History

This festival was started in 1980 by Dr. Harry VanVelsor, a local dermatologist, and consummate jazz lover.  Harry’s devotion to Dixieland and Traditional style jazz greatly influenced the structure of this new event in Wilmington.

 

 

Over the years the greatest of Traditional Jazz artists have brought their musical talents here to be a part of this festival.  Names like Art Hodes, Milt Hinton, Kenny Davern, Keter Betts, Bobby Rosengarden, Tony DiNicola, and Johnny Frigo are among the late greats who have passed this way.

In recent years we have hosted an array of talents from around the nation and the world—Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Houston Person, Wycliffe Gordon, Duke Heitger and Ken Peplowski, to name just a few.

We have introduced some young newcomers to our area also— Jonathan Russell, the jazz violin prodigy from N.Y.C., played here at ages 11,12. & 15.  His performances with the legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli were show stoppers!

Those internationals who have followed their love of jazz to its’ homeland and to the North Carolina Jazz Festival include  Antti Sarpila (Finland); Nicki Parrott (Australia); Derek Smith (England); Bria Skonberg,  Peter Appleyard, Jim Galloway and Randy Reinhart (Canada).  In 2009 we added Rossano Sportiello ( Italy ),and Anat Cohen ( Israel ) to our international list, and in 2011 introduced Adrian Cunningham, reeds and flute player ( Australia ) to our NCJF audience.

Since 2006, when Dr. VanVelsor retired from active participation in the North Carolina Jazz Festival, its board has been under the leadership of Sandy Evans, former president of the Cape Fear Jazz Society.

The history of the NCJF and its’ musicians is impressive!  We look forward to continuing the tradition of bringing to the area the highest standard of jazz excellence, in the style of our founder Dr. Harry VanVelsor (Feb. 1924 – Feb. 2010).   NCJF is a non-profit organization, staffed solely by volunteers.

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A New Vibe For An Old Sound
The Beat Magazine January 2011
By Jeff Reid

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 and a half 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. Later that afternoon, instrumental jazz clinics will be conducted by several of our all-star musicians for local music students at no charge.
  
 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.