by Donald H. Whitely
If you’re walking around Tarrytown during the remainder of the summer and see some folks wearing a blue t-shirt with “Thompson’s Jazz Posse” on the back, stop and ask them about it. They’ll be happy to tell you about their recent outing to the Saratoga Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, New York in June. For some of these jazz enthusiasts it was their first time (but surely not the last time) attending the festival; for others, like Gregory Thompson Sr. and myself, it was our 40th anniversary.
Lifelong Tarrytown residents, Gregory Thompson, Sr. and I have been attending the Newport (now the Freihofer’s) Jazz Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) since its inception in 1978. Each year during the last weekend in June, we would travel with our wives and friends, rain or shine, to enjoy our favorite jazz artists. The idea quickly spread to more of our friends who lived outside of Tarrytown. So, in 1991 Gregory and his wife Claudia created “Thompson Jazz Posse.” Greg and Claudia reserved hotel and motel rooms and concert tickets and chartered a coach bus for those attending the festival for the entire weekend. For many years, we lodged at the Saratoga Downtowner Motel, often booking all the rooms. Over the last several years, however, work and family schedules prevented many of the new members from spending the entire weekend, so it made more sense to travel as a caravan in our own cars.
Our weekend in Saratoga begins on Friday morning, checking in to our hotel, and then patronizing a popular restaurant in downtown Saratoga for dinner. Back at the hotel, we usually socialize for several hours and take time to get to know the new “Thompson’s Jazz Posse” members. On Saturday morning, it’s off to SPAC for a full day of jazz. This ritual repeats on Sunday as well. For four days, the group enjoys great music, friends, food and a huge craft fair where you can purchase anything from jewelry to clothing and art. Then it’s back to our respective lives on Monday. “Thompson’s Jazz Posse” members also get together for an annual BBQ and attend summer jazz concerts throughout the local area.
The original Newport Jazz Festival began in 1954 at the famed Tennis Casino in Newport, Rhode Island. The festival was called the First Annual Jazz Festival. It was later brought to New York City due to popularity and attendance. In 1978, jazz impresario George Wein founded the “The Newport Jazz Festival at Saratoga.” In 1998, it was renamed Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival. The two-day, two-stage festival continues to be one of the largest jazz music events in North America, loved by audiences for the remarkable line-up of international jazz talent, and the spectacular setting at the Performing Arts Center in picturesque Saratoga Spa State Park.
Over the years, the Thompson’s Jazz Posse has experienced many fantastic performers at the festival, including Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, Sarah Vaughn, B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, David Sanborn, Dave Brubeck, McCoy Tyner, Wynton Marsalis, Spyra Gyra, Stanley Jordan, Chick Corea, Ruben Blades, Al Jarreau, Grover Washington, Jr., Buddy Guy, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Herbie Hancock, Arturo Sandoval, the Brecker Brothers and Roy Hargrove to name a few. Tarrytown’s own jazz legend and tenor sax player, the late Carmen Leggio also performed at the festival. Carmen died in 2009 but leaves a legacy of playing with such jazz greats as Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Dizzie Gillespie and Doc Severinsen. Carmen also performed on television, and a variety of concert halls such as Birdland and Carnegie Hall.
As the weather becomes cooler during the fall and winter months, you may also see us wearing our signature black jacket, also with the posse logo on the back. Don’t forget to inquire about joining this fun group of jazz enthusiasts. The only thing you need bring is your love for jazz. For more information, contact Gregory Thompson, Sr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.