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Jazz and blues artists flock to free Pine Grill Reunion

Things are heating up for the Pine Grill Reunion.

George K. Arthur, the former Buffalo Common Council president and jazz authority around town, praised this year's lineup and any jazz fan would agree. The free festival takes place on two consecutive Sundays, Aug. 6 and 13. Bring a chair and a picnic if you like. Food also will be available from vendors.

The festival is a tribute to the long-gone Pine Grill, a gut-bucket jazz place on Jefferson Avenue, and so the spotlight is traditionally on the Hammond B3, on the blues and on everything down in the alley. This year — for the first time — the concert will welcome Hammond B3 whiz Ronnie Foster, who is from Buffalo.

"He's been close by, but never home," Arthur said. "He's been on the radar. We're happy to bring him back for the reunion and honor him."

Foster has had a noteworthy career, performing with such famous names as George Benson, Stanley Turrentine and Grant Green. He has recorded albums under his own name for Blue Note, Columbia and Projazz. He currently lives in Las Vegas.

The festival goes global with another Hammond B3 performer, Akiko Tsuruga. She was born in Osaka, Japan, and has been a mainstay in the New York jazz scene since 2001. Tsuruga was mentored by the legendary Lonnie Smith, a Lackawanna native who's another familiar face to the Pine Grill crowd. Smith once rhapsodized: “Akiko's playing is like watching a flower blooming, a bird spreading her wings in the music world. Akiko is here to stay.”

This year brings a return appearance by Niki Haris, the daughter of pianist Gene Harris (though she spells her name differently). Performing for the festival in 2014, Haris proved herself a showstopper. Another tried-and-true entertainer is Ray Schinnery, a bluesman who plays in the style of B.B. King. Schinnery always brings down the house.

These performers will all appear on Aug. 6.

On the second Sunday of the festival, it's traditional to feature beloved performers based in the Buffalo area. The Aug. 13 lineup includes the Carol McLaughlin Quintet, Buffalo Soul Revue, Brian Freeman and Friends, Will Holton and Intuition.

The Pine Grill Reunion begins at 4 p.m. Aug. 6 and 13 in Martin Luther King Park. Admission is free.

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