Berklee Jazz fest billed as city’s biggest block party

This Saturday tens of thousands of jazz aficionados are expected to throng a six-block stretch of Columbus Avenue as the 12th annual Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival (BBJF) once again hosts “Boston’s biggest block party,” a six-hour smorgasbord of jazz, Latin, blues, and soul acts. Past festivals have drawn as many as 80,000 music fans.

The free outdoor extravaganza on September 29 is the best-attended part of the festival organized annually by the Berklee College of Music, the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world, specializing in jazz of all types. The National Endowment for the Arts, for the third year in a row, has awarded Berklee a grant to support the BBJF.

The BBJF which begins today and runs through Sunday showcases both world-renowned superstars and popular local acts in free and ticketed concerts throughout the city. The celebrations close with a ticketed show on September 30 at the Berklee Performance Center at 7:30 p.m. with banjo master Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts trio.

“This landmark Boston event is an extraordinary and meaningful opportunity to hear free world-class concerts in a family-friendly environment,” said John Hailer, president and CEO, Natixis Global Asset Management, the event’s presenting sponsor. “To support the Berklee BeanTown Jazz festival is to help support an incredible environment where families from Boston’s diverse neighborhoods can be introduced to top-notch artists who may serve as role models for the music world’s future stars.”

This year, the BBJF celebrates “Women in Jazz,” featuring performances by some of the genre’s most acclaimed female artists. A festival highlight will be a performance by Boston native and BeanTown artistic director Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project, featuring Geri Allen, Lizz Wright, Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen, Helen Sung, and Nir Felder.
Carrington won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for “The Mosaic Project.” Additional performers on the three outdoor stages include Lalah Hathaway, Hey Rim Jeon, and Hailey Niswanger.

Easily accessible from the Mass Ave. Orange Line T stop, Saturday’s outdoor component runs from noon to 6:00 p.m. on Columbus Ave between Mass Ave. and Burke Street in the South End. The outdoor celebration also features a variety of family activities at the Natixis Family Park which will transform Carter Playground on Columbus Avenue into a hub of activity including inflatables, face painting, and an instrument petting zoo.

Kicking off the festivities at noon will be a performance by the Berklee City Music Big Band Ensemble featuring drummer Justin Riggins, a 14-year-old who resides in Dorchester. When he’s not banging the cymbals and skins, he’s a ninth grader at Boston Latin. The Big Band is the only City Music ensemble performing, so Justin is one of a very small handful of high school-age artists performing at the BBJF. 

The ensemble, directed by Berklee faculty member Bobby Gallegos introduces students like Justin to the classic Big Band genre from the 1930s to the present. Influences include The Count Basie Orchestra, Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, and Maynard Ferguson as well as more contemporary artists like Chick Corea, Tower of Power, and Chicago. 

See the full schedule at beantownjazz.org. Can’t make it to the festival? Check out live streaming video from each of the three stages at concertwindow.com.