As the 27th annual Elkhart Jazz Festival wrapped up on Sunday afternoon, we asked John Bany, famed Chicago bass player, as well as festival attendees, to reflect on why they return to the music year after year.
It’s safe to say John Bany knows a thing or two about the bass. He plays at two of the best Chicago jazz clubs. He’s played with the likes of Eddie Higgins and Bud Freeman. The Chicago Sun-Times calls his bass playing “as much a part of Chicago as expired parking meters.”
And he’s also played at the Elkhart Jazz Festival for 25 years.
“This is a world-class jazz festival,” Bany said. “It’s one of the few left. In 1988, they had 400 volunteers, and every year since, it’s the same thing – it’s incredible. People are warm, the epitome of Midwest friendliness.”
Bany, who first picked up a bass at 16, was awarded the Elkhart Jazz Festival’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2009. He played this year’s festival with Alfonso Ponticelli & Swing Gitan.
“There’s two things necessary to improvise: patience and a good memory,” Bany said. “There’s certain phrases you learn and know together. It’s a craft.”
Bany plays at both Green Mill Cocktail Lounge and Andy’s Jazz Club, two of Chicago’s renowned jazz clubs.
“I fell in love with jazz,” Bany said. “It’s like a religion with a small r. Music comes from the core of human beings; everything’s part of music. Once something is out, it’s timeless.”
Attendees also can’t get enough of the music. Here what they had to say:
George and Martha Phillips, Flossmoor, Ill. and Judy Findlay, Elkhart
We’ve been coming to the festival for 20 years and haven’t missed one. We all went to college together and started coming years ago. It’s about good friends and good music. Dave Bennett and Pat Mellinger are some of the favorites.
Pamela and Wayne Hatcher, Cincinnati, Ohio
This is our first time at the festival; we’re here to see Foreplay. But we’ll be back next year. There is such much diversity in the food and the people and the music.
Susan Lanning and Janelle Roberts, sisters, and dog Lily, Elkhart
We’ve been coming 20 years – we don’t have to travel, it’s a free stage, and it’s fun to just be and soak up the sun, to see old and new friends. It brings everyone out. And the deep friend mushrooms and ice cream are good, too.
Adam Price, Elkhart and children Layla, 5, Jackson, 9, and Jenna, 8
We’ve been coming the last 10 years. It’s a nice place to hang out. For us, it’s a four mile bike ride through Island Park. I always wish there were more to do downtown Elkhart and this a good reason to come and check out shops you don’t normally see. And of course, the food. The kids had their first elephant ear on Friday and were convinced it was going to be real elephant.
Lila O’Connell, Pierceton, Ind.
It’s been awhile since I came but I’ve been here eight times. I love jazz. [Dave] Bennett does a mean jazz piano. Today I’m going to just concentrate on the plaza. I forgot a hat for the sun so I brought my umbrella.
Joe Boals, Emergency Management for City of Elkhart, Terre Haute, Ind.
I did some volunteer work in after New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, so that’s where my appreciation for jazz started. It’s music I really appreciate live, one of the best kinds to listen to in person. Preservation Hall Jazz Band is one of my favorites – I missed them because I wasn’t here yet, but I heard them first in New Orleans and I love them.
Said David Smith, co-chair of the festival and executive director of the Lerner Theatre, “It just keeps getting better and better. I didn’t hear a bad set. The most exciting thing is all the smiling face and people saying, ’Did you catch that?’ Downtown is abuzz with happiness.”
What will bring you back to the 28th annual Elkhart Jazz Festival?