After online detour last year, live jazz returns to Wilmington for annual downtown festival

The annual Wilmington festival honoring jazz great Clifford Brown is back in person after taking a virtual detour last year.

Maya Belardo performs at a Delaware jazz festival

Maya Belardo performs a lunchtime concert in downtown Wilmington as part of the 34th annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

The jazz is back.

The 34th annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival brings live music back to a newly refurbished Rodney Square in the heart of downtown Wilmington after moving online last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The free performances started Wednesday night and will run through Sunday night. Featured performers include celebrated jazz artists like five-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves, Grammy-nominated singer Eric Benét, and Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum.

“You can tell that people were ready to be out and about again and enjoying this festival,” said Tina Betz, Wilmington’s cultural affairs director. “We had folks out here last night dancing to the music, just having a great time, people who never met each other before or seeing each other for the first time.”

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“The music’s just been phenomenal and it’s so nice to see everybody out and about,” said Angela Suchanic who lives just a half a block away from the festival. “I was over at the mainstage at Rodney Square yesterday. It was fantastic just to see so much energy, and the music was wonderful.”

Suchanic was in nearby H.B. DuPont Park Thursday afternoon to enjoy a lunchtime performance by Maya Belardo, who was accompanied by a pianist, drummer, and upright bassist. Belardo, a Wilmington native, was excited to be a part of the festival honoring jazz great Clifford Brown, who was born on Wilmington’s East Side.

“It feels great to be performing in my hometown, especially because a lot of people don’t know that Clifford Brown is from here,” Belardo said. “It’s great to bring those jazz roots back because people don’t know the jazz roots that are in Wilmington.”

Brown was born in 1930 and lived just a few blocks from where his namesake festival is now held.

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Though he died at the age of 25, the jazz trumpeter’s short career has had an outsized influence on other players, including Arturo Sandoval, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, and Freddie Hubbard. Some of Brown’s compositions, including “Joy Spring” and “Daahoud,” have become jazz standards.

Betz said Brown “went on to make a huge, indelible imprint in the jazz world. … In that short period of time, he became a legend.”

Concert-goers will also get an up-close look at the newly renovated Rodney Square, which city leaders unveiled in June. There’s new landscaping and lighting, plus a splash fountain for kids to play in, though the festival stage temporarily blocks access to the fountain area. There are plans for more upgrades, including terraced seating.

Performances start at 5:30 p.m. Friday, at noon on Saturday, and at 1 p.m. Sunday.

The remaining lineup includes:

Friday, Aug. 6

  • Grover Washington Jr. Legacy Band
  • Gerald Veasley
  • Dianne Reeves with John Beasley, Romero Lubambo, Reuben Rogers, and Terreon Gully

Saturday, Aug. 7

  • Jennifer Hartswick and Nick Cassarino Duo
  • Chien Chien Lu
  • Clifford Brown Festival Orchestra featuring Maya Belardo, Nadjah Nicole, Darnell Miller, Jackie Browne, Tony “Big Cat” Smith, Skip Bordley, and Stacy Harcum
  • Jane Bunnett and Maqueque
  • Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Justice with special guest Ms. Lisa Fischer
  • Kenny Barron Trio

Sunday, Aug. 8

  • Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency Graduates’ Concert
  • Raphael Xavier’s: The Musician & The Mover

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