Guitarist and composer Ken Navarro
Guitarist and composer Ken Navarro

Back in the swing with smooth jazz

Dear reader, and you know who you are, by the time you’re reading this column, your ol’pal Pat will be ensconced on the lawn of the very scenic Pine Cliffs resort, enjoying a concert by one of the many acts performing at this year’s Smooth Jazz Festival.

That’s right. After over two years of staying home and exhausting Netflix on TV, my lovely wife and I are once again out and about taking advantage of the renewed cultural scene here in the Algarve.

As most of us are painfully aware, our social lives have been drastically reduced, if not totally eliminated, due to the lockdowns required to keep us and our neighbours safe and healthy. Goodness knows, we still need to be careful and aware and there’s still the worry that Covid could make a comeback. However, thanks to Portugal being one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, with strict but reasonable mask policies (and great cooperation by the majority of the population), it really does look like we can once again get out and enjoy music and scenery with fellow fans. We’ve been good and followed the rules, and now it’s time to reward ourselves by attending a festival, or a concert or simply a night out with friends.

For ol’Pat, the Smooth Jazz Festival is an ideal opportunity. First of all, Pine Cliffs, with its impressive cliffs facing south and overlooking the Atlantic from sunrise to sunset, is just the type of setting that makes us appreciate why we live here in the first place. Secondly, I’m a fan. Smooth jazz played by talented musicians is a very pleasant form of music. It’s called smooth because this form of jazz emphasizes melody and avoids some of the discord that makes listening to some jazz a bit of a challenge.

Guitarist and composer Ken Navarro
Guitarist and composer Ken Navarro

Smooth jazz is listenable and likable while still being quite creative and innovative. The sounds transport us to a happy, romantic place.

The festival runs from May 3 to May 8, with performances every day and evening (for more information, go to www.algarve.smoothjazzfestival.de and for last-minute ticket info, go to www.smoothjazzshop.ev)

There is one other reason that yours truly is particularly excited about this year’s festival, which is now planned to be an annual affair. One of the headliners of this year’s edition is a very talented and successful guitarist and composer named Ken Navarro, who has created a 26-album catalog of much musical depth and scope. He has had numerous Top 5 hits at national radio along the way.

According to Navarro’s bio, his release “Dreaming of Trains” was pre-nominated for the Grammy awards in two categories and his album “Ruby Lane” spent four months in the Top 10 at contemporary/smooth jazz radio, streaming, iTunes and Amazon. “Music For Guitar and Orchestra” was Navarro’s first recording with a symphony orchestra. I have purchased nearly a dozen of his CDs and I believe that his musically diverse discography appeals to a wide range of listeners with inspiring compositions and superb guitar performances. The guy can play.

I also remember Ken from way back when. I knew Kenny (that’s what we called him back then) when he was in high school and I was a brand-new English and Public Speaking teacher, just out of college. This was back in the very early 1970s.

The fact that I remember him at all after over 50 years is a testament to what an outstanding character he was even in high school. Not surprisingly, Kenny was the star of the annual talent show at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland. This wasn’t just any other high school either. Every year, Time Magazine lists the top 100 high schools in the US and guess where Walt Whitman, which is a public school, finished. Yup – Number One. So, what I’m saying is that good ol’Kenny was an outstanding student in an outstanding place.

You know you are old (and I’m old) when one of your former students has been married for 50 years. Ken married his high school sweetheart Kristin, who I also remember distinctly, and they’ve been together ever since.

I want to go on record that I have had very little, if any, influence on Navarro’s success. He and his girlfriend were speech students of mine, and I did make a super-eight movie based on a novel we were studying in English class, by John Steinbeck, starring Ken as Kino the pearl diver and Kristin as Juana his tragic wife. However, his musical career was something I simply admired from afar as it progressed through a lifetime of creativity.

I am proud of the fact that Ken achieved what he did as an independent artist and music producer. Not only did he produce and distribute his own best-selling albums, but his “contributions to contemporary and mainstream jazz have gone way beyond his personal artistry. As a founder of Positive Music Records, Ken is responsible for launching and furthering the recording careers of a number of other artists including Gregg Karukas, a Grammy-winning keyboardist, who also hails from Baltimore, Maryland, and will also be performing at this year’s festival.

Indeed, “Ken’s vision of a musician’s record label has enhanced the genre with over 35 new artists and 100 releases”. For more information about Ken Navarro and to order his music, go to kennavarromusic@gmail.com

So yes, I couldn’t be more excited about attending the first music performance my lovely wife and I have had a chance to attend in nearly three long years. This year’s Smooth Jazz Festival at Pine Cliffs is way cool.

For information about upcoming events in the Algarve, click here

By Pat the Expat
|| features@algarveresident.com
For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.