The 2015 Jazz in Pines festival is still five months away, but planning, preparations and work have already begun. This year, the major change is behind the scenes as the Idyllwild Arts Academy assumes management of the Festival production from the Associates of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation.
“There will be a lot of familiar faces and the same music that people are accustomed to,” said John Newman, who has overall responsibility for the festival, but the Associates are still an essential piece in the machinery.
Already, Newman, IAA’s director of Business Operations, has enticed popular and well-known alumni jazz musician to headline both days.
As he did last year, 2009 IA graduate Casey Abrams will close the festival Sunday afternoon. This year, Abrams will bring a seven-piece ensemble to accompany him as he features his jazz repertoire, according to Newman.
And Saturday afternoon, Graham Dechter, a 2004 alumnus, and his quartet — John Clayton on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums and Tamir Hendelman on piano — will be featured on the Holmes Amphitheatre stage. Dechter will be returning to the festival after several years’ absence.
“It's an honor to be coming back, especially with John, Jeff and Tamir in my group. While I was at Idyllwild Arts I was studying the music of Jeff [Hamilton] and John [Clayton]. So to be coming back with them is very special,” Dechter said.
On Sunday, before Abrams takes over the stage, saxophonist Charles McPherson will entertain the fans with his bebop jazz.
In 2007, McPherson told the Town Crier, “Bebop, what is it? What does it mean?” he paused, and then answered. “It’s melodic, rhythmic and harmonic. It has a good representation of all music components. It’s structure and form.”
Accompanying McPherson will be several very popular and influential San Diego jazz titans: Gilbert Castellanos on trumpet, Joshua White on piano, Rob Thorsen on bass and Charles McPherson Jr. on drums.
While Newman has worked with the Associates on many of the past festivals, this is his first year producing the event and he is enjoying it very much. Former Jazz in the Pines Chair Anne Finch has been a very good mentor arranging the booking of the performers, he added.
“I really enjoy talking with the musicians and their representatives,” he said. “They want to play the festival. Peter Sprague, one of my favorites, is calling me.”
Newman also mentioned that he receives many unsolicited calls from production companies and musicians’ agents asking about performing in the festival, thus confirming the festival’s reputation and attraction among the jazz world.
Newman is also excited about the return of the Seahawk Modern Jazz Orchestra this year. He is planning a special performance Saturday evening.
And on Friday evening, Aug. 14, the traditional Patrons Dinner will open the weekend of stellar jazz. The evening’s cuisine will be a tribute to jazz, Newman shared, such as Cajun-grilled shrimp and baby-back ribs.
“The menu is very mouthwatering,” affirmed Anne Erikson, who with Pam Goldwasser and Karen Metz is organizing the Patrons Dinner and party. “That is, all the volunteer servers, the look, decor and atmosphere; coordination with the French Quarter directors [volunteers] for the overnight transition to the look of the French Quarter for the weekend.”
Erikson and Goldwasser have been working with Newman to assure a smooth and complete transition for the festival. But one feature — the many, many volunteers — will continue.
“In addition to some very experienced volunteers stepping up to positions on the Jazz Committee, most of the committee members have returned for 2015,” she added. “The Associates’ goal is to continue the tradition of a smooth-running festival. We expect that we'll need the approximately 300-plus dedicated volunteers to continue that tradition.”
Newman repeated, “We are going to offer volunteers ticket comps for the entire weekend in exchange for working one shift,” which was also done in 2014.
While the volunteers will ensure the festival retains its familiar and popular character, Newman, after consulting with Marshall Hawkins, one of the festival’s originators, plans to bring the educational component — to teach people about jazz and “to remind us of the treasure of jazz, an exclusive American music genre.”
He hopes to present a panel to discuss the history of jazz. “What does it mean to be part of the tradition?” will be a topic, Newman suggested.
“… [H]ad it not been for Marshall Hawkins, I doubt if I would even be playing jazz or even playing guitar,” Dechter said. “I started at Idyllwild Arts as a violin and composition major. Marshall had this welcoming attitude about being in his classes. Because of his style of 'anyone's welcome,' his love of jazz and his mission of jazz education, I would not have the career I have today. He brought me into this …"
Newman also stressed that the festival will offer many different jazz styles and not be an exclusive be-bop festival. Other jazz genres to be heard over the weekend include African, Latin and even some familiar gospel.
“It is definitely a lot of work, but it is going to be a fabulous festival,” he said.
Ticket prices for the jazz weekend of Aug. 15 and 16 are the same as in 2014 and go on sale April 1. The early-bird discount will available then and tickets may be purchased at idyllwildjazz.com.