This weekend’s LEVITT AMP concert was the first to appear in Mill Hill Park, and it started the rest of the summer with cool Jazz to combat the hot weather.
Kevin Francois was the Host for the night. “The show tonight was amazing, with great talent coming from near and far out of New Jersey. The musicians put on a display of character out there, and pretty much set a tone to give you a beautiful vibe and escape the stresses of life to music,” Said Francois.
The First set opening for the night was the versatile jazz drummer Greg Bufford and his band, The Bufford Band. He has studied under master drummer Philly Joe Jones. He has worked with names like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Randy Weston, Freda Payne, Dakota Staton, Leslie Uggams, Steve Nelson, Sonny Stitt, Little Jimmy Scott, Vaughan Mason, and Crew, to name a few.
“I was playing in Trenton as early as about 1976 or seven. I came over my first gig here with Mike Rea, a trumpet player from Trenton,” Bufford said. “I met a guy named Clifford Adams, who’s from Trenton, and we became the best of friends. So I was working in Trenton on a pretty regular basis until I moved to New York, and then we stopped coming down to Trenton.”
Even with the heat bearing down on guests, he could still get people to dance their hearts to old jazz favorites. “I looked around, and I saw that people were dancing, which is the best sign that you are communicating, that you reached them. That’s always my goal. It doesn’t have to be a lot. But the few that were there were starting to dance,” Bufford said.
Right after the set came out, Grammy-nominated composer and renowned jazz bassist Curtis Lundy appeared before the crowd. He is perhaps best known for his performances with jazz vocalist Betty Carter.
Most participants were happy to set up chairs, and umbrellas, hold hand fans and listen to the music. Leslie Taylor, a Bordentown resident who works in Trenton, came down to watch the Concert. “I came out to see a free concert in the park. I like hanging out in the summertime and listening to good music,” Taylor said.
The night peaked as Winard Harper performed his magic on the crowd. He is a true virtuoso on the drums, and has performed with such greats as Dexter Gordon, Betty Carter, Johnny Griffin, Ray Bryant, and Carmen McRae, to name a few. Director Damien Chazelle cited Winard Harper as the inspiration for his Academy Award-nominated film “Whiplash.” At one point, one of his musicians walked through the crowd with his instrument, dancing with the public.
Trenton has a jazz history in the city, with performers like Hammond B-3 blues organist Jimmy McGriff and alto saxophonist Richie Cole getting their start in the town. James Stewart, Saxophonist for the Bufford Band and a Trenton Resident, explained that he got his start in the Jazz industry by attending jazz shows at the Candlelight Lounge.
“Trenton has a good support system for all music. There’s still one jazz spot in Trenton called the Candlelight Lounge. It’s a sanctuary,” Stewart said. “There is a support system, it is not that big, but it’s there. And as long as that small group supports it, jazz is going to be here.”
On Sunday, July 30th, Fun and funk will be on the bill with the Will Power Funk Band, The Renaissance Band, and Ashanti The Will Power Funk Band was conceived out of love for the music of Tower of Power and an appreciation of the funk music genre. The Concert will start at 5 pm and go into the night.
“Bring an umbrella, bring a tent,” Francois said. “We got enough room, enough space for everybody. So come on down.”
The Levitt AMP Trenton Music Series is supported in part by the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, which partners with towns and cities across America to activate underused public spaces through the power of free live music, creating a welcoming, inclusive destinations. Local presenting sponsors include NJM Insurance Company, along with the support of the City of Trenton, the Mercer County Park Commission, Greater Trenton and TrentonDaily as this year’s media sponsor.