Marshall Hawkins joins Casey Abrams at the 2014 Jazz in the Pines Festival. Photo by J.P. Crumrine
Marshall Hawkins joins Casey Abrams at the 2014 Jazz in the Pines Festival.
Photo by J.P. Crumrine

Just back from Cordova, Alaska, Marshall Hawkins, the music director for the 21st-annual Jazz in Pines, is relaxed and ready. While he played some bluegrass, Hawkins was still ambassador for the true American music genre — jazz. And the jazz festival will be a showcase for this musical genre, and Hawkins, his friends and his students will captivate the audiences with its special sounds.

Once again, the popular jazz musician and Idyllwild Arts faculty member brings a cadre of IA alumni to the stage of the celebrated festival. From Evan Christopher and Jason Jackson to Casey Abrams and Daniel Sazer-Krebbers, Hawkins said, “I’m pleased the focus is on the alumni.”

“This performance is special for several reasons. First, Marshall Hawkins in the saddle as musical director signals a return to the original philosophy of Jazz in the Pines,” Christopher said in an email exchange with the Town Crier. “That philosophy is reinforced further by showcases featuring recent alumni such as Casey Abrams or musicians like Jason Jackson and myself who attended Idyllwild over 25 years ago.”

Since its inception in 1993, the festival has been a fundraiser for the school and Hawkins has long felt it was important to highlight the success of alumni so the audience “sees where their money is going.”

Many know that the opportunities and lessons they gleaned at IA gave them a head start in college and the professional music world, according to Jackson.

“It always feels like coming home,” Jackson said. “It always feels good. The festival gives me a chance to thank a lot of people. And I enjoy seeing Marshall, Bob Boss and Evan.”

What Hawkins teaches is practice and patience. The 75-year-old still practices daily. Just before the interview, he had practiced scales for half an hour. “I’m teaching kids how to get in here,” he said, pointing to his heart.

Christopher, both a student of jazz and international performer, said this about his Idyllwild experience: “To be a successful professional in music is largely dependent on having a wide range of skills, not just musical. Entrepreneurship, empathy and listening more to your own voice than the opinions of others … Popularity is not the arbiter of the quality of what one does. Reality is.”

Even on vacation, Hawkins participated in the music festival and teaching the bass to musicians from elementary age to adults in Alaska. Between giving bass lessons, he fished the Copper River for salmon.

Although he does play solos, Hawkins is most often playing the bass with a group or the Seahawk Orchestra. So teamwork is another skill he employs. For this year’s jazz fest, he gives credit to co-chair Anne Finch for “… a collaboration that’s been a lot of fun. Any suggestion was well taken and she ran with it.

“The success of this year is her hands-on work. She has taken the bull by the horns,” Hawkins said admiringly. “She and Jeff Hocker have made it so smooth.”

Besides his former students, Hawkins is happy that many friends will be playing this year. Henry Franklin, whom he met perhaps 50 years ago in Washington, D.C., will close the Stephens Recital Hall on Sunday.

Another long-time friend and Idyllwild favorite, Harry Pickens, returns and will play for the first time with a new and younger friend and also a pianist, Josh White, of San Diego.

Whether friends or students of Hawkins, these musicians will be living a dream in front of thousands. “I’m doing something I really believe in and was meant to do. Music is part of who I am,” Jackson said with pleasure.

Tickets for both days are $110. For individual or single days, the price is $60 and they are on sale at the Idyllwild Pharmacy for cash or check only.