A New Vibe From An Old Sound

It’s one of the oldest traditional jazz festivals in the country, but it doesn’t mean it’s old. Sure some of its 2011 scheduled artist have been performing for decades, but over the last few years the North Carolina Jazz Festival has been working hard putting a new spirit to its annual event.

From its humble beginnings in 1980, the NC Jazz Festival has developed into one of the most successful musical happenings in Wilmington. The brainchild of Dr. Harry VanVelsor (who passed away last year), the festival has continued to attract traditional jazz icons and fans from all over the world.
 
Art Hodes, Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Milt Hinton, Kenny Davern, Keter Betts, Bobby Rosengarden, Tony DiNicola, and Johnny Frigo are among some of the jazz greats who have shared their talents with audiences from all over the world attending the festival.
 
But in recent years a new trend has been developing and it’s creating a younger vibe and look for the festival. In 2007, the festival brought an 11 year-old violinist Jonathan Russell to Wilmington.
 
“We had heard his music and of his abilities and felt that this was a perfect time and way to ‘stretch’ our jazz years – 11 year-old Jonathan to 81 year-old Bucky Pizzarelli,” explains festival president Sandy Evans.
 
The result was a smashing success. This year, Russell and Pizzarelli will again be featured at the festival.
 
So within this new context what really is traditional jazz?
 
“Basically it all stems back to the music of the ‘20s and ‘30s in New Orleans,” explains Evans. “Traditional jazz takes us back to the ‘roots’ of jazz. And gives the musicians a chance to play the basic jazz form while expanding their playing to speak their own message.”
 
And surprisingly, though “Trad Jazz” is associated with older artist, “new” traditional jazz, according to Evans, is being composed all the time.
 
Once again, this year the festival will be a three-day event with Thursday’s night opening focused on different styles of jazz.
 
Friday and Saturday evenings feature a four-hour concert with a 15 All-Star musician lineup in a traditional presentation of seven sets, each with a different leader. A patron’s “musical” brunch will be held on Saturday featuring musicians and patron/musicians who “sit in” with the All-Stars during a jam session.
 
Additionally, and in keeping with the festival cultivating and inspiring young jazz lovers, several performers will travel across town to Roland Grise Middle School for a concert/workshop on Friday morning. Later that afternoon, a violin and guitar clinic will be hosted by Jonathan and Bucky at the Hilton. Bria Skonberg will give a clinic for trumpet students as well.
  
 Stretching its musical imaginations while presenting the traditional jazz that they have always featured – it’s a new vibe from an old sound.
 
I think Dr. VanVelsor would be proud.
 
A New Vibe For An Old Sound
The Beat Magazine January 2011
By Jeff Reid
About NC Jazz Festival

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  1. […] in the music of New Orleans in the ’20s and ’30s.  However, as Jeff Reid explains in an article for The Beat Magazine, the festival also allows performers to experiment with the modern composition of “new” […]

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