The Montclair Jazz Festival was canceled due to thunderstorms: a first in its nine-year history. But President and Founder Melissa Walker knew it was important to find a place for the kids to play. Bobbi and Steven Plofker offered the use of the buildings at 18 Label, and a different kind of festival, for the families of the kids, and for the students took place instead, on Saturday, Aug. 11.

The general public could not be invited because while 18 Label was hopping with more than 400 people, the Montclair Jazz Festival would have attracted 12,000, said Jazz House Kids Communications Specialist Nancy Klein told us at the event.

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Headliners did agree to play, including Christian McBride, Oliver Lake, and Eddie Palmieri. But the focus was on the kids, who grooved and swung and got it done.

In our article covering the improvised Jazz Festival, we interviewed Walker, The Bravitas Group co-founder and CEO, and presenting sponsor, Bob Silver, emcees S. Epatha Merkerson and Gary Walker, and 11-year-old keyboard player Benjamin Collins-Siegel.

Nobody was happy the festival was called off, of course, and Collins-Siegel, who would have played the festival for the first time, was mad. But he was happy he got to play, The Maplewood student plays classical piano too, but loves the freedom of jazz.

Silver said, “The primary focus was making sure there was a venue where the kids could play.” After two weeks at the summer workshops, it would have been a shame to deprive students of their opportunity to perform.

From now on, Walker told us, the Montclair Jazz Festival will have a site plan in case of dangerous storms. What it will be is unclear yet, but Walker is confident they’ll be able to figure something out.

She said she lamented the thousands who couldn’t celebrate the kids at the Montclair Jazz Festival, the concerts were “really special. We’re here to grow young people and tomorrow’s leaders, and I think we did that.”

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The mainstage for the Montclair Jazz Festival sits forlornly in an empty field, before being broken down. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL