Jeff Spevak

Arts & Culture contributor

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.

He has also been published in Musician and High Times magazines, contributed to WXXI, City newspaper and Post magazine, and occasionally performs spoken-word pieces around town. Some of his haikus written during the Rochester jazz festival were self-published in a book of sketches done by Scott Regan, the host of WRUR’s Open Tunings show.

Spevak founded an award-winning barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, and believes Bigfoot is real. His book on the life of a Lake Ontario sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during World War II will be published in April of 2019 by Lyons Press.

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The full line-up of the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival was announced on Tuesday.

WXXI's arts & cultural contributor Jeff Spevak has a look at what to expect:

Wedding vows, drunken Shakespeare, the dirt on Little House on the Prairie and two nights of Massaoke – mass karaoke involving a live band and thousands of singers, more or more-often less, on key. Tuesday’s Big Reveal for this year’s KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival is a cabinet of curiosities.

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Nine days, could you handle any more? C’mon tough guy, get off the street and get to that 10 o’clock show.

Who’s willing to play through the pain at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival? How about that guy who had the Jill Scott tattoo on his arm. Friday night at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, he got the singer to sign below her smiling face after her show. By Saturday morning he was at the tattoo shop, making her autograph permanent.

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Fifty years. Tower of Power has been a band seven times longer than The Beatles. It hasn’t been easy, admits founder Emilio Castillo. But here it is, playing the free outdoor show on Saturday, the final night of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. A night that’s traditionally the biggest of the festival’s nine days.

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

The headliner had cancelled the tour. St. Germain, a French techno-dance maestro, was out after he broke a leg. Yet Friday night was much as we’ve come to expect on these Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival weekends. On Gibbs Street a tight knot of people watching The Community Soul Project, a Canadian band singing Motown songs. East Avenue and Chestnut Street closed, thousands of people milling about.

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Gwyneth Herbert’s beautiful music, humor and humanity peeled away layers of cynicism Thursday at Max of Eastman Place. A packed house, and everyone surely left with the feeling that the world’s weighty problems might be eased with a beer and a kazoo. And by writing a letter, a fading exercise that Herbert suggested might be the answer to: “How can we listen to ourselves and each other?”

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

He had to count it out on his fingers. And it took both hands. Canadian guitarist Kevin Breit has played six of the 17 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festivals.

And every band has been a different musical idea. Folk Alarm 5, The Sisters Euclid. The Stretch Orchestra. Supergenerous, a collaboration with the Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista. Breit is a man whose résumé includes playing on Norah Jones’ first three albums.

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

“Songs of Freedom” is entertaining, if that’s what you wanted. Provocative, if that’s what you’re searching for.

The intriguing project at Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival Wednesday night, created by the celebrated drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., combined the music of three fearless women at Kilbourn Hall: Joni Mitchell, Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone, who Owens noted, “had freedom lodged in her voice.”

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Joe Locke said he’s inspired by words. Tuesday night, in his first set at Kilbourn Hall, the words were “welcome home.”

“This is always a spiritual experience for me to play here, because of my roots here,” he said. Raised in Rochester, an Eastman School of Music grad, Locke is widely regarded as one of jazz’s finest vibraphone players. He returns every few years to see some familiar faces and, thusly inspired, to play a knockout show at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Trail of Souls, we feel your pain. It is a very, very, very, very thin line between the loneliness of Norwegian folk music and “Motherless Child.”

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Thirty years ago, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones opened the bluegrass door, and in flew jazz, rock and country music. Classical, even. The quartet embraces a world view of sound, and Fleck has continued to expand his musical interests, in recent years releasing recordings of duets with jazz keyboard great Chick Corea, and recording a concerto with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.