(Photo by Ken Ross)
The city of Cherokee can be very proud of the Jazz and Blues Fest it hosts. The most recent three-day event was held on January 6 - 8, and was an outstanding success, according to one of the people most responsible for the event.
Jim Adamson's opinion echoed that of the capacity and near-capacity crowds who attended events offered during the tune-filled weekend.
Adamson, who with local attorney Dan Meloy has been involved in the event from the beginning, was extremely pleased with this year's effort, and, after a brief respite, will be back at it, planning the 2007 fest.
Adamson says that the phrase "Sixth Annual Jazz and Blues Fest" is really a bit of a misnomer, as the event has not been held for six consecutive years.
The first jazz fest was held in January 1992, and was the brainchild of R.J. Baker, at the time the director of Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation. Baker had previously lived in Olathe, Kansas, and had become friendly with several jazz musicians in the Kansas City area.
He offered to contact some of them to see if they , and perhaps some of their musician friends, would be agreeable to coming to Cherokee for a festival. That first jazz fest, Adamson remembers, was both an artistic and financial success, and a second jazz fest was again held the folowing January.
Unfortunately, though once again an artistic success, the same could not be said for the financial situation. The money situation effectively ended the Cherokee Blues and Jazz Fest - for the time being.
Fast forward ten years, to 2003. Meloy felt that a return of the jazz fest could be both artistically and financially successful, and contacted Baker, now employed in a similar position in Norfolk, Neb, to see if he would be willing to offer his advice and suggestions and, of course, again make contacts with his acquaintances in the music world.
Baker agreed, and tried to contact Kevin Mahogany, a Kansas City vocalist who had performed at the earlier Cherokee festivals. Mahogany was in Toronto when he called, but Baker did speak to Pam Hieder-Johnson, the wife of drummer Sam Johnson, who mentioned "a guy (she) went to school with in Kansas City " who now had "a good job" in New York City, and suggested they contact him to see if he'd be interested in coming to the proposed festival in Cherokee.
A call was placed to New York, where the "guy" turned out to be Mark Pender, a trumpet virtuoso and regular member of the Max Weinberg Seven, the house band for NBC TV's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."
The rest, as they say, is history. Pender surprised everyone and eagerly accepted the invitation. He has headlined the fest ever since, appearing every year (2003-2006) and, according to Adamson, is planning on returning again in 2007.
Another change in the "new and improved" Cherokee Jazz Fest has been the addition of the Blues genre to the original Jazz concept. Blues performers seemed to be in greater supply than artists who play strictly jazz, and it also seemed to be more popular with listeners, so this expansion of musical styles has helped with the success of the resurrected festival.
Adamson expressed his sincere gratitude to several people and organizations for the time and effort they put in to make this year's event such a success.
Tim Gaydo, owner of Cherokee Bowl, was a real life-saver this year. Gaydo was aware that there might be some problems preventing participation by the Bullseye Lounge, one of the scheduled sites for pub crawls, and let Adamson and other organizers know that his business would be available to host a pub crawl if needed. Gaydo also mentioned that he had an old school bus which could be used to transport pub crawlers to and from Cherokee Bowl.
At 4:33 p.m. on the opening Friday of the fest, the fear became a reality when festival organizers found out that the Bullseye would indeed be unable to host a pub crawl that evening. Gaydo came to the rescue, being true to his word on everyhing he had offered.
"Thank God for Tim Gaydo," said an obviously grateful Adamson, adding that the Blue Band, who performed at the crawl at Cherokee Bowl, told him it was a great venue, and they would love to perform there again when they return in the future. In additioin to providing a great venue, Gaydo did indeed also provide a shuttle bus for crawlers. Adamson said Cherokee Bowl has an open invitation to host one or two pub crawls again next year.
Adamson stated that he was sad that things didn't work out with the Bullseye, but added that they too were certainly welcome to re-join the list of venues if things get settled with the business.
Jim also gave praise to the Blue Band and the Jim Oatts Sextet for their professionalism. The Oatts group had already set up their instruments and other equipment at the Bullseye, and were resting at a local motel when they got the word of the venue change. They quickly moved their equipment to the bowling alley without complaint., and played at the pub crawl that night.
Oatts was also the leader of the clinic for high school students and played the National Anthem at the Cherokee Washington basketball game Friday evening. He and his group were the only pure jazz group at this year's event.
Cherokee band director Paul McEntaffer said that Oatts conducted the clinic "just the way (he) hoped," and Adamson stressed that the clinic for students is a very important part of the Blues and Jazz Fest.
They have found out the last two years that other jazz clinics were being held on the same weekend, and this has cut down on the number of stuudents who have been able to attend the Jazz fest clinic. Jim said he plans to make a thorough study of area school calendars this year to avoid such conflicts next year, and allow students to attend both clinics if they want.
The Jam Session was held on Saturday from noon until three at The Gathering Place (the former Tri-State Organ location), and that event,too, was a big success. Adamson thanked building owner Jimmy Davis for housing the event, which was very well attended. Extra seating had to be brought in from the Depot to accommodate the large crowd.
