Gonzalo Bergara
Gonzalo Bergara
Jersey City Jazz Festival @ 107 Morgan Street (June 4 & 5)

There’ll be other cultural events on the calendar. But in Jersey City, the J in June stands for jazz. Our excellent local jazz festival has grown from a small get-together in a Heights park to a two-day Downtown blowout with multiple stages, international talent, and satellite events scattered all over town. It’s now the largest jazz festival in the New York metropolitan area. Its ascendancy is reflected in a recent name change. What began more than a decade ago as the Riverview Jazz Festival is now the Jersey City Jazz Festival: citywide, full of local pride, forward-looking, but still radiating a certain ramshackle Hudson County spirit.  Target audience: you.

And though JCJF has attracted name artists — not to mention corporate sponsors — it retains much of the distinctive personality of its founder. Sax man Brian Beninghove loves jazz, but he’s the farthest thing from a purist. In his time on the local music scene, he’s played manouche, gritty fusion, John Zorn-like no-wave, crazed soundtrack music with his Hangmen, and, he’s handy with traditional bop, too. The common denominator is a certain pleasant rowdiness and party-friendliness.  Beninghove clearly sees jazz as celebratory music, and the eclectic lineup at the Festival reflects that.  We’ve singled out three attractions below, but quality control at this Festival has always been very high.  Whenever you show up, you can expect to hear something interesting, and maybe something joyful, too.

(Music starts at noon on Saturday, June 4 and runs until 8 p.m., and begins at noon on Sunday, June 5 and runs until 6 p.m.; visit www.riverviewjazz.org for full schedules and more information. Most Jersey City Jazz Festival events are free to the public, but if you’d really like to blow it out, you can get a two-day VIP ticket for $125 that guarantees you reserved front-row seating for both days of the Festival, and access to a refreshment tent.)

Winard Harper @ Jersey City Jazz Festival (June 4)

The Jersey City Jazz Festival continues to provide a platform for the tireless Winard Harper, the veteran drummer and music educator who, through his ongoing series of jams at Moore’s Lounge (189 Monticello Ave.), has kept the flame burning through some lean years for local music.  If anybody deserves to be part of the Jersey jazz revival, it’s Harper, who, like Beninghove, takes an expansive view of the possibilities of his chosen form, and is always looking for ways to push his music, and his accompanists, forward. Should you want to groove to a Jersey City legend, Harper will appear with his Jeli Posse on the Bank of America Stage on Saturday at 3 p.m.

Little Johnny @ Jersey City Jazz Festival (June 4)

Some Latin drummers are wizards on the conga. Others are skilled at the bongo.  Vincent Rivero — who performs as Little Johnny — is a revelation on both instruments. Technically, most of his fans consider the East Harlem-raised musician a conguero first, but no matter what he’s hitting, he’s a master percussionist and a charismatic bandleader who has moved crowds all over the hemisphere. While Little Johnny is plenty dexterous and lightning fast on the congas, he’s primarily a virtuoso of feel: his pocket is as warm and comfortable as a bathing suit left out in the Caribbean sun. He’ll close out the first night of the Festival on the Bank of America Stage at 7 p.m.  It should be quite a party.

Gonzalo Bergara @ Jersey City Jazz Festival (June 5)

So: do you dig those gypsy jazz nights at Madame Claude?  Of course you do; you’ve got a pulse. Ever wonder what a fearless, imaginative, world-class guitarist could do with that Django Reinhardt sound?  Argentinian Gonzalo Bergara is the best kind of experimentalist: his playing is so smooth, so fluid, and so effortless, that you might not even notice how far out he goes. His fretboard work is a blinding fusion of Parisian sophistication and Argentinian folk melody, and as dazzling and lyrical as his leads are, his rhythm playing might be even more mesmerizing. He’ll thrill the local manouchebags on the Exchange Place Alliance Stage at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Lily Mastrodimos @ Fox & Crow (June 11)

Though it was released in 2015, “Heights,” the first true full-length project by Lily Mastrodimos of Long Neck, anticipated much of the sound of contemporary independent pop-rock: female-fronted, anguished and lovelorn, guitar-forward, gritty, witty, indebted to Liz Phair, Tracy Bonham, and other formally experiment rock songwriters of the ’90s.  By “World’s Strongest Dog,” Long Neck had figured out how to bite —the group forged a tough, lean rock sound that matched the obsessions and the emotional intensity of the song’s narrators. Lily Mastrodimos’s knack for melody has never deserted her, no matter what she’s done, and this June, she’ll be appearing as a solo artist in the room best suited for intimate musical expression: the Parlor at Fox & Crow.  She might keep it mellow. Or she might blow the doors off.  (Fox & Crow, 594 Palisade Ave., 8 p.m.; visit www.foxandcrowjc.com.)

Prateek Kuhad @ White Eagle Hall (June 24)

If you didn’t know his backstory, you might mistake Prateek Kuhad as a typical sweet-singing folk-rock auteur, indebted to Elliott Smith, Vance Joy, and Jose Gonzalez. When he starts singing in Hindi, he tips his hand a little. Truth is, Kuhad is a pioneer: he’s one of the few Indian-born pop artists to win a dedicated audience in America. You won’t necessarily hear his Jaipur roots on “Cold/Mess,” the shattering 2018 breakup ballad that’s still his best-known song in the States. But you don’t have to dig too deep in his catalogue to encounter tracks that make the distance from Rajasthan to Jersey City feel like a walk around the block. And that is, in Kuhad’s quiet way, revolutionary. (White Eagle Hall, 337 Newark Ave., 7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show, $27.50; visit www.whiteeaglehalljc.com.)

GOMO’s Pre-Summer Open Mic @ SMUSH (June 16)

Dance shows, photography exhibitions, community-themed discussion forums, movie nights, workshops, boardgame parties; SMUSH sure smushes a lot into that tiny, pretty space on the border of Journal Square.  Now they bring us an open mic, variety show, and musical event hosted by… a ghost?  Should you be terrified?  Nah, it’s just the SMUSHers being their playful, giddy selves. They’re far too friendly and welcoming to spook anybody.  I think. (SMUSH, 340 Summit Ave., 7:30 p.m., $10 – $30; visit www.smushgallery.com.)

Avatar photo

Tris McCall

Tris McCall has written about art, architecture, performance, politics, and public culture for many publications, including the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, Jersey Beat, the Jersey City Reporter,...