Juneteenth Jazz Fest returns with six days of music, history, celebration
Juneteenth is coming up and with it, the second annual Juneteenth Jazz Arts Festival in Las Cruces. This year the six-day festival features three days of online offerings and three days of in-person events, including concerts, talks, films, and a jazz improvisation workshop. “We have jazz of all kinds,” said organizer Derrick Lee in this Zoom interview with Intermezzo host Leora Zeitlin. “We’ve got straight-ahead bebop, we’ve got Afro-Cuban jazz, we’ve got vocal jazz, we’ve got a little bit of blues and funk, we try to touch on everything.”
Virtual concerts, which begin on Tuesday, June 14, at 5 p.m., will showcase Jacobo Vega-Albela and his ensemble (Vega-Albela grew up in Las Cruces and recently graduated from the Eastman School of Music); Reginald Lewis and the Simply This Quartet from Champaign-Urbana, IL; and the Joe Dunn Chamber Fusion Ensemble. Those interested in history can attend talks on the background of the Juneteenth holiday, which dates back to 1865 and became a federal holiday last year, with NMSU General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer Roy Collins III, and on the history of jazz with Smithsonian historian James K. Zimmerman.
Live concerts on the Plaza de Las Cruces and at the Rio Grande Theatre begin Friday night with the Billy Townes Group, continue all Saturday and Sunday afternoon with several bands each day, and wrap up Sunday evening with concerts by the Ricky Malachi Trio and the Derrick Lee Group. The annual NAACP Juneteenth Banquet is also part of the festival. Click here for a full schedule: https://daarts.org/events/.
For Lee, who also serves on the New Mexico Music Commission, the festival is “a voice and an opportunity — a voice for Juneteenth, a voice for Black American music, a voice for artists in this area and for our state, and an opportunity to connect better, to listen to each other better, to celebrate despite all the hardships we’ve been through.”