Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

June 20, 2013

Elkhart Jazz Festival this weekend

Wynton Marsalis to perform Saturday at Lerner Theatre

ELKHART — Want to hear a number? Starting tonight, you’ve got options.

Just can’t wait? Here are numbers of a different sort that help tell the story of this year’s Elkhart Jazz Festival:

• Six — The number of concert venues downtown. Jazz fans can go to shows at Civic Plaza, Lerner Theatre, Crystal Ballroom, a stage set up at 227 S. Main St., New Life Community Church and Knights of Columbus.

• More than 100 — Hours of music scheduled to be performed.

• More than 80 — The number of musicians scheduled to play for more than 100 hours.

• 26 — How many years the Elkhart Jazz Festival has existed. According to event co-chairman David Smith, that’s 22 years longer than the standard lifespan of a jazz festival.

• 1 — As in one very significant concert draw at the 2013 festival. That’s the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, set to perform Saturday starting at 8 p.m. at the Lerner. Event organizers were aiming to get a household name. At a jazz showcase, anyone with the name Marsalis is on-target.

The bulk of the shows run Friday through Sunday. However, jazz lovers with boats or other floatation devices can enjoy a preview tonight.

Smith said Davina and the Vagabonds will be playing during a sponsor reception at a home on the river. Jazz fans are invited to float over for the show, which starts around 7:30 p.m. The venue, as such, is east of the dam on the south shore.

On Friday, festival food vendors will be open for the lunch crowd. At 3:30 p.m., Bria Skonberg — “probably the world’s best female trumpeter,” in Smith’s estimation — will perform on the Civic Plaza stage.

Soon after Skonberg’s show, a parade will be underway.

Mardi Gras spirit

Smith said a Mardi Gras-style parade will step off at 5 p.m. The event is being organized by the crew at Premier Arts, the resident theater group at the Lerner.

“They are a wonderful group of talented individuals who seldom do things on a small scale,” Smith said.

The parade will start at Lexington and Waterfall Drive, travel south on Waterfall to Franklin, then head west up to Main Street, winding up in time for the official festival kick-off at 5:30 p.m. at the plaza. Floats and jazz musicians will be part of the parade, and Smith hopes the spectators will, too.

“We encourage people to position themselves to watch the parade, but not to get too comfortable,” he said. The idea is that the watchers will decide to walk along with it.

“It’s going to be high-energy,” Smith said of the parade. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It is weather-sensitive, but we’ve all done everything in our power to communicate to the weather gods that we desire their assistance.”

The words “Mardi Gras” coupled with “parade” perhaps conjure adult-themed images. Smith knows this, and said Friday’s parade will be a family friendly event.

“There’ll be beads involved, but only on one side of that equation,” he said.

The parade is a new venture for festival organizers. So, too, is an uptick in technology.

This year, there’s a jazz festival mobile app that can be sought out via iTunes or Google Play. In part, it includes information about venues, concert schedules and artist information, plus social media. In Smith’s view, the app is part of festival organizers’ commitment to “playing in a younger sandbox, if you will.”

It’s also part of an event that’s evolving. And growth and change are also key to the music at the heart of the festival.

“The great thing is (jazz) is a living, breathing, evolving thing,” Smith said. “There are new jazz performers out there who embrace the traditional but are paving a new trail in jazz.”

Count among them Bria Skonberg.

The instigator

Skonberg is based in New York City but grew up in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, which was home to a jazz festival for more than 20 years. She started taking piano lessons when she was 8 years old, and picked up the trumpet when she was in seventh grade.

Her website encapsulates Skonberg’s resume as jazz trumpet player, singer, songwriter — and instigator.

“I like to stir up the pot a little bit,” Skonberg said in a phone interview with The Goshen News earlier this week. “Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest of three kids.”

Skonberg said she likes to keep things interesting. She’s studied the tradition of jazz, making sure she’s knowledgeable about its rich history. But Skonberg said she also wants to innovate, and is writing new music that adds new variables.

She also cites a quote from Louis Armstrong: “What we play is life.”

“I think that the spirit of jazz has always been about that,” Skonberg said. In other words, “jazz” is a broad term and genre.

“I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” she said. “I welcome it.”

For Davina Sowers of Davina and the Vagabonds, jazz was an opportunity.

Sowers, a returning Elkhart festival artist, used to guest-perform with a group in the Twin Cities called the Lamont Cranstron Band. A soundman asked if Sowers, working at Applebee’s at the time, had a band.

“And I said, ‘Yes,’” Sowers recalled. “I totally lied.”

Next came writing songs, and putting together an actual group. Eight years later, Sowers and her fellow Vagabonds travel the world and make music.

For Sowers, that music is an avenue to expression.

“It definitely offers me a balance in life,” she said. “It offers me a way to communicate. I’m just a generally awkward person. So when I’m onstage, I have an ability to just be true to exactly what that song is saying. And it enables me to be true to my emotions.”

This weekend, Sowers will be keeping it real in downtown Elkhart. She won’t be alone.

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