Jazz in the Pines, year 23, brings sophisticated vibe

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Stephens Recital Hall is the Jazz in the Pines venue noted for its “straight-ahead” jazz headliners, intimate setting and solid acoustics. Jazz in the Pines, now in its 23rd year, begins on Friday night, Aug. 19, with a Patrons Dinner and continues for its wider audiences on Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21.Photo by Jenny Kirchner

Stephens Recital Hall is the Jazz in the Pines venue noted for its “straight-ahead” jazz headliners, intimate setting and solid acoustics. Jazz in the Pines, now in its 23rd year, begins on Friday night, Aug. 19, with a Patrons Dinner and continues for its wider audiences on Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21. Photo by Jenny Kirchner

While much remains familiar, subtle change around the edge is adding a sophisticated luster to Idyllwild Arts’ Jazz in the Pines season 23.

Start with the website, www.jazzinthepines.com — the lineup, photo gallery and new logo. There is a continuity and polish that show a level of finesse that links the festival with the Academy and Summer Program, now that Idyllwild Arts has assumed overall management of the summer event.

New touches are evident throughout the event that begins Friday, Aug. 19 and runs through Sunday, Aug. 21. The festival opens at 6 p.m. Friday with the Patrons Dinner, staged this year outdoors in the French Quarter. Themed as “Magic in the Forest,” the patrons-only dinner features a gourmet repast and Bourbon Bar, beautifully complemented by the music of award-winning recording artist Deanna Bogart.

Reviewed by the Washington Post as an extraordinary musician who plays “soulful ballads [with] sublime pop interpretations,” Bogart smoothly traverses the musical spectrum of country, jazz, R&B and rock ‘n roll.

In keeping with the Patrons Dinner theme, other entertainment includes a “live painting,” a magician and a photo booth. Patrons also attend a special concert featuring Marshall Hawkins’ Seahawk Modern Jazz Orchestra with Richie Cole, at the new William M. Lowman Concert Hall on Saturday night.

Familiar Main Stage headliners include Gilbert Castellanos, Graham Dechter (with Jeff Hamilton), Diane Schuur (with Ernie Watts), and Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart.

Stephens Recital Hall veterans include Hawkins with Harry Pickens, Henry Franklin and Robin Adler.

John Newman, Idyllwild Arts director of business operations and festival talent chair, cites three Jazz in the Pines newcomers as the kinds of acts that “typify the range of jazz styles that is emblematic of the Jazz in the Pines festival.”

Performing in Stephens on Saturday are The Westerlies, fresh from their Newport Jazz Festival appearance. The New York-based brass quartet, four childhood friends from the Seattle area, have been called “skilled interpreters who are also adept improvisers” who, by combining influences from jazz and chamber music, create music that is “folk-like and composerly, lovely and intellectually rigorous” (NPR Music).

This year’s opening act in the French Quarter is the Hot Club of L.A., a gathering of Los Angeles musicians rooted in country, American swing, Latin jazz, folk and blues who came together to workshop the music of Belgian guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt pioneered gypsy jazz, which he popularized in Paris in the 1930s with his Quintette du Hot Club de France. Hot Club of L.A. performs up-tempo swing, with an exotic sound and dapper presentation that have added heat to upscale Los Angeles retro dance venues.

Lastly, on the Main Stage on Sunday, is the Lori Bell Quartet featuring Bill Cunliffe, Katie Thiroux and Matt Witek. Global Music Award winner Bell’s skills as a flutist have been glowingly reviewed by Downbeat Magazine. “Bell flaunts prodigious chops on both C flute and alto flute. Her originals all reveal a wide harmonic palette, a sophisticated rhythmic sensibility and a refined sense of dynamics, along with an urge to swing,” (Downbeat 2016).

Newman cites other changes that include new food vendors with a greater variety of offerings and a new Top of the Amphitheatre bar that is similar to the bar in the French Quarter.

Tickets for the festival can now be bought in town at the Idyllwild Arts shop on North Circle.

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