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Hampton Jazz & Music Festival kicks off with new name, more genres

Mississippi-based artist Kingfish is one of the national acts scheduled to perform at the Hampton Jazz & Music Festival.
Photo by Colin Hart
Mississippi-based artist Kingfish is one of the national acts scheduled to perform at the Hampton Jazz & Music Festival.

The Hampton Jazz & Music Festival features national artists like Boyz II Men, Coco Jones and Jon Batiste and local performers, like The Fuzz Band.

Milton Solomon is jazzed to kick off his summer by driving a familiar route.

He'll head south from his Baltimore home to Hampton for his favorite weekend of the year.

"I've been going to the Hampton Jazz Festival for the last 45 years," Solomon said in a phone call from Baltimore.

The Hampton Coliseum will host the three-day Hampton Jazz and Music Festival beginning June 28.

The festival’s most requested artist, R&B singer-songwriter KEM, headlines the first night. Friday’s offerings include Grammy-winning singer Ledisi and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, a young blues guitarist with Mississippi roots who has drawn comparisons to Jimi Hendrix.

Saturday's slate features Boyz II Men, Grammy winner Coco Jones and saxophonist Boney James, among others. On Sunday, multi-instrumentalist Jon Batiste, the former bandleader for "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," will make his inaugural appearance at the festival as will October London, whose voice has drawn comparisons to Marvin Gaye. Brian Culbertson, an eclectic showman with 40 No. 1 singles in his career, returns as well.

Solomon remembers watching Gaye at the festival in 1976, part of the decade when “Kool” was in the official name because of a sponsorship with the Newport cigarette brand.

That era isn’t long after the beginning of the festival, which dates back to 1968 as a show on the campus of Hampton University. It morphed into a festival that has since welcomed a roster of jazz legends — Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughan and more.

Over the years, the lineups expanded to feature a variety of R&B, funk and soul performers. The event officially changed its name this year to the Hampton Jazz & Music Festival, extending a hand to a broader audience demographic.

"We are excited to present a bigger range of music and hope to reach a bigger range of fans," said Joe Santangelo, festival co-promoter. "We feel confident that the people who have been coming for years will still love the show, and we know the newcomers will be shocked at what they've been missing."

Solomon welcomes the rebranding, noting: "You can't please everybody. I like music. I can enjoy a spiritual. I can enjoy an opera. I can enjoy jazz, rhythm and blues. The name change isn't a problem with me."

Per tradition, local musicians from Hampton Roads open for nationally recognized acts. That includes The Fuzz Band, which appeared at the festival in 2010. Since then, the band's sound of funk, jazz and soul has garnered multiple awards and a nod in Rolling Stone.

Bandleader Duane Smith remembers being thrilled at the invitation to appear 14 years ago.

"Frankie Beverly was there, and it was one of the last times he performed at Hampton Coliseum," Smith said. "It was nice to be part of that history."

The Fuzz Band, part of Sunday's lineup, has since added more percussion and incorporated Afro beat, though Smith added, "We're still the same old Fuzz Band. We want to give you a great energy show. We want to touch souls."

For tickets and information, visit Hampton Jazz Festival.

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