Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival

2016 Headliners Smokey Robinson and Chick Corea

By: - Jan 12, 2016

spac spac

The 39th annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, one of the world’s longest-running major jazz events, will be held on Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). This year’s festival will feature headliner Smokey Robinson; Chick Corea Trilogy; Joey Alexander; Steps Ahead Reunion; Pieces of a Dream; Pat Martino Organ Trio plus Horns; and Christian Scott, among many others.  

The festival is located in Saratoga Springs, NY at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, currently celebrating its 50th Anniversary.  Founded in 1978 by jazz impresario George Wein, the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival has hosted a who’s who of jazz greats over the years including Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, B.B. King, Wayne Shorter, and Ray Charles. With an inside seating capacity of 5,200, lawn seating of 20,000, world class jazz talent performing on two stages, and an idyllic State Park setting located just three hours driving time from either Boston or New York City, the festival draws thousands of fans from across the Northeast and throughout North America.

“As we celebrate SPAC’s milestone 50th Anniversary Season, and the 39th year of this world-class festival, we bring our audiences a truly remarkable lineup—a blend of familiar favorites and debut artists, all musicians of the greatest national and international acclaim,” said Marcia J. White, President and Executive Director of SPAC. “For two days, as the kick-off to SPAC’s 50th Anniversary summer festivities, our guests will make the SPAC grounds their home. They come to see friends and family, to hear great music, and to create lifelong memories. Each year, I personally look forward to seeing the familiar faces of generations of Jazz Fest audiences. I couldn’t be more proud of the experience that our guests will share this June as they listen to, and engage with, our incredible musicians.”

“The Saratoga Jazz Festival has a rich history with a deeply committed audience,” said Danny Melnick, President of Absolutely Live Entertainment, and co-producer of the festival. “We have successfully maintained our cultural relevance, while still throwing a fantastic party, by presenting the best artists in jazz, blues, soul, Latin, funk and beyond."  

“On behalf of SPAC and our community I would like to thank all of our sponsors, including Freihofer’s for their unmatched support of our Jazz Festival,” White said. “Their generous involvement allows us to bring the best artists in jazz to Saratoga for fans to enjoy.”

While two days and two stages of live, world-class jazz is the centerpiece of the weekend, fans can also enjoy a host of amenities including a fine arts and crafts fair, CD signings by artists, a full-service bar in the Hall of Springs, southern style barbeque and other food vendors, all presented by Stella Artois. Guests are welcome to bring their own food and beverages, as well as blankets, tents and lawn umbrellas. Parking for the event is free. More information about what to bring to the Jazz Festival can be found online at

Stella Artois returns to the festival this year as the lead sponsor of the lawn experience (“the hang”). The upscale Belgian beer company is no stranger to sponsoring high-profile arts and cultural events; they’ve been notably involved with the Chicago Jazz Festival, the Singapore Jazz Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival.

“SPAC’s postcard-perfect setting in the majestic Saratoga Spa State Park creates the perfect atmosphere to sit back and enjoy this world-class line-up you won’t find anywhere else,” reflects White. “There is truly no better way to welcome in the summer.”

2016 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival Artists


Headliner TBA

Steps Ahead Reunion featuring Michael Mainieri, George Garzone, Eliane Elias, Marc Johnson & Peter Erskine Steps Ahead was founded in the late 1970s by pioneering vibraphonist Mike Mainieri.  Since then, this jazz fusion group has achieved global acclaim and become a launching pad for young talent and new musical ideas. As a composer, arranger and performer, Mainieri has contributed to over 100 gold and platinum albums, co-writing three albums with Carly Simon and recording with Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Aerosmith, Billy Joel, Janis Ian, James Taylor, Dire Straits, Bonnie Raitt, George Benson, and on Don McClean’s classic album, American Pie.

Pieces Of A Dream 40th Anniversary Tour  Pieces Of A Dream returns to the Saratoga Jazz Festival for the first time in almost 20 years with new, original music from their 40th Anniversary album, All In, recently released on the Shanachie label. Ten brilliant new songs range in style from ‘in the pocket’ R&B to the sensuous smooth jazz jams that have made founding musicians Curtis Harmon and James Lloyd legendary.  Lloyd has been a go-to hit maker and accompanist for such artists as Mary J. Blige, B.B. King, Najee, and Wayman Tisdale.

