Jazzing Up The City

Clifford Brown Jazz Festival expands to week-long programming. Outdoor concerts on Rodney Square set for June 15-18.

By JulieAnne Cross

The Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, the largest free, outdoor jazz festival on the East Coast, celebrates its 35th year when it sounds off in Rodney Square June 15.

It honors Brown, a 25-year-old Wilmington trumpeter who died in 1956, just as his career was ascending.

Planner Tina Betz makes room for musicians of all kinds at the longstanding fête.

As director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and president of Cityfest, which runs the festival, Betz says she tries to “show as many of the different threads in the fabric that’s called ‘jazz’ as I can in the short amount of time we have.”

This year’s performers range from headliners such as Stanley Clarke (Wednesday) and Rebirth Brass Band (Saturday), to celebrated regional artists such as Baltimore’s Maysa (Friday) and Wilmington’s Tony “Big Cat” Smith (Saturday).

New in 2022 are free indoor events starting on Sun., June 12, stretching festival programming to a week. The traditional Wednesday through Saturday (June 15-18) dates will deliver the classic big-stage concert experience, rain or shine.

Festival week warms up with the Best of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts at the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew on Sunday at 4 p.m., with a post-concert reception at the Wilmington Library.

Brownie Speaks: A Video Documentary — The Life, Music, and Legacy of Clifford Brown, plays at Theatre N on Monday at 6 p.m. followed by a panel discussion.

A jazz art exhibit and live music reception at the Wilmington Library on Tuesday at 6 p.m. is the final build-up to the next night’s outdoor kick-off, and late-night jams take place at Nomad, Le Cavalier and the library on various concert nights.

Festival nights can often be identified by common themes. This year, Thursday’s lineup offers a full menu of Latin jazz flavor, and Friday leans into an R&B-jazz fusion vibe. 

The full main stage roster includes Joe Chambers, Rayford Griffin (Brown’s nephew), along with Clarke on Wednesday, Cintron, David Sánchez, and Chucho Valdés alongside Paquito D’Rivera (on a reunion tour) on Thursday, Ernest Stuart with THR3ZUS, and Stokley (former front-man of Mint Condition) on Friday, and Regina Carter, Spartan Alumni Band, Lynn Riley and The World-Mix, Immanuel Wilkins, along with Smith on Saturday.

Griffin is one of several Brown family members tapped for either the stage or the Monday film screening panel. Clifford Brown, Jr., will join Betz on stage as co-host.

The 40-year radio broadcasting ace says he is, “very excited to be coming back home to Wilmington. I’m thrilled that both my father’s legacy and music continue to be honored.”

Wednesday through Friday, the music kicks off at 5:30 p.m. and wraps up around 10 p.m. Saturday’s 10-hour schedule begins at noon. 

While the orientation of the stage will be new to those who skipped 2021 (the stage backs up to King Street), food trucks and adult beverages remain on the Market Street side.

Betz, whose team just wrapped up the first full year of the Clifford Brown Year-Round monthly series that debuted in 2020, says, “These artists bring a lot of versatility. Expect to maybe walk away knowing more about a particular artist than you knew when you came and wanting to know more about other artists.”

Visit CliffordBrownJazzFest.org.