John Newman, chair of the 2015 Jazz in the Pines. Photo by J.P. Crumrine
John Newman, chair of the 2015 Jazz in the Pines.
Photo by J.P. Crumrine

Jazz in the Pines weekend begins Friday with the delicious and entertaining Patrons Dinner. On Saturday and Sunday, Strawberry Valley is subsumed in clouds of wonderful and special music — jazz, a truly American genre.

This year, the 22nd Jazz in the Pines also introduces something new, but not the performers. In 2015, Idyllwild Arts and the Associates of Idyllwild Arts Foundation reversed their traditional roles in producing the jazz fest.

The Associates continue as an integral component of the weekend. They comprise the majority of the chairs of the Jazz in the Pines Committee, which John Newman, the 2015 festival chair, described as a “high-functioning team effort representative of all parts of the community.”

The Associates are also the source of much of the festival’s production and operational labor, and, mostly, behind the scenes. “The event has never lost money in 21 years because of the contribution of all these volunteers,” he noted.

But this year, Newman represents a change from the past. He is the school’s director of business operations, not a part-time volunteer. Not only does he embody the perspective of IA Foundation President Pamela Jordan, that the institution is the Academy, Summer Program and community, but he, as other festival chairs, cares for, loves and wants to nurture jazz in the community and for future generations.

“It is really a rewarding opportunity. My staff and colleagues of Idyllwild Arts have banded together for the school in ways that we don’t normally do,” Newman said. “Different groups under Idyllwild Arts Foundation came together on this project.”

Despite his title, Newman is much more than a wiz at playing a calculator and negotiating contracts. He is firmly planted in the Academy and Hill communities. Although eastern — New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania — by birth and education, he has family in Los Angeles and joined the Idyllwild Arts faculty in 2003. His wife, Molly, is the school counselor.

His career here began as associate dean of students in 2003 and now he is the director of business, sharing a suite of offices with Jordan in the IAF Theatre tower.

Just as importantly, Newman is grounded in jazz. He’s a drummer and for a period, during summers between semesters at Bucknell University, he played professionally on Long Island. Although music is not his vocation, it is an important avocation and he sits in on some jazz sessions with Marshall Hawkins each year.

“I grew up with jazz in my house,” he said and described early memories of Lionel Hampton and Ella Fitzgerald. “My first musical experience was attending a Cab Calloway concert as a 7- or 8-year old. The power and significance of the sound totally had me hooked.”

His musical chops are not simply a great consumer of jazz music, but Newman is a good musician. By age 10, “it was not uncommon to sit in with professional musicians,” he said. These opportunities were not simply a gift to a friend’s child, “I was precocious enough to say I’d like to sit in,” he said about how he got to play drums with professional big bands, including Glenn Miller’s.

With two young daughters, 4- and 6-years-old, and a full-time day job, Newman has rested his sticks for the future. However, he acknowledged, “I will definitely pass on jazz to my children. It’s definitely present in our house.”

All of these qualities, including the energy of a former tennis pro, have aided him in his first adventure producing the annual Jazz in the Pines. “I’m really pleased and looking forward to its arrival and the opportunity to enjoy it,” he said with a beaming smile. “I feel honored to have this opportunity.

“Advance sales are slightly more and we’re looking for a strong gate presence again,” he said.

To ensure another successful festival, Newman’s committees have been meeting monthly since January and stepped up to weekly in the past month. With the volunteers’ experience and his acumen, Newman said, “I haven’t really encountered any surprises. But the bureaucratic ‘snafus’ have been challenges.”

Many of these hurdles involved permits and other regulatory steps. “Amazing things happen consistently and it’s difficult to deal with government agencies,” he said.
One surprise for Newman was the almost total unfamiliarity of the names of the advance ticket buyers. “Many advanced sales are from outside of Idyllwild. It should be good for the town,” he observed.

Newman’s early life while in college was intense and active. He was a student and a tennis pro, and nights were filled with long gigs. Despite the time devoted to these activities, he has not become a professional tennis player nor Grammy winner.

Rather, the multi-talented and capable Newman said, “Being able to do all the different things I liked has formed my career path. I like to be involved in all these different activities — life, school, family.”

Newman already has some thoughts and plans for the 23rd-annual Jazz in the Pines, and says he would chair it, “… if I’m asked to do it. I’m just beginning to get comfortable this year.”