Fest to hit a high note at Town Point Park
By E. David Vida
Article originally written for Soundings
Hampton Roads always offers up a good mix of
music and shows to satisfy all tastes.
Whether it’s the grand stage of the mega
amphitheaters, or the smaller stage of the Norva, or the even
smaller stages of the bar circuit around town; there’s
always a good band playing somewhere. Music festivals also
pop up with regularity, and the summer months brings a diverse
bunch of acts to the area.
On Aug. 4 and 5, jazz fans can soak up some
smooth sounds when Norfolk hosts their 24th Annual Norfolk
Jazz Festival at Town Point Park. The festival will feature
national jazz artists like Brian Culbertson, Warren Hill and
Kim Waters, as well as the Guitar and Saxes Tour featuring
Gerald Albright, Jeff Golub, Peter White and many more.
But it wouldn’t be a local festival without
some local jazz bands on the bill. RaJazz and Forte, both
from Hampton Roads, will take the stage and open the show
with some favorite timeless cover songs and original numbers.
But like many local bands, members are often
not full-time musicians. They have day jobs. RaJazz band leader
and keyboardist Rogers Brown, a music professor at Norfolk
State University, has taught a wide range of students, many
of them members of a variety of bands around the Hampton Roads.
Some of his former students are a part of local
talents like The Fuzz Band and Seed Is… and even the
band leader and sax player of local partnering act for the
jazz festival, Forte’s Brian Pinner, a quality specialist
for Virginia’s Dominion Power, has taken Brown’s
music courses while studying NSU.
“He’s a great musician,” Pinner
said. “He taught me how to read and perform jazz music.
He also wrote some of the best scores for marching band.”
Brown has been teaching music at NSU for 26
years. He’s seen the Norfolk Jazz Festival grow from
its university beginnings on the campus grounds before being
taken up by Norfolk’s Festevents, which has taken the
festival over to the downtown Waterside area. He has seen
plenty of acts take the stage and many of them have been his
“If you’ve been teaching as long as I have, the
years start to run together,” he said with a laugh.
And so does the long list of students who graduated
from his classes over the years. Many of them now have their
own musical careers in a variety of genres. Even his current
sax player and vocalist DeCarlo Woodhouse is a Class of 1997
graduate of NSU.
For these two local groups, playing gigs around
town is a must and, even though they have their day jobs,
they occasionally take their gigs on the road to nearby festivals.
“We play out constantly,” said Pinner.
“(Recently) we played the Af’ram Festival and
we’re currently slated to play Bay Days (in Sept. 8-10)…We
hit all the major festivals.”
Along with the festivals, Pinner explained,
Forte brings their music to local clubs in the area: The Train
Station and Rob’s Class Act in Newport News, and the
Main Street Jazz Restaurant in Suffolk.
RaJazz also works the local jazz places as well.
“We’ve played around at a few places,”
Brown said. “We played in New Orleans a couple of times
for the Bayou Classic (festival) and in Washington D.C.”
But jazz is not the only genre of music in the
RaJazz repertoire; they specialize in many different styles
“We have a reputation for playing a variety
of music,” Brown said. “We play party music and
dance music…All musicians are trained in a variety of
Having this under their belt makes them more
versatile and keeps the gigs coming. This holds true for both
bands and they have been known to play parties, private functions
and weddings, wherever the demand is needed.
As for their live shows, both bands and their
leaders want to assure the crowd is pleased with every performance.
“My keyboard player has a good feel of
reading the crowd,” Pinner said of Forte’s keyboardist
Pete Jaymes. On their website, www.fortejazz.com, Pinner describes
this talent as “situational awareness” and that
Jaymes knows how to work it well. Depending on the audience,
the band will play a song differently at different gigs.
For Brown’s band, members take their turn
showcasing their talent and virtuosity with their instruments.
“In RaJazz everyone solos at some point
(in the show),” Brown said. “No one person will
be completely featured at one time…This keeps the energy
As one of the trademarks in jazz music, one
song can be played 10 different ways and same goes with these
two bands’ performances, which makes every show unique
and fresh every time.