Casey Abrams, school alum, returns
Set aside the weekend of Aug. 10, 11 and 12 for the 25th-annual Jazz in Pines festival. This summer marks a quarter century of homage to, as Marshall Hawkins, Idyllwild Arts jazz founder, says, the musical genre unique to America — jazz.
From a warm and secluded Saturday afternoon in August 1994, the celebration of music, the acknowledgement of the school and the effort to help future students has blossomed into a full cacophony of jazz of all styles, and a gourmet opening evening of special food and music.
John Newman, chief operating officer for the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, promises a continuation of great performers — new and familiar. Newman and Hawkins invest considerable time in listening to jazz musicians — live and albums — to fulfill a traditionally popular weekend, and to create new and more vivid memories for jazz aficionados. And 2018 not only continues that tradition, it will extend it.
“It is not just straight-ahead jazz, but a variety of musical styles,” Newman said.
And consistent with the bringing back of popular performers, well-known alumni, Casey Abrams will be Sunday’s headliner, Newman said proudly. Abrams is a 2009 graduate of the Arts Academy. Two years later, he finished sixth in the 10th season of “American Idol.”
Hawkins taught Abrams, who has frequently credited his mentor for developing his jazz talent.
On Saturday, Pete Escovedo, the great percussionist, and his orchestra will punctuate the atmosphere in the Holmes Amphitheatre with his jazz music. Escovedo combines Latin and salsa rhythms with his jazz, thus embodying Newman’s promise that the festival is not simply straight-ahead jazz.
“He’s a real statesman for Latin jazz,” Newman said. “His early work was with Carlos Santana. He’s a jazz legend similar to Chuck McPherson.”
The jazz program at Idyllwild Arts, which Hawkins founded and nurtured, has birthed many well-known, international, award-winning artists. Clarinetist Evan Christopher from the class of 1987, trombonist Jason Jackson, who graduated in 1989, and jazz guitar Graham Dechter from 2004, are three who have all returned to campus and played onstage with Hawkins.
This year, one of the new groups at the festival will be the Chase Jackson Sextet. While he’ll be new to the stage here, Jackson is a popular and growing jazz musician. He has several awards from the Berklee Jazz Workshop. The Berklee Jazz Festival is a popular venue for Idyllwild Arts jazz students. A combo won third place there recently.
So, the 25th Jazz in the Pines will be a combination of the legends of jazz and the young musicians who will be the next generation of legends, Newman promised.
Of course, Friday night, Aug. 10, will be the traditional Patron’s Dinner. Old-world New Orleans jazz will be featured, according to Newman. The attendees will feel like they’re on a riverboat.