Folk music

Virtuoso keyboardist Jamie Saft to play jazz in the woods

Jamie Saft sits in front of a Yamaha organ in his studio in Alna on Saturday August 21. Saft, a piano virtuoso, has performed with jazz, rock and creative music legends including Iggy Pop, Wadada Leo Smith, Roswell Rudd, Bad Brains, John Zorn, the B-52s, Bobby Previte, Steve Swallow and the Beastie Boys. (photo by Bisi Cameron Yee)

Internationally acclaimed musician, composer and Alna resident Jamie Saft is dropping many names. But for him, dropping names is not about bragging. It does not come from a place of ego. Saft has been fortunate enough to collaborate with masters of jazz, rock, new wave, funk, metal and more. And he wants to share the music and the musicians who inspire him.

It’s a long list. Saft, virtuoso pianist and keyboardist, songwriter, record producer and studio musician has worked with a range of iconic musicians, including Iggy Pop, whom he calls “one of the greatest leading voices of a rock band from all the time. “

Add to the register Bad Brains, The Beastie Boys, The B-52’s, Les Claypool, Mad Season, The Original Meters, George Porter Jr., Rustic Overtones, London Souls, Eric Krasno, Charlie Hunter, Mighty Sam McClain, Joe Morris. John Zorn, John Adams, Laurie Anderson, Donovan, Antony et les Johnson, Wadada Leo Smith, Roswell Rudd, Marshall Allen, Danny Ray Thompson, Dave Liebman, Joe Morris, Hamid Drake, Bobby Previte, Steve Swallow, Darryl Jenifer, Adam Yauch , HR, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Chuck Hammer and Cyro Baptista.

Renowned keyboardist, composer and producer Jamie Saft stands in front of a stone wall at his home in Alna on Saturday, August 21. Saft will perform in a benefit concert for Midcoast Conservancy at the Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson on Saturday, August 28. (Photo by Bisi Cameron Yee)

Saft was raised on a regular diet consisting of Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, ACDC, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, ZZ Top, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh.

“It was the music of my youth,” he said.

As a teenager, Saft discovered Thelonius Monk and jazz.

“It opened up a whole new world of sound. Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Farrell Sanders, Bill Evans, of course Miles Davis. All the great sons of jazz, ”he said.

Saft will draw on many of these influences at Jazz in the Woods, a concert benefiting the Midcoast Conservancy from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 28 at the Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson.

In addition to Saft on keyboards, the trio includes Stu Mahan on bass and John Mettam on drums, with Vanessa Saft on vocals. Guest musicians, including saxophonist Bill McHenry, will also perform.

“My wife, I and our children have enjoyed Hidden Valley for a long, long time. I think this is an incredible resource for the community, for young people and for me as an artist. I find it so inspiring to be there. It is a great honor to participate in this event. he said.

Originally from Brooklyn, Saft recently moved his family from upstate New York to Alna. His wife was born and raised in the city.

“There is such a large community here, of musicians, artists and artisans and I have always really felt that Maine values ​​craftsmanship in a way that is sometimes lost in society. It’s wonderful to be back here as a musician and to see this amazing community of very talented musicians living here in this beautiful place, ”he said.

Saft works in a number of combinations. “The piano trio and quartet have more similar music books, drawing mostly from the jazz tradition and a lot of my original music draws from that tradition,” he said.

“But then I have these other bands like New Zion Trio that use a whole different book of music, all of my original music that’s steeped in roots reggae combined with spiritual 70s jazz and elements of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah.” , he added.

Collaboration is at the heart of Saft’s career. “There are so many different spaces to play and present music, each with a unique set of settings. I find that in my writing for my bands, I write for the musician, not for specific instruments, ”said Saft.

Saft has a wide range of bands and music he works with, ranging from familiar and accessible music to more creative and often genre-defying music.

“Music transcends language,” said Saft. “It goes to something deeper, that everyone can understand. Music can be avant-garde, in that it is not necessarily commercially viable. But with confidence in the transformational properties of music, it can be accessed and listened to, and there are people who find avant-garde music truly relaxing.

A common element in all of Saft’s performances is the element of improvisation. He calls it at the center of his approach to music.

“And (the improvisation) is really, obviously, from jazz,” he said.

Saft said he and the bands he performs with “will often improvise on other people’s music and turn it into our own. Then we use our own music to build a kind of bigger sonic arc. “

“I’m not interested in making simple carbon copies of anyone’s music. They did it. I only use other people’s music as a vehicle for improvisation, for building a musical ensemble, with my collaborators, ”he added.

The Jamie Saft Trio recorded an album in 2006 based on the music by Bob Dylan, “Trouble: The Jamie Saft Trio Plays Bob Dylan”.

According to Saft, “Bob Dylan is one of the great poets and lyricists of all time. Music has incredible architecture. Sometimes it’s built in the service of the lyrics, but I think the music is also really autonomous. I always really felt that Bob’s music was being left behind a bit.

“It’s really, really brilliant and draws on a lot of the same sources as all the great music that I love, blues, American folk music, African musical tradition. So many different sources have gone into Bob’s music. (He) was always changing his own music, reimagining it and reinventing it, rewriting the lyrics. Dylan changed the lyrics to “Tangled Up in Blue” for decades. And it is fascinating.

Saft is still a student in his profession.

“I try to calm myself down, listen to and absorb the masters,” Saft said. “For me, a concert is always a learning experience. To see how the great masters compose a music book and present it, how they overcome the pitfalls of the spectacle.

Saft said he used to buy front row seats for ZZ Top on eBay so he could sit right in front and watch and learn from them. He didn’t care what it cost.

“If it was an expensive lesson to sit in front of my musical heroes, I would pay any price for it. It was such an amazing lesson to see them do their thing and see how they build that sound, ”he said.

Saft’s accumulation of lessons learned from a lifetime in music has helped him build the Jazz in the Woods concert list, which includes music by Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, The Isley Brothers, Hendrix and jazz pieces. The ensemble will include both covers and original music.

“I hope people dance,” he said.

Jazz in the Woods takes place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson.

Tickets for the event are $ 50 with all proceeds going to Midcoast Conservancy. To learn more about Saft and to purchase tickets, visit