Annapolis Jazz Festival reborn as guitar lover's dream


What goes around, comes around, however much reduced in scale.

The Charlie Byrd Music Festival started at the end of September and continues this weekend and next in Annapolis at the Maryland Inn's King of France Tavern. And jazz fans have been given an almost heaven-sent opportunity to enjoy some of the best jazz guitarists on the East Coast.

The performers' bill contains such prominent names as Baltimore's Ethel Ennis, New York's Gene Bertoncini, Howard Alden, and Bucky Pizarelli, along with Pete Kennedy and the Washington Guitar Quintet, the Annapolis Brass Quintet, and, of course, Charlie Byrd.

It concludes Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 with Brazilian guitarists Carlos Barbossa-Lima and Laurindo Almeida performing with Byrd.

"So we'll have those three remarkable talents who will be playing together on this one stage," said Maryland Inn proprietor Paul Pearson. "Now that's unusual; 85 seats, and three of the greatest guitarists in the world, on one stage." The King of France Tavern, he said, is "like listening in your own living room."

This year's performances are distantly related to the Annapolis Jazz Festival, which was sponsored by the Maryland Inn about 10 years ago. It featured a variety of top jazz names such as Dizzy Gillespie, and took place in venues all over the city.

It proved a popular success, but a financial problem for organizer Pearson, who has since gone on to make the King of France one of the top jazz and folk rooms on the East Coast. But the idea of another festival never entirely left him.

"We were too ambitious," Pearson recalled, "but [this time] we'll do it a different way. This time we're focusing the festival on Charlie Byrd and guitar music, and I think that will make the difference. It's all in this room, and I think it'll work."

The formula for a successful festival of this type, said Pearson, was very basic.

"Plan it at least three months ahead of time, organize your PR very carefully, keep it modest in proportion, and bring in really top-notch professional players. That's what we've done, beginning with Charlie [Byrd]."

Among the performers working with Byrd is Howard Alden, an established figure in New York but a comparative newcomer to this area. Recently named "Best Emerging Talent-Guitar" in the Jazztimes critics' poll he performs tonight, as a guest of the Charlie Byrd Trio.

"This will be my second visit to Annapolis," Alden said recently, explaining that his involvement in the festival came about when "Charlie Byrd called me up and asked me to come down."

Alden, who has recorded five albums on the Concord label -- also Byrd's label --, and his own Howard Alden-Dan Barrett Quintet play primarily in the Big Apple, but he jumped at the chance to work with his idol.

"I've been listening to him since I started [as a professional musician]," he said, "and I was delighted to get the call from him."

Born in California, but based in New York since 1982, the 32-year-old Alden has been playing jazz since he was 10. He has worked with performers such as Joe Bushkin, Joe Williams, Red Norvo and Woody Herman.

In 1979, he spent the summer performing with the Red Norvo Trio in Atlantic City and fell in love with the East Coast. Alden explained that he prefers to live and work in New York because "there's a lot more live music here, and particularly jazz."

He described his style as one of "planned improvisation, using a repertoire of the standards of popular and classic jazz of performers like Thelonius Monk. I improvise within that setting. There's no free-form or avante garde here."

Other performers featured at the festival this weekend include the remarkable Pete Kennedy of Washington. He and Byrd will appear tomorrow night, leading the Pete and Charlie's Blues and Boogie Band.

One of the capital's most respected guitarists, Kennedy is equally at home playing jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, or anything that involves a guitar.

On Sunday, the weekend closes out with the Annapolis debut of the Washington Guitar Quintet, making its Annapolis debut with Byrd. There will be a special 6:30 p.m. show for charity, followed by the second show at 8:30 p.m.

The other shows on Friday and Saturday nights start at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Information: 263-2641 or 269-0990.

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