JazzPA celebrated its ninth anniversary of the Summer Jazz Celebration as the festival kicked off Thursday with performances from the Pittsburgh Trombone Project, J.T. Blues and more.
The event began in 2005 as the State College Jazz Festival when founder Joe Alessandro made his dream a reality.
Alessandro joined forces with current President Catherine Dupuis, local residents Maralyn and Paul Mazza, the South Hills School of Business and Technology and musicians to host a one-day summer jazz festival.
Now, the festival has grown to become JazzPA, a nonprofit organization with an active board of directors. The Summer Jazz Celebration is one component of the organization and lasts for four days instead of the original one.
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On Friday, Dupuis performed with pianist Russ Kassoff at Centre Crest nursing home as part of the festival.
Resident Barry Stewart enjoyed the opportunity to listen to live music.
“I enjoyed everything, but the piano in particular. It’s just here,” Stewart said, patting his heart. “I just love it because it’s music, I can’t explain it. I can’t say it any better than that.”
Stewart’s wife, Sherry Stewart, accompanied him to the performance.
“He’s come to a lot of the jazz festivals in the past,” Sherry Stewart said. “He loves all music, he says, but jazz and blues are his favorites. That lady over there said, ‘Is he a musician?’ because he’ll sit there and tap his fingers along to the piano. He’ll shut his eyes and take it in.”
For Dupuis, that is the whole reason for performing at Centre Crest.
“They’re hearing it and so many of them, they don’t respond to anything, but they hear this music and these tunes they know and all of a sudden a finger is going,” Dupuis said. “It’s gratifying to see that kind of response because it’s a very real response.”
“The thing is, if you play a popular song from their past, like some of our old songs, something will happen to them,” Kassoff said. “They’ll just dance. It’s all they have. Sometimes you’ll just see a tear or a finger tapping along.”
While some people may say they don’t listen to jazz, Dupuis says otherwise.
“Our goal has always been to help people who say, ‘I don’t know what jazz is’ or ‘I don’t like jazz’ and help them understand, not only do they like it, but they are actually listening to it all the time,” Dupuis said. “So you know, all the different kinds of stuff that’s happening in what was pop and even rock ’n’ roll, are based on the blues.”
To those unfamiliar with the world of jazz, the name Phil Woods may not stick out in the lineup for Saturday evening’s performance. However, Woods is a jazz master, the highest honor a jazz musician can receive in the United States, and has recorded for such artists as Billy Joel and Steely Dan.
“This will be the second year in a row we’ve had a jazz master, which is as high as it gets,” Kassoff said. “It’s like being knighted.”
The privilege of having a jazz master perform at a local event is truly special for Dupuis.
“Jazz is the only music America has produced on its own, so it’s a treasure,” Dupuis said. “So these people are in turn treasures and we’re very lucky.”
Dupuis has been involved with the festival since its beginning and while there have been some changes, the goal has remained the same.
“These are wonderful weekends,” she said. “I always hope that one of the things that happens is that the kids especially are inspired to keep playing, to share what they know, to keep learning and to one day create this same kind of an event, wherever it is they find themselves.
The jazz festival continues Sunday with musicians performing at venues in Bellefonte and State College.
For more information about the festival and to view the schedule of performances, go to www.jazzpa.org.