I wear my festival allegiances on my sleeve... usually short sleeve.
Catch me on a weekend and you're likely to find me wearing a T-shirt
from one of my three favorite hometown festivalsthe Art Tatum
Heritage Jazz Festival in Toledo, Ohio, the Black Swamp Arts Festival
in Bowling Green, Ohio and Edgefest in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
To me these festivals are not only opportunities to see a number of
artists in a short period of time, but also a celebration of music-loving
communities. And in the case of these three festivals they have deep
roots within their communities. These three events not only offer
very different rosters of artists, but they also attract different
subsets of the listening public.
The first event is the Art Tatum Jazz Heritage Festival, a fine event
with a great name. The festival traces its roots back for more than
a decade, but it wasn't until 2000 that the Toledo Jazz Society found
the right venue, a park across the Maumee River from downtown Toledo.
At the same time the society initiated the new name, linking the festival
with Toledo's past by honoring its most famous native son.
Now in its fifth year, the festival is presented over two daysSaturday,
June 19 and Sunday, June 20. The festival provides a strong mix of
national headliners while showcasing many of the fine musicians from
the local and regional scene. That gives the festival its down-home
atmosphere. The crowd is a wonderful mix of ages and races and, especially
as events move toward suppertime and the smell of barbecue wafts through
the air, the festival becomes a hip block party. These are listeners
with a variety of tastes from straight-ahead bop to smooth jazz. A
little bit of a backbeat and gospel phrasing goes a long way with
this crowd, but they have an appreciation for fine straight-ahead
jazz as well. It's a place older kids can wander about with impunity
as if among a multicolored cast of aunts and uncles. Most kids are
not likely to sit intent on the music; but wandering with the muse
floating around them, unconsciously absorbing both the music and the
love of it, they start to develop an appreciation.
This year the festival has landed a major sponsor, DaimlerChryslerthe
automaker manufactures its Jeep Liberty and Wrangler lines in Toledo.
Thankfully the name remains unsullied by corporate boosterism. The
DaimlerChrysler officials apparently appreciated the classy moniker.
The two headliners are definitely from the pop jazz domain. Pieces
of a Dream closes Saturday's show while Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis
close Sunday's show. The latter act is much in keeping with certain
Tatum fest traditions. The first festival featured Jon Hendricks,
who had coincidentally just returned to live in his hometown and teach
at the University of Toledo. He's been a presence since then. The
festival has featured some of his jazz vocal protégés,
including last year both Ben Sidran and Kurt Elling. The climax of
the 2003 festival was a wild vocal jam involving Hendricks, Elling
and Hendricks' daughter Michelle.
The festival has also featured some fine pianists, including homegrown
talent such as Larry Fuller with Ray Brown's trio, and Stanley Cowell.
Another local musician who has gone national, guitarist Dan Faehnle,
Not all talent leaves town though. Claude Black is a regional treasure
and as part of the house band for Murphy's Place, the premier jazz
club in Toledo, he's a regular at the festival. This year the Murphys,
led by bassist Clifford Murphy, will host saxophonist David "Fathead"
Newman. Newman makes regular stops at the Toledo club, taking advantage
of the solid house trio for support. Though most known for his soulful
solos backing Ray Charles, he really favors straight down the middle
bop and ballads. Also, moving from the Murphy's bandstand to the festival
stage is the Winard Harper Sextet, a band that's also made Murphy's
Place a regular stop. Both Harper and Newman play Sunday.
As usual on Saturday, The Toledo Jazz Orchestra will set up the evening
headliners with a set of tight, driving contemporary big band jazz.
The lineup tends to vary depending on who's available. Saxophonist
Gunnar Mossblad, music director for Dave Liebman's big band, has been
a member for two years since joining Hendricks at the University of
Toledo. Later, Latin jazz from Humberto Ramirez will heat up the stage
for Pieces of a Dream.
The festival proves to be youth-friendly not only in its atmosphere,
but also in showcasing young talent. Jazz prodigy saxophonist Alex
Han plays Saturday afternoon at suppertime, and the jazz ensemble
from the Toledo School for the Arts plays Sunday afternoon.
