All-day jazz at the Coffee House
Thomaston — In December, the longtime monthly First Sunday Jazz Jam moved from Waldoboro to Thomaston’s Highlands Coffee House. One of the jam’s original facilitators, Steve Cartwright, and a regular player, standup bassist Ray Montana, are turning Sunday, June 15, into an all-day celebration and fundraiser.
“It began when Ray Montana of Union, a member of Exact Change, said he'd like to see a jazz event to benefit a good cause. It's been a pleasure working with Ray on this project,” said Cartwright, who lives in Waldoboro.
Jazz Sunday will run from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Highlands, located on Main Street/Route 1 in the center of town. That’s a lot of Maine-made music for the $10 suggested donation — more is, of course, welcome (and no one will turned away). The day is a benefit for the Flannel Shirt Fund, formed in memory of Cartwright’s son Joel, who was an advocate of sustainable agriculture and helping children eat healthy local food by growing their own.
Some 30 Flannel Shirt Fund grants have been given so far to schools and community groups across Maine for garden and greenhouse projects involving kids. Recipients include Warren Community, Medomak Middle, Friendship Village and the School at Sweetser in Belfast, as well as the Midcoast Maine Community Action Head Start Family Gardens in Waldoboro. The fund has raised more than $16,000 thus far and hopes to get a big bump from Jazz Sunday.
The day will offer five two-hour sets, comfortable seating and a little room to dance, and the coffeehouse’s food and drink. Starting things off will be Exact Change, the local quartet with whom Montana plays jazz standards and selections from the Great American Songbook. The band’s musicians have multi-genre backgrounds including jazz, Celtic and country. They are: guitarist Dick White; drummer Dennis Gurgul; bass player Montana; and Joanna Pinkham on vocals and alto saxophone.
Playing from 1 to 3 p.m. will be the First Sunday Jazz Jam’s house band, and frequent Highlands performers, the Mike Whitehead Group. Trumpet and flugelhorn player Whitehead, who lives in Thomaston, was a regular at the Waldoboro jams, and he has gathered a group of Midcoast musicians dedicated to exploring the boundaries of creative music. Group members include Whitehead, drummer Jason Dean, bassist Spike Hyssong and keyboardist Tom Luther.
Another local combo, the Bill Barnes Trio, will perform from 3 to 5 p.m. Barnes is a veteran New York session guitarist who performs around the Midcoast and beyond; earlier in the month, he brought the trio to Bangor’s Nocturem Draft Haus, and he will be at Rockland’s Rock City Café for Summer Solstice. During his extensive career, Barnes has toured and played with a veritable who's who of recording stars, from R&B artists Arthur Conley and Curtis Mayfield to jazz luminaries such as Michael Henderson and Gabrielle Goodman. Completing the trio Jazz Sunday will be Hyssong on bass and Dean on drums; and joining them for a few songs will be Bella Rocha, a talented young Boston-based singer originally from Newcastle who studies vocal performance at Manhattan's New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.
Gypsy jazz guitarist Steve Lynnworth and friends will perform from 5 to 7 p.m. Lynnworth studied early on with Boston-area jazz great and Berklee graduate Gerry Beaudoin, and later was mentored by blues virtuoso Ronnie Earl. He has backed up national artists Shirley Lewis and Pinetop Perkins, jammed onstage with Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson and opened shows for Johnny Winter, Dickie Betts. The UMA instructor plays with Big Chief and, since “discovering” gypsy jazz, his own band Mes Amis, which released a CD last year.
Wrapping up Jazz Sunday from 7 to 9 p.m. — and promising to “be tearin’ it up” doing it — will be the Scott Davis Quintet, one of several ensembles helmed by the experienced trumpet player and vocalist from West Bath. The Scott Davis Bands roster includes rock, blues, swing, Dixie and, of course, straight-ahead jazz. For the Thomaston gig, he will be playing with Fred Cantu on reeds, Jesse Feinberg on piano, Hyssong on acoustic bass and Dean on drums. It should be a rousing finale … and a fitting tribute.
"I'm grateful for the generosity of jazz musicians — some of whom knew my son. All artists are donating their time and talent to the festival …. Maybe an annual Midcoast jazz fest is in our future. If Joel were here, he'd be all over it," said Cartwright.