ELKHART — The Elkhart Jazz Festival has a history that dates back to 1987, but this year marked a first for the 26-year-old event.
The jazz festival opened Friday, June 21, with its first Mardi Gras parade featuring a procession of dancers, a Dixieland jazz band, cars, Cinderella’s carriage and energetic revelers.
“Each and every year for the jazz festival, they think of new concepts, like this parade,” said Elkhart mayor Dick Moore, who rode on one of the Mardi Gras floats. “Each year, it gets bigger and better. There are so many events outside of the jazz festival downtown. All over the community, people are having parties and celebrating. People are really grabbing ahold of it.”
Moore shared the spotlight on a float with his favorite jazz festival musician, clarinetist Dave Bennett. Bennett has performed at the festival for 10 years.
“This is great. What a wonderful way to kick the jazz festival off,” Bennett said about the parade.
After a slight change in plans because of rain clouds hanging above downtown, the opening of the jazz festival was relocated from the public stage at Civic Plaza to the Lerner Theatre. The mayor welcomed festivalgoers and thanked volunteers and businesses for their support of the city’s largest music event.
After an evening of music at six venues set up downtown, swing guitarist John Pizzarelli and his quartet charmed a crowd at the Lerner Theatre.
The jazz festival continues at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, June 22, with a full day of entertainment.
Three people will receive lifetime achievement awards for their dedication to the festival at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Lerner Theatre. The honorees are long-time volunteer and original festival committee member Paul Thomas, musician Terry Myers and businessman Rocky Giglio.
Headliner Wynton Marsalis will take the stage with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lerner.
The festival will wrap up Sunday, June 23, with 18 performances by local and national jazz artists.