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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 02:37 pm

Growing jazz in Greater Springfield

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Jazz music, considered an original American art form by most scholars of the arts, has a strong and vibrant history within our music scene. More than a few capital city natives made good in the genre as bandleaders and musicians beyond our borders. Many more remained in town as educators and performers, making alternate livings while still making merry music. Tales abound of the glory days in the 60s when live music was a constant in most nightclubs and the greats of American jazz played in town at the St. Nick, the Lake Club and others venues of note.

As with the blues and American roots music, an organization exists locally dedicated to promoting jazz on the area scene. Founded in the late 80s as the Jazz Society of Greater Springfield by Kate Seymore, Virgil Rhodes, Dave Leonatti, Dr. Peter Glatz and Byrd Davis, among others, the group supported and developed local jazz and big band happenings. Later leaders Bunnie and Ron Krischke, Bill Hall, Wanda Keil and George Michael continued the assistance as the group transformed into the current Springfield Jazz Society. The sorely missed and once spectacular Washington Street Jazz Festival happened with help from the group, also a proud and vital sponsor of events at the old Norb Andy’s, Robbie’s, Springfield Motor Boat Club and Island Bay Yacht Club.

The organization began with support from players and fans of jazz that grew up in the genre’s heyday, enjoying the dancing associated with the big bands and the popular songs of the era that became jazz standards. Recent activity on the local landscape by the jazz society shows only a few official SJS events annually, with the Spring Jazz Brunch the main shindig of the year. Current talk among members concerns reaching out to the community and finding a new generation of jazz enthusiasts to add “some new leadership to help keep the music alive.” By using the established organization and current membership, new members could work to build a lasting, vibrant and useful support system of local jazz appreciation for generations to come.

Along this line of thinking, the SJS now asks no membership dues and only requires a “real interest in jazz and an email address to receive announcements,” to become a full-fledged partner. As we’ve seen with the Illinois Central Blues Club and the Sangamon Valley Roots Revival, area music organizations truly have an impact on the local scene. From sponsoring national touring acts to organizing support for local band shows, the interaction of fellow fans within a genre encourages and develops relationships that often lead to unforeseen consequences, mostly of the positive kind. Think of what those two organizations have brought to Springfield in terms of music entertainment and cultural additions. Apply that to the encompassing world of jazz and the possibilities and potentialities are staggering and wonderful. So come on you next generation jazzers, join with your predecessors in bonding to elevate the Springfield jazz world to another level of cooperation and presentation for the good of all concerned.

This Sunday, Aug. 28, the Springfield Jazz Society hosts Dick Garretson’s Little Big Band at the Springfield Motor Boat Club (17 Club Area on Lake Springfield) from 4 to 7 p.m. Doors open at 3:30 and the cost is $12 per person with a cash bar and food available. (RSVP%u2008at 217-414-2955). What a wonderful opportunity to see and hear many of the endearing and enduring, talented, area jazz players led by Garretson, a true pioneer and tireless purveyor of excellent music performance in our community. And while you’re there, join the SJS and offer to help expand the presence of jazz and big band music around town.

You’ll be glad you did and so will the rest of us.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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