Joshua White at the piano Saturday in Stephens Recital Hall, during the 2017 Jazz in the Pines Festival. See photo gallery below.
Photo by Peter Szabadi

In returning to its straight-ahead jazz roots, Jazz in the Pines year 24 will be remembered as the year innovative and compelling jazz could be heard in all three festival venues.

Even in the French Quarter, innovation found a place and an audience. Santa Monica street busker, singer/songwriter Eric Kufs opened the venue on Sunday, Aug. 13. With a great voice and easy manner, Kufs was funny and politically unafraid. He held the attention of early Sunday festival goers performing original songs in which lyrics mattered. And, to Kufs surprise, his audience paid attention and really listened.

And while on the subject of listening, the word this year for audience attention is “rapt.” Even in the main stage amphitheater, where in the past one sometimes had to strain to hear the music over loud talking, that distraction was nearly absent this year. It was about jazz and listening to jazz.

The main stage featured young turks creatively expanding the jazz lexicon. Frisson from Oberlin Conservatory and Singularity Project from Athens, Greece, pulled the audiences in and involved them in the nuances of their striking musical conversations. Both shimmered with arrangements that did not follow traditional forms and held attention with new musical sounds and tonalities. People listened because the forms, the arrangements, and the sounds were different and new.

Then there were the jazz giants who turned up the heat in Stephens Hall. And here “rapt” was inadequate to describe audience attention and involvement. Audiences were “in” the music with the musicians — the line between the two became blurred by how closely audiences followed each note of improvisation. Stephens became a jazz temple — a place of reverent engagement and soaring spirits.

Harry Pickens, Marshall Hawkins and Roy McCurdy played unimaginably exquisite jazz, highlighted by a bass solo from the “Hawk” on the old standard “I Should Care.” There was silence for a second at the end, tears from many and then cheers that are still ringing in the rafters. There was, in the trio’s musical conversation, a level of consonance and personal connection that was electrifying. That showed with little smiles on the faces of each when a musical moment found a sweet spot that tickled them and grabbed the audience.

And speaking of special moments, main stage headliner and Idyllwild Arts Academy alum, Grammy winning clarinetist Evan Christopher dropped in for “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” which added new meaning to “swing.” Bob Boss was all over the guitar with a sparkling “Like Someone In Love.” Yve Evans could not have been more saucy, more coquettish and more personally and musically endearing using the lyrics of the 1934 Ray Noble standard “The Very Thought of You” to tease both Pickens and Hawkins. And the song, which Evans took slowly, flirtingly phrasing each word, brought laughter from the audience and bravos at the end.

Henry “Skipper” Franklin closed Stephens on Sunday giving his fans everything they had hoped to hear.

Young turks also brought their expressive and highly individual style to Stephens with pianist Joshua White’s improvisational voyage through multiple musical genres. Max Haymer, once an ISOMATA student, returned to Idyllwild with his trio and demonstrated why he is making a name in music.

The Seahawk Modern Jazz Orchestra played to a packed Lowman Hall house featuring two female vocalists with very different voices and styles — Chicago native Rose Colella, who ended her up-tempo set with an exquisite straight-tone high note that drove the audience crazy. And of course, Sherry Williams, known for her warm and dulcet voice and consummate musical storytelling, captivated the audience with her poise and loveliness as John Rodby deftly conducted a brilliant jazz orchestra.

And probably as surprising as the main-stage performers all sending up straight-ahead jazz, was the musical genre diversity and polish of all the French Quarter Acts — the Greg Jones R&B band complete with female vocalist and backup singers, the seven-piece Euphoria Brass Band taking patrons back to New Orleans street band days, Andre Thierry Accordian Soul Music for humid Cajun and Zydeco, and the Yve Evans Trio for close and sweet dancing.

The weather complied, there was a breeze, new food vendors offered some different choices and the music excelled in all three venues. And Marshall Hawkins promised that year 25 will be the best yet.

Jazz in the Pines raises money for Idyllwild Arts scholarships.

Frisson kicked off two days of music under the parachutes of Holmes Amphitheatre on Saturday.
Photo by Halie Wilson
Dion Khan sang for the Gand Band on Sunday at the French Quarter.
Photo by Peter Szabadi
The Patrons VIP Dinner and Dance was Friday, Aug. 11, and opened the 24th-annual Jazz in the Pines Festival.
Photo by Tom Kluzak
Pam Jordan (left) and Palencia Turner wish a happy 70th birthday to a Patron’s Dinner attendee.
Photo by Tom Kluzak
Evan Christopher, Idyllwild Arts alum and international clarinetist, holds his baby daughter during Friday’s Patrons dinner.
Photo by Tom Kluzak
Anne Erikson and Barbara Kinoshita, co-chairs of the 2017 Patons VIP Dinner and Dance, enjoy the music in the French Quarter.
Photo by Tom Kluzak
Yve Evans entertains the patrons with wonderful jazz vocals and great humor, while (from left) accompanied by Bob Boss on guitar, Marshall Hawkins on bass and John Newman, Idyllwild Arts director of Business Operations, on drums.
Photo by Tom Kluzak
Dancers filled the French Quarter during Jazz in the Pines festival. Photo by Tom Kluzak
Sherry Williams performed jazz vocals with the Seahawk Modern Jazz Orchestra Saturday evening at the new Lowman Concert Hall.
Photo by Tom Kluzak
April West is the trombonist for the Euphoria Brass Band of San Diego.
Photo by Tom Kluzak
Harry Pickens returned to Jazz in the Pines and filled Stephens Recital Hall Sunday afternoon. Pickens is so highly respected that many of the audience members were professional performers at the festival.
Photo by Tom Kluzak
On Sunday, Eric Kufs opened the French Quarter. It was his first time in Idyllwild. Photo by Tom Kluzak
More dancers enjoying the rhythm of the French Quarter entertainers. Photo by Tom Kluzak
Founder Marshall Hawkins plays his bass during the 24th-Annual Jazz in the Pines Festival. photo by Peter Szabadi
Curtis Taylor, on trumpet, joined Joshua White in Stephens Recital Hall Saturday. Photo by Peter Szabadi
Besos do Coco in Stephens Recital Hall Saturday.
Photo by Peter Szabadi
Vendors offered an array of items, from art (such as the Art Alliance of Idyllwild’s large booth featuring local artists) and jewelry to practical and fashionable festival clothing and accessories, like Floradora Hats.
Photos by Halie Wilson