If you weren’t one of the lucky 200 who showed up at the Tabernacle to see the first and likely-to-be annual Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Festival, then you missed out. It was the last event of the summer to be held at the Camp Ground but certainly not the least.
The festival started with the Zachary Bennoui-Taibi Trio. Scott Goulding on drums and Tall Gamlieli on acoustic bass started warming up the crowd, then eight-year-old Zachary Bennoui-Taibi was escorted onto the stage and helped to the piano by his father Julien Taibi, the organizer of the festival. Young Zachary is also blind and autistic, but nothing hindered his improvising on the jazz solos and stealing the show with his carefree style. After three sets, Mr. Gamlieli told the audience, “It’s a pleasure to play with Zach. Music is his life.”
The Harvey Diamond and Hannah Rose Diamond Duo followed. Mr. Diamond first played an Eastern European piece on the piano with accompaniment by Karen Oosterbaan on violin. Then Hannah Rose Diamond, 21, joined her father on stage and wowed her listeners with a lilting voice whose tone and phrasing have been compared to those of Jo Stafford and Billie Holiday. Though she acknowledged the influences, Miss Diamond said, “I really hope to sound like myself.”
Both her parents are musicians. Of her choice of career, Miss Diamond said, “When I was 11, I was in a musical, and I felt that performing was the only thing I could picture my self doing.”
The third act was the widely acclaimed Yoko Miwa Trio. Pianist and master improviser Yoko Miwa played her own composition, The Day We Said Goodbye. Ms. Miwa, a Japanese native now based in Boston, played the piano with a clarity that bespoke her early training in classical music.
The night came to an end with a high-energy boost from James Merenda’s Masked Marvels. While the band tuned up, Mr. Merenda walked around the Tabernacle playing his alto sax full blast, engaging the audience with his confidence and expertise. As he finished his solo, the rest of the band joined in with extravagant solos on trumpet, trombone, acoustic bass and drums. The septet filled the Tabernacle with as much sound and pizzazz as they could muster, particularly in a raucous Charles Mingus number Fables of Faubus, a 1957 civil rights-era tune protesting against Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus, who had recently sent National Guard soldiers to stop the so-called Little Rock Nine black students from attending Little Rock Central High School. Then an additional performer appeared to add a new dimension: vocalist Vanessa Morris joined in with her nuanced voice to vary the set. More loose and wild ensemble pieces brought the night to an energetic conclusion.
“The event,” its public relations manager Jennifer Goodwin explained, “was testing the waters of the Vineyard. Tonight was a pilot to see how the community responds to the idea.” The evening was well received, she said, so those who missed this year’s program are likely to get another chance in 2009. A planned festival will involve multiple venues, including more intimate settings.
As for those who were in the Tabernacle on Saturday, the audience reaction suggested that when Hannah Rose Diamond sang You Won’t Forget Me, she was telling the truth.