Jackson Heights Jazz Festival hopes to highlight local musicians with free concerts

Photo courtesy of joeknipes.com

Jazz guitarist and Jackson Heights resident Joe Knipes has been helping to showcase the talents of neighborhood musicians since 2015.

Knipes, who has been playing music for 30 years, moved to Jackson Heights in 2000. He began noticing that many jazz musicians lived in Jackson Heights and surrounding neighborhoods and wanted to highlight their talents. The guitarist then founded the Jackson Heights Jazz Festival.

“They were all performing in Manhattan and going out on tour around the country and I thought it would be really cool if they could play in the neighborhood where people would be able to appreciate them,” he said. 

This year, the festival will run from July 6 through July 9 in local venues. The venues range from a local coffee shop to a park. Knipes, who organizes the festival by himself, said he tries to find venues that suit each act.

“I kind of have a running list of who’s in the neighborhood or at least close by and I try to look for an opportunity that would be right for each one,” he said. 

On the first day, the trio Jazz Triangle 65-77 will perform at Espresso 77 starting at 9 p.m. The cafe is located at 35-57 77th St. and hosts several shows a week. The trio includes flutist Haruna Fukazawa, guitarist Shu Odamura and bassist Akihiro Yamamoto, and they combine jazz music with a “chamber ensemble approach.”

On July 8, composer and saxophonist Javier Arau will play at the Queens Library at 35-51 81st St. starting at 2:30 p.m. Arau is the founder and executive director New York Jazz Academy, which has several locations, including one in Sunnyside.

On the same day, the Ed Fuqua Trio will play Espresso 77 at 9 p.m. Bassist Ed Fuqua, Arau and drummer Pete Zimmer will make their debut performance as a trio that night.

For the last day of the festival, Knipes teamed up with the Jackson Heights Beautification Group to get a rising star in the jazz world to perform in the neighborhood. The show will be a part of the Summer Sundays in the Park series at Travers Park.

King Solomon Hicks, who is not a Queens resident, will perform on 78th Street starting at 4 p.m. He has been called ‘Lil’ B.B. King and has been the lead guitarist and performer of a 13-piece band since he was 13 years old. At 14, he recorded his first album.

Though Knipes acknowledges he “bent the rules” by adding a non-Queens resident, he said, “[Hicks is] a star that’s rising so I’m glad I was able to grab him.”

Knipes hopes to add more venues and performers in the coming years and has been able to add several sponsors this year including Food Town, Table Wine and Sac’s Place.

“Jazz is alive and well in Queens and we’re excited to showcase the artists we have right here in local Jackson Heights,” he said. 


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