Musicians love Elkhart Jazz Festivals variety, intimacy
Posted: 06/21/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Angelle Barbazon
Click here to view in a gallery.
Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli shakes hands with a fan as he makes his way to a set at the jazz festival Friday, June 20, 2008. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli smiles as listens to the long, warm applause from the audience during a set at the Athenian Ballroom Friday, June 23, 2006, during the Elkhart Jazz Festival. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
Rebecca Kilgore, center, engages the audience with a touch of playful banter between quartet members Dan Barrett, left, and Joel Forbes during a set at the Knights of Columbus stage during the 2010 Elkhart Jazz Festival. One of the special qualities of the Jazz and Blues Festival is the connection to the audiences. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
John Bany plays with the East Hubbard Street Jazz Band at the Knights of Columbus during the Elkhart Jazz Festival. Bany is the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Tim Cunningham performs at the Jazz Festival in 1998. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo)
That’s Chicago musician John Bany’s tradition before he heads out to the Elkhart Jazz Festival year after year. The 71-year-old legend has performed at all but one of the city’s jazz festivals in the event’s 25-year history. Over the years, the festival has become more than just another gig — it’s a homecoming, a chance to reunite with fellow musicians from all over the country.
“It’s a world-class festival,” said Bany, who received the Elkhart Jazz Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. “Elkhart should be very proud.”
Bany will be one of six musicians in the festival’s 25th Anniversary Jazz Band playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But no matter how many times Bany performs, he said he never knows what to expect.
“Something different always happens, and it’s never planned out,” he said.
One of Bany’s favorite memories stems from an impromptu Friday night jam session several years ago near the swimming pool at the old Midway Motel in the heart of downtown. Bany grabbed his bass and played alongside pianist Eddie Higgins and drummer Butch Miles. Over the course of a half hour, the trio powered through three songs at 200 beats per minute.
“That’s very, very fast,” Bany laughed, remembering how the other bassists watched him with wide eyes from the sideline. “My wrists could hardly move after that.”
But at 71 years old, Bany said many of his long-time musician friends have either retired or passed away. One that he’ll have on his mind this weekend is bassist Milt Hinton who died in 2000. The two were close friends and had played together since 1976. Hinton’s 102nd birthday would have been this Saturday.
“He was a great influence, a mentor and a coach,” Bany said. “I’ll be thinking about him this weekend.”
Vocalist Rebecca Kilgore will return to the jazz festival this weekend with her quartet. She’s based in Portland, Ore., and said the Elkhart Jazz Festival is a nice change of pace from the clubs in Chicago and New York.
“It’s nice to go to a small place where people are very receptive as opposed to going to New York where people take the music for granted because there’s already so much going on there,” Kilgore said. “I love it because everyone is so friendly, and the festival is really well run, so you just feel very taken care of, and people around you are appreciative of the music, so I love it.”
Like Bany, Kilgore likes catching up with old friends such as Bucky Pizzarelli, whom she calls “the greatest living guitar player.” Pizzarelli has performed at the jazz festival in Elkhart at least six times. This weekend, he will share the stage with fellow guitarist and friend Ed Laub.
“The musicians always get a good reception every time we play there,” Pizzarelli said. “It’s a very rare thing to go to a city of Elkhart’s size and be able to hear so much music everywhere.”
Pizzarelli has played jazz festivals from coast to coast, but Elkhart, he said, “stands alone.”
“I know a lot of the musicians that play in Elkhart every year,” he said. “It has a great vibe.”
St. Louis saxophonist Tim Cunningham has played the festival close to a dozen times since the late 1990s. The Elkhart Jazz Festival, he said, is one of his biggest concerts of the year.
“It’s not just a traditional, straight-ahead jazz festival,” Cunningham said. “There’s big band, Dixieland, contemporary and all other styles. You can tell people appreciate the music, and that’s why I enjoy it. I hope the audience is inspired by the music and the styles that they hear. I’m always trying to reach people’s souls with music.”
2012 ELKHART JAZZ FESTIVAL
To learn more about this year’s lineup and watch clips of live performances, check out www.etruth.com/section/jazzfestartists.