Evergreen Jazz Fest to offer all that and more

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By Joe Vaccarelli

Toes will be tapping, venues will be packed and Evergreen will get a bit more hip for three days as the town welcomes back the Evergreen Jazz Festival July 24-26.

The extravaganza will feature more than 70 hours of live music and 10 performing ensembles ranging in genre from Dixieland to swing to ragtime. Each day will feature free dance lessons, and the festival will kick off with an educational clinic given by the Carl Sonny Leyland Trio along with saxophonist and vocalist Anita Thomas.

Five of the 10 groups performing this year will be from out of state, led by the California-based Carl Sonny Leyland Trio. Thomas, along with assisting the trio with the educational clinic, will perform with the Festival Feetwarmers, an offshoot of last year’s participant Hal’s Angels.

Other groups hailing from elsewhere include the John Royen Trio from New Orleans, Marty Eggars’ Ragtime Quartet from Oakland and Gremoli from Southern California. Also performing will be the International Sextet, a compilation group made up of musicians from other out-of-state groups.

The quality of the groups and the intimacy of the venues make the Evergreen Jazz Festival a big draw, not just to residents of Evergreen but to jazz lovers all over the state, across the country and even around the world. Past visitors have traveled from as far as Japan, France and Scotland to attend.

“It’s become a major attraction,” said Jim Reiners, past president and chairman of the marketing committee for the festival. “It’s a combination of top talent and very small, intimate venues that make it a great experience for the audience.”

Those venues will include the historic Little Bear, the Evergreen Lake House, the Elks Lodge and Evergreen Christian Church. All venues except the church leave the musicians in close proximity to the performers.

Aside from being a big draw for fans of jazz, the festival is also a welcome event for many of the musicians who participate.

“Evergreen is gorgeous, the audience is great and (festival founder) Sterling Nelson does a great job getting all different types of groups. Plus, I love the people,” said Thomas, who also performed at last year’s festival.

Another musician said the scenery in Evergreen is what sets the festival apart.

“You can’t find any other place where you can be playing and look outside and see elk looking back at you. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said drummer Hal Smith, who has played at all but one Jazz Fest in Evergreen.

Another fun aspect for the musicians is how much attention is paid by the crowds. Carl Sonny Leyland noted that he was impressed at how the crowd truly came out to hear jazz, rather than for a social gathering.

“People really come to listen to the music, unlike other places, where they listen sometimes and talk the rest of the time. People there really want to know about the music,” he said.

The traveling groups may be the biggest draw for spectators, but the local groups are no slouches. Several of the groups have been critically acclaimed both locally and nationally. One highlight is the Queen City Jazz Band from Denver, who will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. Also in attendance will be the Celebration Jazz Band from Fort Collins, the Hot Tomatoes Dance Orchestra, the Gypsy Swing Revue, Joni Janak and Centerpiece Jazz, and the After Midnight Jazz Band, all from Denver.

Another local treat should come Sunday morning when vocalist Wende Harston, accompanied by the Queen City Jazz Band, leads a gospel service at Evergreen Christian Church.

Despite the economic downturn, festival planners are still expecting big crowds and are grateful to sponsors, who put up much of the money needed to make the festival happen.

“It may be a down economy, but there are more corporate contributors than in the past,” said Jeannie Mann, president of the board of directors for this year’s festival. “Ads for the program have matched an all-time high, and ticket sales are above last year.”

Mann also added that she thinks this year has a great lineup, one of the strongest ever, and the festival could see standing-room-only crowds.

It’s an event a year in the making and, according to Mann, that’s the way it has to be for the festival to be a success.

“If you want great bands, you have to start early,” she said.