After the notes from the Toledo fest fade away, I have to wait until
the weekend after Labor Day for the next festival fix. The Black Swamp
Arts Festival, September 10 through 12, is not a jazz festival. Since
its origin 12 years ago, the music offerings at the festivalit
also includes a well-respected two-day art fair on Main Streetpresent
what broadly could be called roots music. It's an eclectic mix of
whatever organizers can line up. Independent coffee maven Kelly Wicks,
who has handled booking the last 11 years, seeks out bands with their
own sound, and avoids cover bands and one-hit has-beens. Because beverage
sales fund the music and the festival is free, organizers don't need
to be concerned with name recognition. Rather they seek bands with
sounds that will connect with local listeners. The festival has succeeded
so well, people come regardless of whether they know the names of
the headliners. That's great for the musicians because it exposes
them to new listeners. And when the bands have their own fan base
that will come for the free music, it only adds to the party atmosphere.
While pure jazz acts are rareErnie Krivda from Cleveland was
the headliner in the second year, playing a set with singer Paula
Owens that fell largely on inattentive earsacts with blues and
jazz influence are the norm. Leon Redbone was the festival's first
headliner and has appeared a couple times since.
A local jazz musician friend lamented the lack of jazz content, but
to me it's a matter of finding jazz acts that fit the bill for the
scene. The audience is a broad general music audience, people who
maybe have a dozen or so jazz records in their collection. They're
not the kind who will go for long sophisticated bebop and beyond soloing.
But put a groove to it, and it'll work. Just as an example, John Scofield
with Dave Holland, Joe Lovano and Al Foster would get an uncertain
response, but his Uberjam band, which has played a couple successful
shows at a local roadhouse, would connect. Conversely, one of the
hits of last year's festival was the reggae band John Brown's Body,
which features a three-horn section that adds a jazz seasoning to
the Jamaican groove.
The festival has also been a good venue for the blues, drawing on
the Chicago scene for acts including Magic Slim and Lil' Ed and the
Blues Imperials. This year Otis Taylor is one of the early bookings,
tentatively set for Saturday night's show. Others tentatively slated
for the bill are the Gamble Brothers Band and Southern Culture on
the Skids. That range of blues, soul, both with a touch of jazz, and
quirky southern-fried humor, pretty much encapsulates the range of
the festival. All that's missing is a touch of reggae or Cajun music.
The festival draws a cross-generational crowd. My kids love it because
they get to hang out just on the periphery of adult supervision. My
daughter even said that Black Swamp weekend is her favorite time of
year, right up there with Christmas. But retired faculty members from
the university are there as well. It's not unusual to see tables of
three-generations together. I like to say that it's "the county
fair for the rest of us". And it's a crowd ripe for the right
kind of jazz.
The last blast for me comes October 14-16 this year, up the road
a piece in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at Edgefest. This is hardcore jazz
territory. The festival is held in the old market section, well away
from the campus of the University of Michigan. The venues are small
with performances centered on the Kerrytown Concert House. The festival
typically runs from Thursday night through early Sunday morning. Aside
from workshops during the day Saturday, the concerts are at night;
usually a show at Kerrytown will be followed by a performance at the
Firefly Club. The festival generally presents larger ensembles on
Saturday night. It had used a furniture storefirst arrivals
get the deadly comfortable couches up frontdeadly especially
for those of us who have been up late for the past two nights. But
that store has closed, so last year a former Orthodox church was used.
The concert house, which presents new music and jazz performances
throughout the year, is a cozy space in a renovated home. The space
itself is an L with the bandstand in the angle. The acoustics are
superior. This really offers a chance to savor the nuance of a musician's
Obviously it's too early for artists to be posted, but previous years
are enough to whet the serious listener's appetite. Last year featured
Trio 3 with Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille and Oliver Lake, Trevor
Watts, Available Jelly, Guy Klucevsek and Phillip Johnston and the
Mat Maneri Quartet among others. Highlights from previous years include
Willem Breuker Kollektief, Eight Bold Souls, Ken Vandermark, both
as a duo with Hamid Drake and with his quintet on the same bill, and
William Parker with Matthew Shipp and Gerald Cleaver.
As is evident, this is a rare chance to hear European improvisers.
Also, the festival has long established a link with Montreal's "musique
The fan base is largely what you'd expectaging bohemians. And
though I'm an infrequent visitor to Ann Arbor I feel right at home.
I often find myself sharing a table at a club, and striking the acquaintance
of a fellow jazz traveler. All the venues are an easy stroll apart.
That adds to the leisurely, civilized pace of the event. The artists
seem to enjoy it as well. In 2003, both Reggie Workman and Joe Fonda
applauded producer Dave Lynch for the quality and good vibes of the
All I can do is echo the two bassists' accolades and wear my T-shirt