Joey Alexander Trio  Indonesian jazz prodigy Joey Alexander makes his Saratoga Jazz Festival debut on his 13th birthday.  The now 12-year-old pianist will perform the hits off his debut album My Favorite Things released in May 2015 on the GRAMMY Award®-winning Harlem-based label Motema Music.  Alexander has recently performed at venerated jazz venues including the Rochester Jazz Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center, a TED conference, and was recently profiled on 60 Minutes.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah presents Stretch Music  Christian Scott, also known as Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is a two-time Edison Award winning (2010 and 2012) and GRAMMY Award® nominated jazz trumpeter, composer and producer. Adjuah’s most recent album, Stretch Music, has received critical praise for its genre-agnostic jazz-fusion and emotional intensity. The Wall Street Journal stated “the most captivating aspect is the degree to which this music sounds like a conversation….ideas considered and traded with due care in real time.”

Shemekia Copeland  Whether she’s belting out a raucous blues-rocker, firing up a blistering soul-shouter, bringing the spirit to a gospel-fueled R&B rave-up or digging deep down into a subtle, country-tinged ballad, Shemekia Copeland sounds like no one else. The Chicago Tribune says Copeland delivers “gale force singing and power” with a “unique, gutsy style, vibrant emotional palette and intuitive grasp of the music.” NPR Music calls her “fiercely expressive.”

Eric Lindell  Venerated blues guitarist Eric Lindell makes his Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival debut.  Lindell began his career working as a baker by day and developing his skills as a vocalist and guitarist by night. Today he is a mainstay of the New Orleans music scene, known as a prolific writer and a throwback stylist – often harkening back to 1950s “doo-wop” and R&B grooves.  Twenty years after the release of his debut album, Lindell released his latest title The Sun and The Sea on Sparco Records in April 2015.


Elio Villafranca  Elio Villafranca is at the forefront of the latest generation of remarkable Cuban pianists, composers and bandleaders making major creative contributions to the international development of modern jazz. A 2010 GRAMMY Award® nominee, Villafranca is an official Steinway Artist and is resident professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.

Eric Lindell (see above)

Jamison Ross  Refreshing and invigorating, Jamison Ross is the epitome of soul.  A composer, arranger, vocalist and drummer, Ross is the winner of the 2012 Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition for drums, the most prestigious award for jazz artists. His debut album, Jamison, has been nominated for Best Vocal Jazz Album for the 2016 GRAMMY Awards®.  Ross’s upcoming SPAC performance marks his Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival debut. 

Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein  Internationally celebrated singer and bandleader Karin Allyson will bring Rodgers & Hammerstein’s timeless music  to SPAC.  Allyson’s 2015 album Many A Day, a compilation of the beloved composers’ works, has been nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album Of The Year for the 2016 GRAMMY Awards®.  Allyson was last seen at SPAC in 2014 as the featured vocalist of Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60.

Vincent Herring & The Kings of Swing featuring Mike LeDonne, David Williams & Carl Allen   Virtuoso saxophonist Vinvcent Herring – one of the premier saxophonists of his generation – will be joined by B3 organist Mike LeDonne (recently seen at SPAC in 2015), bassist David Williams, and drummer Carl Allen for an inaugural quartet of exceptional musicality and expression. The first Kings of Swing collaboration on the SPAC stage, the upcoming performance promises to delight Saratoga Jazz Festival audiences.


Smokey Robinson  Legendary R&B artist and cultural icon Smokey Robinson is the recipient of the Grammy Living Legend Award, NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award, Honorary Doctorate (Howard University), Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts Award from the President of the United States. He has also been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. During the course of his 50-year career in music, Robinson has accumulated more than 4,000 songs to his credit and continues to thrill sold-out audiences around the world with his high tenor voice, impeccable timing, and profound sense of lyric. Never resting on his laurels, Smokey Robinson remains a beloved icon in our musical heritage.

Chick Corea Trilogy featuring Christian McBride & Brian Blade  A DownBeat Hall of Famer and NEA Jazz Master, 22-time Grammy winner, and keyboard virtuoso, Chick Corea has attained living legend status after five decades of unparalleled creativity and staggering artistic output. He returns to SPAC for the first time since 2003, joined by renowned bassist Christian McBride (last at SPAC in 2015) and drummer Brian Blade to perform music from their most recent trio album, Trilogy.  Recorded while on tour throughout the world, the album is a marvel of live-recording that ranges from reinventions of classic Corea compositions and previously unrecorded originals to an array of jazz standards. Corea is the fourth-most-nominated artist in the history of the GRAMMYs, with 63 nominations. He has also earned 3 Latin GRAMMY Awards®, the most of any artist in the Best Instrumental Album category.

