Standing at the intersection of 2nd and Clay Streets, sounds and smells from all sides inhabit your awareness. No less than two blocks in each cardinal direction stands a stage occupied by musicians or dancers. Countless food and merchandise vendors highlight the cuisine, art, and clothing of the Jackson Ward neighborhood’s African American heritage. In its 21st year, the Second Street Festival stands strong as a celebration of the neighborhood’s deep history. A highlight each year for jazz fans is the Richmond Jazz Society’s Joe Kennedy Jr. Jazz Stage, which does its part in bringing the audience back to the heyday of jazz and swing in the vibrant community. Each 50-minute set on the stage is one facet of Richmond’s diverse jazz palette.
The Billy Williams Quartet featured Williams on drums, trumpeter-cum-saxophonist Marcus Tenney, bassist Mike Hawkins, and guitarist Alan Parker. Playing tunes by Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, and John Coltrane, as well as a funky swinging version of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” the band kicked off the weekend at the jazz stage with a thrilling set.
Doc Branch & The Key Notes brought their familiar brand of energetic and crowd-riling takes on jazz standards and classics. With help from vocalist Lady E, the always dapper Doc fronted the band of guitarist Gene Pendleton, bassist Matt Harris, drummer Mike Hoggard, and pianist Dr. Sheresse Ford-Dudley.
The festival’s second day on Two Street brought a cloudless sky, men and women in their Sunday best, and passionate performances on stage. First on the jazz stage was Mike Hawkins and the Jazz-Pel Choir singing spirituals with pianist Dr. Weldon Hill and saxophonist Kevin Simpson contributing tones of gospel jazz.
Desiree Roots has a dynamic voice, a rich low register tone with a gorgeous vibrato. Singing tunes that showed the influence of Dionne Warwick and Etta James, Roots and her Rosetta Stone quartet was a perfect package.
Drummer Van Lighty and QED Jazz performed for a huge audience that overflowed from the tent into the sunlight. Trumpeter Rolando Jordan and Doc Branch blew over bebop and standard jazz tunes with pianist Matt Lee, Hawkins, and Lighty in the back line.