Several area musicians took part in the jam, which was organized by Bobby Carson, Kansas City jazz musician and frequent Jazz Fest performer. Carson was very organized and had performers who chose to participate sign a book. If the person did not sign in, they weren't permitted to join the performers. Among other area musicians who chose to perform with Pender and other professionals at the jam were a twelve-year-old trumpeter from Sioux City and high school guitarist Courtney Glienke from Aurelia.
Saturday evening featured a concert at Western Iowa Tech Conference Center, headlined by Pender and his band, with Bob Dorr and the Blue Band opening. Dorr and his group appeared at the Jazz and Blues Fest for the first time, and they drew a significant group of their followers from the Des Moines and Cedar Falls areas.
This group was very entertaining and featured Sam Salomone, a member of both the Iowa Jazz Hall of Fame and the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame, on the Hammond organ, and two saxophone players, joined by Cherokee native Vicki Alexander of Detroit. Dorr was the lead vocalist and also played the blues harp (harmonica) and a unique "washboard tie."
Dorr is also a Hall-of-Famer, being inducted into the Iowa ROCK AND ROLL Hall in 2000. He was honored for his many years of deejaying on KUNI-FM, a post he still holds.
Alexander joined Pender's band for a time during their set also, and to set the record straight, Vicki is NOT married to lead guitar player Glenn Alexander of Pender's group, contrary to Mark's comments at the concert.
Alexander wowed the capacity crowd with his chops on his Fender ax (don't be alarmed- an "ax" is the nickname among musicians for an electric guitar), and was featured on a number the native Kansan wrote, "T-5."
Pender himself was the penultimate performer, dishing out some pretty tasty chops himself on the trumpet, as well as singing the blues. His best moment, however, was an amazing extended hold (we're talking several minutes here) on a single note, without going off pitch or taking a noticeable breath.
This thrilled the crowd , but also allowed Paul Frazier to replace the string he had broken on his bass gutar without any interruption in the show. For the encore, Pender showed another of his many musical talents, as he sang a love song, accompanying himself on guitar.
During the show, Pender was presented a key to the city of Cherokee by mayor Dennis Henrich, who also read a proclamation honoring Pender. The mayor and the musician exchanged mutual admiration for each other's hairstyles, and Pender thanked the city and everyone for making him really feel like Cherokee is his second home.
In addition to those already mentioned , Adamson wanted to salute the following for their contributions to the success of the 2006 Cherokee Jazz and Blues Fest:
The event chairmen - Mary Ann Miller (shirts and logo- by the way, there are still a handful of white 2006 Jazz and Blues Fest t-shirts, in all sizes, available at the discounted price of $12. Contact Mary Ann at the Copper Cup), Mike Rose (organized a small group of designated drivers), Molly Loughlin (pub crawls), Miller says the venue at the new Copper Cup site turned out to be a great choice, by the way.
She felt the venue had excellent acoustics , was alcohol and smoke-free, and the band set-up in the front window really helped bring the customers in.
Other chairmen included Jimmy Davis (jam session), Mark Hecox (advertising), Dan Meloy (fundraising and the concert, plus the excellent concept of the "Super Pass" admission to all events), Wayne Morris (sound and lighting for the concert and Sunday dinner at Macree Hall), Steve Thomas and Brian Fulton (transporting the Pender Band to-and-from the Sioux City airport), Dan Mott (driving Frazier to Omaha early Sunday morning to catch a plane), Jackie Wittkop of the Gasthaus (fixing the excellent meal served at the Sunday night dinner performance), Denny Holton (creating the logo for the Jazz and Blues Fest), Linda Beals Ducummon (setting up and maintaining the Jazz Fest website - www.cherokeejazzbluesfestival.com - check it out!), Eric Klotz and Vicki Alexander (Cherokee natives who came home and contributed their considerable musical talents), Mark Buschkamp of CAEDC (MC for concert), Holly Olson (arranging for volunteer servers at the concert), Rasmussen Ford and Holzhauer Motors (providing cars for the designated drivers), John O'Connor and the KCHE staff and Paul Struck and the Chronicle-Times staff (the "wonderful publicity") and last, but certainly not least, all who volunteered their time and services as ticket takers, ushers and servers at all the events. Adamson stated, "You can do all the planning in the world, but you still need the volunteers to make it work."
Some POSSIBLE things to which we may look forward at the 2007 affair - Vicki Alexander said she would like to bring the band with which she plays in Detroit next year, and, when I asked local "axman" Steve Thomas why he wasn't on stage jamming with Pender, Steve said (and I quote): "Next year." There you go, Steve - it's in print now.
My own suggestion would be bringing hot new Jazz trumpeter Chris Botti in to complement Pender. Last I knew he was dating "Today Show " anchor Katie Couric, so I think she should be part of the package too, of course.
Hope to see all you veteran Jazz and Blues Fest fans next year. Newcomers are certainly welcome to join the fun, too.