“Beautiful” was the recurrent word heard throughout Sunday’s 20th annual Masten Jazz Festival within the grounds of Martin Luther King Jr. Park on the city’s East Side.
During each of the hourlong sets – and interset banter by co-emcees Mayor Byron Brown and Masten District City Council Member Demone A. Smith – beautiful was the word of choice to describe the music, the setting, the audience members and the spirit of the man and musician who all paid tribute to James “Pappy” Martin, festival co-founder.
Pappy Martin and his Love Supreme Jazz Ensemble were, for decades, a regular and respected act on city stages. The bass player, who died earlier this year, was revered as a music educator through his the Love Supreme School of Music.
Speaking to his fellow musicians and students on Sunday it was clear that all learned not just mastery of instruments, but music theory, and life lessons from Martin.
The festival – set up between the park’s splash pad and Buffalo Museum of Science – drew a large crowd, encircling the stage in lawn chairs. Some grilled at the edges of the park while others waited in line for food vendors serving summer favorites and comfort food. A large number of Pappy Martin’s extended family sat together under one of the park’s oak trees.
Martin’s daughter, Dawn Berry-Walker, now the keeper of the festival, spoke of how this year’s festival was “spiritual for the whole family, by far; there are so many emotions I can’t even say.”
Another daughter, Denise Watson (of Charlotte, N.C.), motioned at the mingling musicians backstage and audience beyond. “I know him as our father, but I didn’t know he was all this,” Watson said.
His son, James Martin Jr., called it “a celebration of our father’s dedication to the music and the community.”
Performers for the day included the Pleasant Quintet featuring the brass talents of brothers Andrew Pleasant, on trumpet, and Ahmad Pleasant, on sax. The band also features keyboardist Danielle Webster, bassist William Welch and drummer Jamal Chandler. The quintet closed its set with a jaunty rendition of Herbie Hancock’s oft-sampled 1960s “Cantaloupe Island:” “That’s an old one, Jack,” called out a longtime jazz fan near the stage.
“I studied with Pappy since I was 2 years old,” Ahmad Pleasant said. “I started with him on piano.”
“I started with him when I was 4,” says Andrew, “I learned and played with Pappy for 16 years, trumpet for 15. I’m 20 now.”
Eight-year-old Nia King, on a magenta-colored recorder, played a hushed “When the Saints Go Marching In,” before playing keys accompanied by her soprano saxophonist dad, Darryl King, and drummer D.J. Flash, aka Daniel Jelks. Darryl King would perform next as part of the six-member All Star Band, a smooth ensemble that veered toward rock via occasional power guitar riffs.
The band invited up Kool & the Gang singer Shawn McQuiller, who brought a little disco energy to the jazz proceedings during a cover of “Fresh.”
Music student T’Zyah Vance, 16, recited free-style his “My Idea of Jazz,” that in part, entreats that “You would be a fool to think jazz is basic.”
Then it was on to stellar sets by two incredible ensembles: locally based George Caldwell/Bobby Militello Quartet and nationally touring Bobby Watson/Curtis Lundy Quartet. The quartet was, in actuality, a quintet with special guest Philip Harper, who added beautiful trumpet flourishes.