Yesterday was a beautiful day for a Jazz Feast, but that annual event at Palmer Square slipped into history a couple years ago. In its place is Music Fest, whose program this year looked longingly backwards towards bygone eras of jazz and rock. Gone is the mix of young jazz talent and veteran performers. I listened briefly to the one jazzish group on the bill. A crooner imitated Frank Sinatra well in voice, and the band dutifully played down classic arrangements by Neal Hefti and Nelson Riddle. There was not one solo, just a trip down memory lane. I felt sad and moved on. All this sentimentalism made me want to go back to a not so distant past when Palmer Square was generously bringing us jazz that had a past, present and a future.
Just down Nassau Street, I stopped at the native prairie growing above the renovated underground portions of the Princeton University library. It was planted in homage to Betsy Stockton. Once the slave of a university president, she was freed and went on to found a school for African American students in Princeton, and helped found the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.
The prairie, a complex planting, is being maintained well by the university, and pollinators were feasting on the asters, while I, a jazz lover, was in fast mode.
In more ways than jazz, in the past there was a future. We honor the past by looking forward as well as back. For jazz fasters in Princeton, outdoor jazz may start blooming in April, not September, and be on the gown side of the town/gown Nassau Street divide. Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is doing great things as director of Jazz at Princeton University, including the second annual jazz festival on campus, April 18, 2020.