Summertime and the music is jazzy. McCarter Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton, is introducing something new this year with its “Jazz in June Festival,” a series of four concerts.
The lineup begins with a show by The Bad Plus on June 8. Next is a concert by Joey Alexander on June 9, followed by Christian Sands on June 14 and Fred Hersch on June 15.
“Summer is the prime time for jazz festivals, they are almost ubiquitous not only in this country, but around the world,” says Bill Lockwood, McCarter’s special programming director. “In more ways than one, it is the summer festival circuit that keeps the world of jazz and its artists thriving, so I thought it was time for McCarter to join the club.”
He adds that McCarter has never hosted any kind of music festival, and that presenting the concerts in McCarter’s smaller venue, the Berlind Theatre, makes perfect sense.
“We have elected to dip our toe into the festival waters on a small scale, starting with the musical unit familiar to most audiences, the piano jazz trio,” Lockwood says. “Which is why our first festival incorporates four concerts spanning several generations of the format, and featuring artists who have made it their specialty.”
The Bad Plus has played McCarter previously, in 2007. The group is known for its original music as well as playing pop covers. It recently released a new album, “Never Stop II,” with new member Orrin Evans.
“Its music always defied categorization, searching for rules to break, every concert a kind of sonic adventure,” Lockwood says of The Bad Plus. “But the original trio was a model of cohesion and never played a gig with a substitute musician — that is, until this year. So it was big news in the jazz world when the group’s founding pianist, Ethan Iverson, stepped down after 18 years, and was replaced by Orrin Evans, a longtime icon of the Philadelphia jazz scene. Understandably, it’s been a big year for Evans, but he is no stranger to the jazz piano trio, since he’s been a band leader for over 20 years and has had his own trio, Tarbaby. ”
Alexander is just 14 years old, and made his McCarter debut in 2017.
“The word ‘phenomenon’ is a misnomer when it comes to his prodigious talent,” Lockwood says of Alexander. “It started when he played for Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center in 2014 at the age of 11; and prior to that New York debut, I had occasion to ask Wynton whom he thought was going to be the ‘next big thing’ in the piano jazz world, and his answer without hesitation: Joey Alexander.”
Christian Sands is also young, 28, and has picked up five Grammy nominations.
“And what better mentor could you have than Christian McBride, with whom he toured as his pianist for six years,” Lockwood says of Sands. “It was McBride who first alerted me to Sands and said he was on the cusp of breaking out on his own in a big way from his generation of jazz pianist colleagues, not only as performer but also as composer, ‘so get him while you can!’ ”
Sands also is taking over stewardship of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project, taking over from Geri Allen, who was a mentor to Sands.
“Erroll Garner, whose [album] ‘Concert by the Sea’ is the stuff of legend, was the first jazz artist I ever presented at McCarter,” Lockwood says. “That Christian Sands is providing a sense of continuity to one of jazz music’s most enduring, but oft forgotten, keyboard giants is welcome news, especially for those of us for whom ‘Concert By the Sea’ — followed soon by Dave Brubeck and ‘Take Five’ — is where it all began.”
The festival will wrap up with a concert by Hersch, who Lockwood describes as the festival’s “anchor.”
“It is all too easy to call him an ’eminence’ of the field, so high in the esteem of his colleagues is he held,” Lockwood says. “And far from aspiring to membership in the pantheon of jazz royalty, he is the pantheon, which explains why I determined early on that his participation in our inaugural festival was essential, it’s where you start.”
For tickets and information, visit www.mccarter.org or call 609-258-2787.