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Friday, May 6, 2016

Cherokee Jazz & Blues Festival history

Thursday, January 10, 2013

In the early 1990's RJ Baker, formerly of Olathe, Kan., was hired as director of economic development for Cherokee County. One of the early projects suggested by Baker was a winter jazz festival to be held in January when nothing much is going on in the community.

It would be a delightful break in the winter even if there weas snow outside! Baker believed that a jazz festival would be a positive addition to the then 40-year traditions of the Cherokee Symphony and the Cherokee Community Theater. Properly promoted, the festival would be an opportunity to give Cherokee a high profile in northwest Iowa and around the Midwest.

In January 1992, the first jazz festival was held in Cherokee. Yes, there was snow outside and temperatures were what you would expect in northwest Iowa in January. The three-day program was ambitious - a free rehearsal open to the public, music clinics for high school students in area schools, a free performance for patients and staff at a local hospital and a history of jazz presentation at the Sanford Museum in Cherokee.

Throughout the weekend the musicians entertained at pub crawls, a jam session and a concert (by master musicians from Kansas City and by extremely talented musicians from northwest Iowa, South Dakota, and Omaha, Nebraska). The attendance was excellent with people coming from five states. Audiences loved the music and asked that another festival be planned.

In January 1993, the second jazz festival was held in Cherokee. Again there were music clinics for area high school students, and entertainment throughout the weekend by master musicians from Kansas City and around the Midwest. Audiences still loved the music, but the festival lost money. The festival committee endured criticism that they had not entirely covered their costs. The festival idea, while still appealing to many, was disparaged by some because finances were not managed successfully.

Ten years passed without a jazz festival. Then, in the year 2002 a few Cherokeeans got together with RJ Baker to learn from his experience what they would have to do in order to give themselves a reasonable chance to hold another festival and not lose money.

Baker advised them to find a way to cover the cost of the musicians' performance fees, transportation and lodging up front, and pay the other costs of the festival with fees collected during the festival and from donations. Collectively, the committee arrived at a way to do that by approaching many businesses and individual citizens of Cherokee and asking them to be sponsors to help reestablish the jazz festival in Cherokee. The idea of reestablishing the festival was presented as a wise investment in the community and a reasonable expense for a weekend of family entertainment right here in Cherokee.

In January 2003, the third jazz festival held in Cherokee. Again the festival held a music clinic for area high schools and in addition to the master musicians from Kansas City, the public was entertained by Mark Pender and other outstanding musicians from New York City. The festival was well-attended and very well received; and organizers did not lose money.

In January 2004, the fourth festival was held - by now called the Cherokee Jazz and Blues Festival. Again, there was a clinic for area high school music students. In addition a masters clinic was offered to high school band directors. The tradition was continued of pub crawls, a jam session and a concert by master musicians from Kansas City, the Mark Pender Band from New York City, and by great talent from northwest Iowa.

A wonderful addition to the 2004 festival was an experienced female vocalist who had recently moved to northwest Iowa from Australia. The festival was well attended, received very favorable reviews and was again a financial success. The Cherokee Jazz and Blues Festival was becoming a tradition in northwest Iowa.

In January 2005, the 5th Cherokee Jazz and Blues Festival was held. Again there was a clinic for area high school music students and a masters clinic for high school band directors. Organizers also continued the tradition of pub crawls, a jam session and a concert. All were well-attended. The event was a success, so the festival's committee began to plan for another festival....

(To be continued in Friday's Chronicle Times)

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