Jazz and the Associates of Idyllwild Arts: A history of dedication, support and eating a hat

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The Associate ladies of the French Quarter in the mid 1990s. Lin Carlson (front right), Diana Smith (front left), and (back row, from right) Jo Shinkle, Elise Brett and an unidentified woman. They built it from scratch, creating in the process, a bit of paradise.Photo courtesy Jo Shinkle

The Associate ladies of the French Quarter in the mid 1990s. Lin Carlson (front right), Diana Smith (front left), and (back row, from right) Jo Shinkle, Elise Brett and an unidentified woman. They built it from scratch, creating in the process, a bit of paradise. Photo courtesy Jo Shinkle

The Associates of Idyllwild Arts Foundation have raised scholarship money for Summer Program students and, later, Academy students from 1968 until the present. From then until now, they have raised just under $2.2 million.

In 1993, three organizers — Barbara Wood, Lin Carlson and Marshall Hawkins — conceived the biggest project yet to raise scholarship money. They staged a jazz festival, Jazz in the Pines, on campus with an ambitious goal of raising $10,000 for the first year with their new project. “We thought we could do anything,” said Wood. Prior to the idea of a jazz festival, the Associates had raised money with cocktail and dinner parties, and silent auctions, averaging annual totals of from $10,000 to $15,000.

In addition to raising scholarship funds, Associates did anything they could to advance the school’s needs — helping with “mailings, student registration, raking pine needles, shoveling snow, painting, repairs and many other tasks. [They] held weekly meetings and organized cultural events for the community.” (Associates online history) They also established an endowment fund in 1988, now totaling more than $300,000, from which interest income goes directly to scholarships for Idyllwild Arts Academy and the Summer Program.

Nevertheless, some were dubious that a jazz festival was a good fit for Idyllwild. Where would enough people who love jazz come from? And would they trek all the way up the mountain to Idyllwild? Bill Lowman, IAF president and Idyllwild Arts headmaster at the time, thought a jazz festival would not succeed. “It’ll never work,” he contended. “And if it does, I’ll eat my hat.”

Jazz in the Pines launched in 1994 as a one-day event. “We raised $30,000 the first year for scholarships,” said Wood. “We weren’t surprised.” And good sport that he was, Lowman ate his hat, or at least a portion of it.

For the next 20 years through 2014, the Associates grew and managed Jazz in the Pines — booking acts, creating venues, including the iconic, immediately popular French Quarter, staging a Patrons Dinner, organizing parking and transportation and, in the early years, doing it all from scratch, with an intoxicating and inviting homespun ambience.

“That first year, when we started, the school and the community were not in sync,” noted Wood. “Our goal was to incorporate the town with the school, bringing in local groups as volunteers, including the Community Patrol, the Rotary, Rotary Anns and the Quilters. We tried to tap everybody. With the music, Marshall Hawkins, Bob Boss and John Harris played back-up for everybody. We actually cooked the Patrons Dinner on barbecues outside of Rush Hall in 1995, the first year it was offered. Seventy-five people attended. Every year we tried to make more money so that the money would stay on campus.”

Wood noted that the problem with attracting major sponsors, at the beginning and even now, is that the campus and the numbers of attendees are too small. “We tried to get major sponsors, but it just did not pencil out,” said Wood.

But still the amounts raised for scholarships stayed strong until the economic downturn. “One year, we got close to $70,000,” said Wood. “I think that’s the first year Anne Finch ran it.”

Mary Jo Shinkle remembered the thrill of launching the French Quarter in the early 1990s. “We turned it into a small paradise with truckloads of plants and flowers from my son Bill’s nursery in Hemet, the Tranquil Heart Vineyard,” she said. “We covered support poles with green crepe paper making them look like trees. One year, Lynnda Hart brought in two men who painted a New Orleans mural. We spent weeks, if not months, putting it together.”

But each year something was added that raised attendance and enthusiasm for the festival. The growth

was dazzling. More volunteers showed up for year two in 1995, and merchant arts and crafts booths were added. The year 1996 cemented the current three venues, the Holmes Amphitheatre Main Stage, Stephens Hall for straight-ahead jazz and the French Quarter featuring food, drink and dancing. In 1998, the festival expanded to two days. In 1999, a national headliner appeared with guitarist Lee Ritenour.

In 2002, matching national trends, the festival moved toward more commercial jazz with rhythm-and-blues sax man Ernie Watts and smooth jazz pianist David Benoit. 2005 saw a big jump in attendance with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy drawing a younger crowd and smooth jazz pianist Brian Culbertson headlining.

The economic downturn began to affect attendance in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, Marshall Hawkins returned as programmer and began featuring more of the school’s rising star alumni and returned programming to a broader mix of jazz genres.

At various times throughout its growth, Associates’ chairs put their personal stamp on the programming and the bottom line. In 2011, jazz aficionada Marsha Lytle, working with KJazz programmer and personality Bubba Jackson, imported many new acts, making the festival a showcase for new talent Denise Donatelli, Gregory Porter and Oreo Divaz, and raising total contributed scholarship dollars to around $80,000. “Historically, what I can say is that every year we tried to improve on what had been done the year before and see more profits for the school,” said Lytle.

In 2015, Idyllwild Arts took over management of Jazz in the Pines, and formed a Jazz in the Pines Committee composed of Idyllwild Arts employees, Associates and volunteers. In 2016, the 18-member committee included John Newman, IAF director of business operations, who serves as festival chair; Marshall Hawkins as musical director; with Associates Anne Erickson and Pam Goldwasser as Patrons Dinner coordinators.

Marshall Hawkins (right) on bass and Herman Riley (front left) on sax are seen here on the main stage of Holmes Amphitheatre in the early years of Jazz in the Pines, circa early 1990s.Photo courtesy Anne Erikson

Marshall Hawkins (right) on bass and Herman Riley (front left) on sax are seen here on the main stage of Holmes Amphitheatre in the early years of Jazz in the Pines, circa early 1990s. Photo courtesy Anne Erikson

Associates and volunteers continue to direct key operations, including Green Room, parking, French Quarter, golf carts and communications. “The committee is about 50 percent Associates and volunteers and 50 percent Idyllwild staff,” Newman said. He emphasized that all revenues go to scholarships as they did when the Associates ran the festival. “No IA staff members are paid separately, it’s all part of their school job responsibilities.”

Newman said reviews for the mix of jazz genres over the last two years have been very positive, noting a jazz brew that spanned different generations, styles and cultures. “That is exactly what we intended,” said Newman, proud of the cooperation of school personnel, Associates and volunteers in producing a successful event.

Although final figures have not yet been reconciled, Newman anticipates having $60,000 in scholarship money from this year’s festival. He noted there were about 160 fewer tickets sold this year, but a price increase for tickets grossed an online increase of $13,000.

Idyllwild Arts students whom scholarships will assist this year number 306 and are from 32 countries. Thirty are day students, with families who live in Idyllwild. Sixty percent of the student body last year and this year receive some form of scholarship aid. Newman noted total annual financial aid support for the Academy and Summer Program is about $8 million.

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