The crowd in Holmes Ampitheatre during the 2012 Jazz in the Pines Festival. File photo

This weekend is the 20th-annual Jazz in the Pines festival and third festival Marsha Lytle has chaired.

“I feel great about it,” Lytle said Friday, Aug. 9. “Ticket sales are exceeding expectations. I’m sure the special two-day deal helped. The last two weeks have been huge. I don’t remember sales this strong this close to the end last year or the year before.”

Marsha Lytle talking about the 20th Jazz in the Pines festival. Photo by J.P. Crumrine
Despite the success of this year’s jazz fest, Lytle is relinquishing her position. Although she has chaired the annual jazz pilgrimage to Idyllwild for three years, she has been actively involved in its production for 15.

“Marsha has provided great leadership and vision in presenting such a wonderful event,” said Steven Fraider, executive director of Idyllwild Arts and director of the Summer Program. “Her voice and presence will be missed greatly.”

“It’s time to transfer it to new thinking and new blood,” Lytle stated. But before she passes the baton, she had some recommendations for this year’s attendees.

“I haven’t heard Tim Weisberg [jazz flutist on Saturday in the Barn] although he’s been here before,” she began. Then she touted Harvey Mason and his Chameleon Project (Saturday in the Holmes Amphitheatre).

“I’ve been a long-time jazz fan,” Lytle confessed. “I started listening to rhythm and blues in junior high school. From blues, I evolved to jazz while others were listening to the Beatles.”

But she revealed that jazz vocalists, particularly females, are her favorites. She will set aside time to hear both Denise Donatelli and Diane Schuur who both perform at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, in The Barn and the Main Stage, respectively.

This overlap is one thing she would change if she were involved in future festivals. The performances should alternate enough to allow listeners the opportunity to hear as many musicians as possible. “So performances are opposite to each other and we could see both,” she lamented.

Lytle migrated, as many have, to Idyllwild from Northern California by way of Mexico. “The guys in my neighborhood were full of spit and arguments each morning and I needed more. Idyllwild was recommended. I’d been here as a teen for church camp, and there were good restaurants and three bookstores,” she described her settlement in the Southern California mountains.

She is a former teacher and principal in the Mountain View School District. Her knack for administration and organizing has helped her chair the jazz fest. During her tenure, she has tried to focus the music on straight-ahead or traditional jazz, with less emphasis on the more familiar smooth jazz.

“This is still Idyllwild and many of these more popular performers also cost much more,” Lytle explained. About half of this year’s $150,000 budget is for music, she said. “You can’t do much with that and still give something to the school.” Otherwise there is little that she believes she would do differently.

With the help of Artistic Consultant Bubba Jackson, KKJZ 88.1FM personality, she is proud to bring Mason, John Daversa, Kenny Burrell as well as teen Ray Goren and Idyllwild’s own Casey Abrams.

From the initial years when the jazz fest was only a few hours on a single day, Lytle is proud to see its transformation from a small wooded campus to a two-day festival produced all by volunteers.

“Hats off to this small town and the surrounding communities; I’m proud of the volunteers,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Although there are some loose ends to complete before the music starts, her time does not end at Sunday’s close. After next weekend, several more months of work are needed to wrap up this year’s jazz fest. But after that, Lytle plans to take time for herself and some bridge playing.

She doesn’t know what next year will bring yet. “I’ve already received emails asking about next year’s dates.” But she recommended that whomever follows be enthusiastic about jazz, extremely organized, possess entrepreneurial talent and have all the time in the world.

In addition, Lytle hopes the next chair will have the help she inherited from Suzy Capparelli, Jan Goldberg and Nancy Layton who have all contributed to this year’s success.