Syracuse Jazz Fest clobbers its naysayers

Still free after all these years ... with three days and nights of knock-out music:

Jeff Lorber fused. Boz Scaggs crooned. Natalie Cole walked her baby back home.

The three headliners of the 28th annual Syracuse Jazz Festival lit up the Everding Main Stage at the Onondaga County Community College campus last weekend, but some of the support acts -- like guitarists Richie Havens and K.J. Denhart, keyboardists Kim Jordan and Michael Kaeshammer, vocalist Gil Scott-Heron, Toph-E & The Pussycats and 14 area scholastic combos -- burned just as brightly.

A few political flames also flickered on Sunday evening in the many moments before Cole finally took the stage to close the 2010 jazz bash. Festival Artistic Director Frank Malfitano praised OCC President Debbie Sydow and County Executive Joanie Mahoney, who joined him on stage.

"They kept this festival free when other people didn't want it to be free," he said.

Mahoney echoed Malfitano's veiled reference to County Comptroller Robert Antonacci who had criticized the amount of money county government pours into the festival annually.

"This was a very difficult year for jazz fest," Mahoney told Sunday's crowd of about 16,000. "The state had promised Frank money that didn't come through, and even some people in county government were asking him to charge admission."

The jazz fest has been free ever since 1990 when it moved from Long Branch Park to Clinton Square. It moved to OCC in 2001.

In April, Antonacci -- who was running for state Comptroller at the time -- complained that the combined contributions of the county Legislature and OCC amounted to nearly $150,000. He suggested that Malfitano share proceeds from the $5 per vehicle parking charge with the county and urged the festival to cut back to two days instead of three.

"Without Onondaga County there would be no jazz fest," Malfitano exclaimed when he introduced Mahoney on Sunday.

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