Molly Johnson
Jazz vocalist Molly Johnson

by Robin “Moose” Scott Jr.

The Lewiston Jazz Festival kicks off its 15th year with a bang. Drawing over 40,000 people annually Lewiston’s Jazz Fest is one of most popular free music events in Western New York.

The picturesque Village of Lewiston closes Center Street for a couple of blocks and sets up two large stages on each corner. They also have three smaller stages featuring non-stop Jazz performances Friday night and all day Saturday.

Local restaurants and wineries set up booths on Center Street with gourmet offerings and the Niagara Wine Trail’s best wines can be purchased at reasonable prices. In addition to the numerous choices of food and drink, there crafts and jewelry available, as well.

Despite all that activity and festivities, the main reason people flock to Lewiston is the jazz music and this year will not disappoint. The headline acts appear on the Main Stage on the corner of Fourth and Center St.

Singer/saxophonist Curtis Stigers
Singer/saxophonist Curtis Stigers

Making his second appearance for the festival, and brought back by popular demand, is the charismatic singer/saxophonist Curtis Stigers. He will close the festival at 8pm on Saturday night. Born in Boise, Idaho, Stigers is a smooth vocalist who is known for his jazzy versions of pop songs, as well as composing new songs, his interpretation of jazz standards and his command of the American songbook. His song “This Life” is used as the intro for the American television show “The Sons of Anarchy.” He has performed and recorded with pianist Gene Harris, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Rod Stewart, The Allman Brothers and Joe Cocker.

Stigers will be performing songs from his new album “Hooray For Love”.

Friday night’s headliner on the Main Stage will be Canadian Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter Molly Johnson. She made history at the prestigious Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, becoming the first female vocalist in the festival’s 17-year history to sell out a show on the mainstage. In 2008, Johnson released an album of standards entitled “Lucky” winning her the Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year.  But in this writer’s opinion, Molly Johnson’s crowning achievement is her 2014 Billie Holiday tribute album “Because of Billie.” Her beautiful phrasing on that album is a moving tribute to Lady Day. Her performance starts at 8pm.

Local Saxophonist/flutist Bobby Militello will bring his beautiful tone to St. Peter’s RC Church on Center St. for the second annual Jazz Mass on Saturday afternoon at 4pm. It certainly was a highlight of last year’s festival.

Wendell Rivera’s Latin Jazz Ensemble will bring his interpretation of Afro-Caribbean jazz to the main stage just before Stiger’s performance at 5pm. He is the premier Latin percussionist in the Western New York area, so bring your dancing shoes.

Underrated vocalist Mary McMahon is bringing her Mary McMahon Project for a special performance of classic jazz standards and bossa nova. Her ensemble features some of the area’s top musicians featuring John Hasselbeck Sr. on piano, Rick Strauss on guitar, Dave Schiavone on sax, Wayne Moose on bass, Tony Zambito on percussion and Tom Kasperek on drums. She sings the standards with the best of them. She performs on the Rising Star stage at 12:30pm on Saturday (corner of Sixth and Center St.)

Akron native Laurie Bordonaro brings her trio to the gorgeous Honorary Peace Garden at Lewiston on 476 Center St. She has brought her beautiful singing voice and piano stylings to the Buffalo Club for the past four years and has been featured three times this summer at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Summer Jazz Series. Her performance is on Saturday at 2:45pm.

Also, if you are a lover of vintage sports cars, Center Street will be lined with a collection of Jaguars, MG’s, Porsches, Mercedes-Benzs, and high performance roadsters and convertibles. It is a feast for the eyes for fans of high-end exotic vehicles.

Don’t miss the fun of the Lewiston Jazz Festival. I know I won’t.