Sunday morning, Jazz Grass, led by pianist Barnaby Finch, filled Stephens Hall. Photo by Jenny Kirchner
Sunday morning, Jazz Grass, led by pianist Barnaby Finch, filled Stephens Hall.
Photo by Jenny Kirchner

Memories — fond, good, great and loving — are all that remain of the 22nd-annual Jazz in the Pines. Once again, the Hill has been graced with rhythm, mirth, blues and improvisation of beautiful jazz music.

The festival’s popularity continues to attract thousands to Idyllwild for the two special days and to depend on the devotion of hundreds of residents to provide the hospitality that makes the jazz fest the equivalent of “Brigadoon.”

Saturday morning, Bert McCarty of Lake Forest, and his friends Diane McVey and Bob Skaug of Pine Cove were at the front of the line waiting for the gates to open.

Typical of the attendees who arrive early, they were not attending their first jazz fest. And they knew the wait was worth it to secure good seating in the Holmes Amphitheatre.

But more than the audience enjoyed the festival and loved coming back, despite the 90-degree temperatures Saturday. Ron Bocian, snare drummer with Euphoria Brass Band, said he loves playing in Idyllwild. So much so, the band has marched in on Idyllwild’s Fourth of July parade.

American Idol alumnus Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart thrilled a large crowd in the Holmes Amphitheatre Sunday afternoon. Photo by Zachary Johnson
American Idol alumnus Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart thrilled a large crowd in the Holmes Amphitheatre Sunday afternoon.
Photo by Zachary Johnson

This is the band’s third year at Jazz in Pines. Not only did it march and escort the first attendees into the festival area, Euphoria opened the entertainment in the French Quarter Saturday morning and closed the day on the Holmes Amphitheatre stage.

“Two sessions in one day, that’s enough,” Bocian said gleefully. But early Saturday about 9 a.m., before gates were open, members were rehearsing and working on “some new music” before the public arrived.

Another early musician in great spirits unfazed by the morning sun was David Garfield, leader of the Afro Cuban Jazz Project. They opened the Holmes Amphitheatre Saturday, and also were busy preparing before an audience sat down and stretched out on the lawn in front of the stage.

This was their second jazz fest, Garfield said. “It the first time opening … so we spent the night for the first time. We really enjoyed Idyllwild,” said the musician who has played all over the world.

Also out and about and still organizing early Saturday was John Newman, the festival’s chair and the director of Idyllwild Arts Business Operations. “I’m just thrilled with the next two days,” he said after a night at the Patron’s Dinner. “That was a huge success. Everybody was dancing at one point.”

But the highlight of Saturday was the performance of many alumni, all students of Marshall Hawkins. First, Evan Christopher (class of 1987), clarinetist, and Jason Jackson, trombonist (1989) were joined by drummer Andy Fraga Jr. (1997) and bassist Daniel Sazer-Krebbers (2002) of Idyllwild.

Introducing these musicians, Pam Jordan, Idyllwild Arts Foundation president said proudly, “This is the perfect example of what happens when you come to Idyllwild Arts. You step into this network.”

Christopher, a New Orleans resident who plays around the globe and calls “home wherever the music is,” spent the weekend in Idyllwild, but will shortly be off to Turkey and then Morocco. He wants to share the New Orleans style with the world and assimilate world music in return.

The IA network and a strong bond with Hawkins keeps Christopher and others committed to sharing this music. “We feel Marshall’s teachings so strongly. We stepped into the role [of mentors and leaders] the minute there were musicians younger than us on stage,” he said.

The IA network of professional musicians filled the headliner spots on both days. On Saturday, jazz guitarist Graham Dechter (class of 2004) and his quartet filled the Amphitheatrre and on Sunday, Casey Abrams (2009), with Haley Reinhart, thrilled fans.

Dechter has performed on the main stage several times since leaving the school, but this year he was a headliner. “It was a really amazing experience … it felt very much like coming home,” he said.

Similar to many of the other jazz graduates, Dechter is a teacher and leader for the next generation. “The position of teaching and mentoring younger jazz musicians is very gratifying,” he said and added, “I only teach what I know and what I know is the learning curve as a performer. I have to be as authentic and honest as possible.”

And he also acknowledges his lessons from Hawkins. “My goal is to get better, to keep learning. No matter how old, or how much experience, there’s so much more. I’ll always try to get to the next level.”

Sunday’s temperatures were just a tad cooler but the music continued to be hot. Yve Evans’ Voices of Praise Gospel Band at the Holmes Amphitheatre was followed by the West Valley High School Big Band from Hemet, something its director said was very exciting for the band. He gave Jazz in the Pines Music Director Marshall Hawkins a Band Booster shirt as a thank you for inviting them.

Graham Dechter and then the Charles McPherson Quintet followed with much traditional jazz. And then the crowd filled the amphitheater in anticipation of Abrams and Reinhart. The two did not disappoint, leaving a jazz audience on its feet dancing, reeling and applauding and leaving the festival exhausted but thrilled.

Jazz aficionados can only expect that the 23rd-annual Jazz in the Pines in August 2016 will carry them to the next level, once again.