The 25th-annual Jazz in the Pines festival is only weeks away — the weekend of Aug. 10 to 12.
For several years, Marshall Hawkins, the creator of the festival, had an idea to spotlight jazz, America’s music, and feature Idyllwild Arts Academy students at the same time.
He wanted more than an evening recital or 60-minute performance attended by faculty, other students and local residents. Hawkins envisioned an event that attracted jazz aficionados from throughout Southern California and beyond.
This idea captured two of his goals — to preserve and celebrate America’s musical contribution, and to provide a stepping-stone and stage for his students to evolve into professional musicians.
In August 1994, after several years of deliberating this concept, with the help of two Associates of Idyllwild Arts — Lin Carlson and Barbara Woods — the first-annual Jazz in the Pines entered the world.
At 1:30 p.m., the first note was played, and the music and celebration continued into the late afternoon. The Sweet Baby Blues Band with Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham took the stage at 6:15 p.m., and wrapped the day and the festival.
“It was extremely successful,” Hawkins said.
Twenty-five years later, this year’s Jazz in the Pines will be a homage to Hawkins. Many of his students from the 1980s through the1990s and early 2000s to today will be on stage. Many of the other performers, such as Henry Franklin, Harry Pickens, Roy McCurdy, Harold Mason and Andy Fraga Jr, play at the fest because of their connection with Hawkins.
John Newman, chief operating officer for the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, announced this intention months ago. But festival fans should know that Hawkins’ influence goes well beyond the stage in Holmes Amphitheatre or playing his bass in Stephens Recital Hall.
He was the founder of the school’s jazz program in 1987, years before the festival. One of the favorite festival performers, New Orleans and international clarinetist Evan Christopher, was the first of Hawkins’ many students to become a part of the American jazz world.
“The energy for Jazz in the Pines came from Marshall. It wouldn’t have happened without Marshall Hawkins, who is the jazz studies program here,” Newman said. Then he described how Hawkins has influenced jazz in the 21st century.
When Christopher enrolled in Idyllwild Arts, his intent was to become a pianist. When Graham Dechter enrolled, he was studying classical music.
“Evan might not be a Grammy Award winner if not for Marshall taking him under his wing. Graham wouldn’t be a jazz guitarist with Marshall,” Newman opined.
Casey Abrams is another Hawkins protégé. “He is a multi-talented wunderkind. Didn’t play just one instrument,” Newman said. Hawkins nursed his jazz interests. He still works with Hawkins when in Idyllwild.
Comparing Abrams with jazz greats from decades ago, Hawkins said, “He takes pop tunes into jazz, just as Miles [Davis] and [John] Coltrane took standards from Broadway.”
Hawkins frequently joins other musicians to perform in Idyllwild. Most residents have heard him at Café Aroma, Ferro, Middle Ridge Winery Tasting Gallery and other restaurants, and benefits. His presence can be taken for granted. The jazz festival is an opportunity to express thanks.
But Hawkins is much more than a local teacher and bassist. He has performed around the world. His audiences have included presidents. Five years ago, in 2013, the California Alliance of Jazz inducted him into its Hall of Fame.
At that time, Steve Fraider, former executive director of Idyllwild Arts Summer Programs, said, “One of the extraordinary things about Marshall is how excited he is to teach students who have not played jazz before, sharing his knowledge with less-experienced musicians as well as our students who come here to study classical music.”
But Hawkins’ life and devotion to teaching go beyond the music room. Newman, who has been a close friend and colleague since he came to Idyllwild Arts in 2003 to teach English literature, said, “He is inspiring simply to be around. He’s ‘Uncle Marshall’ to my daughters. He is one of the most important people in my life. He is selfless and giving. He wishes to make the world a better place.”
So, as we see that guy shuffle along with his head slightly bowed, know he has been sacrificing years for America’s musical genre, and for the next generations to embrace and expand it.
“I’ll never be satisfied. Everything can be better,” Hawkins averred.
When asked about a prominent memory for the 24 festivals, Hawkins quickly offered the time there were 11 bass players on the stage together in a celebration of Ray Brown.
And he will be playing with several groups during the festival, including his Seahawk Modern Jazz Orchestra Saturday night.
Tickets for the 25th-annual Jazz in the Pines can be found online at www.jazzinthepines.com/#tickets.
For those who prefer a more personal transaction, tickets may be purchased at the Idyllwild Arts store, at the corner of North Circle and Cedar Street, or the Idyllwild Pharmacy, located in Strawberry Plaza.