. . .FIVE. . .SIX. . .SEVEN. . .EIGHT. . .
We’re almost within earshot of the first Elkhart Jazz & Blues Festival . No, I’m not really wrong. There were 22 Elkhart Jazz Festivals, but this is the first one to sing the blues.
FYI: The beat actually goes down at 5 p.m. Friday with the opening notes of the Notre Dame Jazz Trio in the Knights of Columbus Hall. Free music is kicked off in high style by Truth in Jazz at 5:30 p.m. on the Civic Plaza where the evening’s lineup features the Latin rhythms of Conjunto followed by Tim Bowman, the Midwest Swing Orchestra and an “open to all” jam session. (Free is nice, but the crazily unpredictable weather might make getting s jazz pass or session ticket a plus — no rain and no 90 degree heat/humidity inside.)
Area blues aficionados already are familiar with the sounds of Elwood Splinters, Don Savoie and Southside Denny Snyder. Ditto for jazz buffs and Danny Barber. All groups have made Among the familiar faces throughout the weekend will be Dave Bennett with his Benny Goodman-inspired clarinet (and George Raft-inspired footwear), John Bany and his bass stirring up Jazzberry Jam and definitely the senior member of this year’s assemblage, John Paul “Bucky” Pizarelli and his just-too-marvelous-for-words guitar.
OK. So you might guess I’m kinda prejudiced, which has nothing to do with the fact that Bucky grew up in Patterson, New Jersey, just across the highway from my hometown, or that he still lives in the Garden State with his wife of many decades, or that he is the founder of a musical dynasty that includes his sons John (guitar) and Martin (bass), plus John’s wife, top cabaret singer Jessica Molaskey, or that Bucky has been coming to the EJF probably longer than any of the 2010 artists.
The amazing guitar man will celebrate a milestone January 9, an occasion that will be marked by an evening hosted by John and Jessica at New York’s 42nd Street Y titled “Frank and Tony and Peggy and Me: Making Music with the Great Singers — Celebrating Bucky Pizzarelli’s 85th Birthday.” It’s part of the Lyrics & Lyricists 2011 Season and if your travels take you to the Big Apple during the January thaw, it would be the place to be.
Not sure the ticket price for those concerts, but I am sure that even up close you would never be such proximity to Mr. Pizzarelli as at this year’s EJBF. Which is absolutely one of the best things about this event, be it three days or two days or more. For the price of a single session ticket ($10) you can hear — and see — one of the real greats of the jazz world.
And if you ask very nicely, he might even play a request!
Anyway, whatever your musical tastes, there will be something for everyone downtown this weekend. It may be the Last Friday (and Saturday) but it is guaranteed to be the very best! And dancing in the street is not only permitted, it’s encouraged!
See you downtown!
THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE
Anyone who’s interested (and even those not so much) knows by now that this year’s Elkhart Jazz Festival has a new look and a new name and may, unless providence or the City of Elkhart steps in, be the very last one as we know it.
Having been around since the first EJF more than two decades ago, and being kind of resistant to change (you know how us old foggies are!), I’m not sure how this is going to play out, but I’ve decided to give it a chance and hope for the best.
First: This year’s event has been cut back to two days — actually, one afternoon (Saturday) and two evening (Friday and Saturday) sessions plus a Sunday morning plaza concert by the T. Hadley Gospel Choir.
Second: There is only one free stage this year. Happy to say, however, that it will be back where it belongs —on the Civic Plaza. The others are inside at the New Life Community Church, the Knights of Columbus and the 227 Stage (all the same as last year) plus Mad Anthony’s and the Chamber of Commerce. This eliminates the “free” music available to those who just hung around the former tent stages without having to buy a ticket. Oops. I forgot. There will be a second free stage featuring local musicians in the beer tent on Main Street between Mad Anthony’s and the 523 Club. For the most part, however, if you want to hear the big names you have to pay.
Third: Making it easier to accomplish the last, ticket prices have been reduced across the board, from the patron price (now $150) to the Jazz Pass ($85) and session passes at $35 for evenings and $20 for afternoon. This year, a $10 single session ticket will admit you to any one paid venue that isn’t over capacity. Tickets and information will be available at the Chamber of Commerce (on Main between Franklin and Marion Streets) while food vendors remain on the Civic Plaza and a beer tent (without music) on High Street.
Fourth: Some familiar names are missing in the lineup of musicians, most noticeably Tim Cunningham, who filled the Plaza and kept it jumping on Saturday night, and a service band — Army, Air Force or Navy — which frequently kicked the festival off on a high note Friday evening and could only play in a venue that was free and open to everyone. There are, however, enough excellent returnees to keep jazz fans very happy. These include Bucky Pizzarelli, this time with his quartet; Dave Bennett, also with his quartet; the Rob Parton Big Band and the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet (formerly B.E.D.).
Fifth: (And the last for today) Due to the demise of the annual August blues festival, the EJF has become EJBF, with a number of blues bands on stage throughout the event, a majority being featured in Mad Anthony’s.
SHORT TAKES ON SOME NEW ARTISTS
Actually, these artists are “new” only in the sense that it will be their first appearances at the festival. In fact, a number of them have been on the Michiana music scene for quite a while. Am thinking of the Elwood Splinters Blues Band, Southside Denny Snyder, the Notre Dame Jazz Trio and Danny Barber’s Jazz Cats.
Vocalist Jenna Mammina appeared at Goshen College as a part of its performing arts series a year or so ago while Truth in Jazz and Vibenation have been Civic Plaza performers in the past.
Among the “first-time first-timers” are Hailey Niswanger — a native of Houston, Texas, currently at home in Portland, Ore., she is studying jazz performance at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship. She plays alto and soprano sax, clarinet and flute and, for a young lady who just turned 20, has a dazzling list of credits on her resume as well as her own CD “Confeddie.” Check her out Friday evening at 10 p.m. in New Life Community Church.
Tim Bowman — The Detroit native is a jazz guitarist “similar in style to Tim Cunningham,” according to EJBF press blurbs. One of 12 children, he was inspired by a church guitarist at age 11 and moved between gospel and jazz for a number of years. For six years, he was with The Wynans as musician and music director. His voluntary hiatus from the music business was interrupted when his wife suggested he put together his own CD. That was the first of five. Tim’s EJBF debut will be at 9 p.m. Friday on the Civic Plaza.
Conjunto — Formed in 2001 by violinist James Sanders, conjunto means “group” and the six member ensemble has roots in Chicago and brings together the rhythms of Cuban, Puerto Rican and jazz in “an ongoing exploration of the confluence of jazz and Afro-Latin standards with original compositions and arrangements,” which is more than enough to make me want to hear what they have to play beginning at 7 p.m. Friday on the Civic Plaza.
Jean Prosper Trio — Prosper, originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, emigrated to Canada where he studied at the Royal Conservatory. The jazz pianist and his group have released three CDs and, if you can’t get enough of his music at this festival, you can always visit the Kalewes Jazz Club which he owns in Benton Harbor, Mich. The trio makes its festival debut at 7 p.m. Friday in the Pathway Assemble of God.
NOTE: You can sample the music of these artists, as well as that of other EJBF artists, the internet via Google or YouTube.
Check the locations and times for these and all the other sessions in Thursday’s Elkhart Truth (plug for the former employer!) and check back here tomorrow!