By Gene Axton
August 11, 2015
The Times Leader
SCRANTON — The Scranton Jazz Festival started in 2004 as a one-night event in Nay Aug Park. It drew so many attendees that a second night was added the following year. A decade later the festival is still going strong — a third day was added, it was moved to downtown Scranton and spread to multiple venues throughout the city. This marks the festival’s 11th year, and according to artistic director Marko Marcinko, it’s a destination for jazz performers as much as it for purveyors.
“There are a lot of acts—national, international acts—that want to play the festival because of its popularity,” Marcinko said. “In all the years we’ve been doing it word of mouth gets around. There are people who submit and audition for it and there are others that have played it before and are a sure thing.”
One of those sure things is Grammy-nominated jazz fusion act Spyro Gyra. The group was part of the Scranton Jazz Festival lineup seven years ago, and Marcinko wanted to bring them back since they’re currently touring in celebration of their 40th anniversary. Spyro Gyra saxophonist Jay Beckenstein said there are three original members still involved with the band, which started in Buffalo, New York.
“The band really started as a loose jam session in the ’70s,” Beckenstein said. “We put out our own record and miraculously it did well enough to garner the attention of a local business gentleman. That local business gentleman got us a real record deal and we had a platinum record the following year. It was an amazing ride from bar to Carnegie Hall.”
When Spyro Gyra takes the stage at the Scranton Jazz Festival on Aug. 15, they’ll be pulling from 30 albums of material. Beckenstein is fully aware of what it means to have a past, present and future in the music business.
“It’s just a blessing that people are still interested after all these years,” Beckenstein said. “What band gets to last all these years? I look forward to another 10 years of it if people out there are interested in hearing it.”
Maintaining interest is one of Marcinko’s goals with the festival—both interest in the acts performing and interest in the genre of jazz itself. New members have to be brought into a community in order for it to persist, which is why the Scranton Jazz Festival has featured an educational component since its inception.
“You’re passing the tradition and the history of the music on to the next generation,” Marcinko said. “We have the Keystone College Jazz Institute student combos performing on Sunday at the festival. It’s very important for the longevity of the festival to have that influx of education involved with it.”
The Scranton Jazz Festival has definitely had longevity, and once the acts on the main stage at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel wrap up, jazz enthusiasts are invited to continue the experience on what Marcinko called a “jazz walk” on Friday and Saturday. The walk, which will hit downtown Scranton spots like Tracks Patio, The Bog, POSH and Ale Mary’s, is meant to give festival goers a taste of the live music scenes found in places like New Orleans and New York.
According to Joshua Mast, co-owner of POSH, this is the resturant’s second year as part of the jazz walk. Entry to POSH for the night is free and the club will be serving cocktails, as well as their full bar menu.
“Basically it’s a great way to experience jazz and downtown Scranton at different resturants (and) bars,” Mast said. “On Friday we’re having a piano/vocal duo called Xpresso Love from 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. and on Saturday night we’re having Nancy Reed from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.”
Scranton’s weekend of jazz starts Aug. 14 at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel, and Marcinko hopes the festival’s decade-long run and dedication to jazz education gives it as much staying power as this year’s headliners.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @TLArts