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Sweet, sassy sounds of jazz spice up Evergreen

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Annual festival features wealth of musical talent

By Sandy Barnes

Skirts swirled and fingers twirled as dancers moved to smoothly styled tunes played by the Blue Suitcase Trio at the Evergreen Jazz Festival on Saturday afternoon. 

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The New York-based musicians were among many talented groups that performed during the annual three-day festival in Evergreen.

While the trio was playing in the ballroom of the Evergreen Elks Lodge, Big Mama Sue belted out songs that were popular in the early 1900s at the club’s patio venue.

“You’re the curse of my aching heart,” sang Mama Sue while playing a washboard with egg beaters. 

Performing for the first time at the Jazz Festival, the Big Mama Sue Trio played selections that Fats Waller made famous when he started doing radio shows in the 1930s. With her humorous delivery and boisterous manner, Big Mama lived up to her reputation as an entertaining performer.

While a soft rain fell on the roof of the sanctuary, jazz-loving festival-goers packed Evergreen Christian Church to hear singer Joni Janak and Centerpiece Jazz perform at midafternoon Saturday. 

“The music is great!” said Evergreen resident Jerry Roberts, who came to the festival for the first time with his wife, Jan Roberts.

Evergreen resident Jim Gorman, one of the founders of the Jazz Festival, said that he used to hear Janak perform on Thursday nights at the Roundup in downtown Evergreen, where Rio del Sol now is located. Centerpiece Jazz drummer Jack McCutchan was the only Evergreen musician at the festival this year, Gorman noted.

The Queen City Jazz Band and singer Wende Harston, another Jazz Festival favorite, were among regularly featured performers at the event.

“Come on up on the floor,” Harston said, encouraging audience members to dance to a shim-sham tune she was about to sing in the ballroom of the Elks Lodge.

“Way down south in Birmingham …,” she began while dancers paired up and started jiving to “Tuxedo Junction,” a traditional jazz favorite.

A fun — and educational — feature of this year’s festival was the Dance Showcase, which was offered intermittently throughout the event. Before the Queen City Jazz Band played on Saturday afternoon, a group of dancers dressed in 1930s attire kicked up their heels, waved their arms and circled index fingers during a spirited demonstration of the Big Apple.

Another big hit at the festival was James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, which performed a unique arrangement of Django Reinhardt’s “Lentement Mademoiselle” on Saturday evening, among other offerings.

After his introduction as a doctor of music, Dapogny quipped, “If any of you have musical diseases, I’ll be glad to talk to you.”

Looking at all of the cars parked in the lots around the Elks Lodge, Gorman said he believed there was record attendance at this year’s 13th annual festival.

Evergreen resident Sterling Nelson and other jazz aficionados organized the first Evergreen Jazz Festival in 2001 in the town where music legends Count Basie and Duke Ellington once performed.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com.