Rico and others.

Still yet to come is the Bermuda Jazz Festival and the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival in Jamaica and a unique Bahamas festival coming up in August called the Bahamas Jazz Jamboree.

What separates St. Lucia from all other Caribbean festivals is the expansiveness of the ten-day event. For instance, the night the Spinners performed, they were an option, instead of being the only act performing. A good thing considering how awful the legendary group has become.

In St. Lucia, unlike other Caribbean festivals- there are a number of venues with concerts going on all over the island, at different times of the day. Plus, St. Lucia always has real top quality jazz acts. In addition to the aforementioned evening with Fourplay, the other jazz acts included Michael Brecker, Cyrus Chestnut, Los Hombres Calientes,Nnenna Freelon and a John Coltrane tribute band featuring Cedar Walton and Slide Hampton.

Like other festivals, they do use pop acts to draw huge crowds, this year including Ashford & Simpson, Damian Marley, Yolanda Adams, Boys II Men and others. This is a tactic that draws large crowds from New York, London, L.A. and Chicago.

Mike Phillips Live

The undisputed surprise act at the St. Lucia Jazz Festival was saxophonist Mike Phillips. On a night that featured four acts signed to Michael Jordan’s record company, Hidden Beach Recordings; Darius Rucker, the Unwrapped All Stars featuring Jeff Lorber and Kindred The Family Soul, Phillips completely stole the show.

Resplendent in his boss’ new line of clothes from Nike, Phillps pranced, bounced, and jammed tracks from his debut album, You Have Reached Mike Phillips and his upcoming one. The released record does Phillips no justice, as it’s obvious, after this totally sizzling performance, that his sax is what’s next on the pop side of contemporary jazz. The young 20 something kid has the incredible combination of style and tone that belies his years combined with a dynamic charisma that totally resonates with his generation.

The perfect example was his ode to video games where he taunted the audience with clever arrangements of themes from 80’s arcade favorites like “Pac Man,” and “Super Mario Brothers.” If Charlie Parker was a kid sax player today, could this be what he’d be doing?

The buzz Phillips left on the crowd lasted through the very long set change, and when he came back on later with the Unwrapped group, there was sheer delirium in the reaction of some audience members. Jordan may be retired, but his record company has a huge star on the horizon.

For facts on the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival, June 8-15, go to For the Bermuda Jazz Festival, October 9-11 check out And information on the very unique Bahamas Jazz Jamboree, August 13-16, call 773-472-3050.