Lizz Wright  Renowned for her earthy alto voice and emotive vocal serenading, Wright will perform songs from her most recent album, Freedom & Surrender, her first collaboration with GRAMMY Award®-winning bassist and producer Larry Klein and Concord Records.  The New York Times has praised Wright’s singing, describing her voice as, “a smooth, dark alto possessed of qualities you might associate with barrel-aged bourbon or butter-soft leather…”

Pat Martino Organ Trio plus Horns  Virtuoso jazz guitarist Pat Martino returns to SPAC for the first time in 20 years. A jazz icon since he was 18, Martino has been performing for audiences around the world since the early 1960s. Martino is well known not only for his playing, but also for the incredible story of his ability to overcome amnesia following a severe brain aneurysm in the 1980s. Although initially unable to remember that he was one of the world’s great jazz musicians, Martino was eventually able to restore full command of his virtuosic playing by listening to his own recordings and through practice. Currently an adjunct professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA, Martino is a two time National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences award recipient.

Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen  In his Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival debut, Jon Cleary will bring the rich sounds of New Orleans funk to the Spa State Park. In addition to his considerable skills as a tunesmith, he is equally renowned around the globe as an accomplished keyboardist and guitarist, and a deeply soulful vocalist.  At SPAC, he will perform the music from his 8th album, GoGo Juice, released in 2015 on FHQ Records, to critical acclaim. Cleary’s rich, full-flavored sound incorporates such far-flung influences as ‘70s soul, gospel music, funk, Afro-Caribbean (and especially Afro-Cuban) rhythms and more. Rolling Stone declared that “Cleary can be an absolute monster on his own, but Cleary’s full combo R&B is as broad, deep and roiling as the Mississippi River, the combined swinging product of local keyboard tradition, Cleary’s vocal-songwriting flair for moody Seventies soul and the spunky-Meters roll of his Gentlemen.”

Bria Skonberg Quintet   Hailing from British Columbia, trumpeter/vocalist/composer Bria Skonberg is “poised to be one of the most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation” according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2013 she received the Jazz Journalists’ Association nomination for “Up and Coming Jazz Artist of The Year” and was included in DOWNBEAT Magazine’s Rising Star Critics’ Poll. Although Skonberg is best known for her knowledge of classic jazz, she is creating a style all her own rooted in swampy New Orleans grooves, featuring world percussion and contemporary soul influenced vocals.


Aaron Diehl Trio  Piano prodigy Aaron Diehl is one of the most sought after jazz virtuosos, consistently playing with what The New York Times describes as “melodic precision, harmonic erudition, and elegant restraint.”  In 2015 he served as Music Director to the Jazz at Lincoln Center New Orleans Songbook concert series, toured the U.S. and Europe with Grammy nominated jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, and released his critically acclaimed sophomore album, Space Time Continuum. 

Bria Skonberg Quintet (see above)

LaFayette Suite featuring Walter Smith III & Laurent Coq  The LaFayette Suite, comprised of two exceptional musicians, French pianist Laurent Coq and American saxophonist Walter Smith III, continue the spirit of collaboration begun between French nobleman Marquis de Lafayette and President George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. The original compositions included in The LaFayette Suite were funded by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and the French American Jazz Exchange program to bring to life LaFayette’s remarkable story and continued legacy in American history.

Alicia Olatuja  Making her Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival debut,  mezzo-soprano Alicia Olatuja first received national recognition after her impressive performance at President Barrack Obama’s 2013 Inauguration.  She frequently performs with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Juilliard Jazz ensemble, her own band, The Olatuja Project, and recording artists including Christian McBride, Chaka Khan and Bebe Winans.  Praised by The New York Times for her “strong, lustrous tone,” Olatuja released her solo debut album, Timeless, in 2014. 

Jarrod Lawson  Rising-star of soul Jarrod Lawson will make his Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival debut with original songs from his 2014 album, Jarrod Lawson –which catapulted the Portland Oregon singer into the national spotlight last year. Lawson’s mastery of the jazz keyboard, sweet falsetto vocals, and popular appeal has rendered him Jazz FM’s 2015 Soul Artist of the Year. Whether he sings and plays funk, folk, R&B, rock or jazz—everything Lawson touches turns to soul.