By Julie Pendray
IDYLLWILD, Calif. — From Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart, 2011 American Idol finalists, to Charles McPherson who toured with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton, plus Marshall Hawkins, formerly of the Miles Davis Quintet, this summer’s Jazz in the Pines will blend rising young talent with some pros who have helped lead the way.
Organizers are increasingly appealing to the new emerging jazz audience, according to John Newman of Idyllwild Arts Foundation who heads the organizing committee this year.
Jazz in the Pines on Aug. 15-16 will offer 28 acts including swing, bebop, gospel, zydeco, rhythm and blues, straight ahead jazz, improv, experimental, Afro-Cuban and bluegrass, plus a Joni Mitchell tribute band.
The festival now in its 22nd year, is a scholarship fundraiser for Idyllwild Arts Academy, a pre-professional high school which draws teens from all over the world who want to hone their skills in music, fashion, theater, digital media, graphic design and photography. Instructors are top notch working artists, some of whom will take part as usual in this year’s festival. In addition to Hawkins, they include Barnaby Finch, whose resume includes touring the world in George Benson‘s band and accompanying Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross, plus saxophonist Paul Carman, who toured with the Frank Zappa Band in the late 1980s.
The festival is the big social event of the year in Idyllwild, a mile-high community above Palm Springs, which is an island amid San Bernardino National Forest and Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness. With birds singing and the fragrance of pines, the school’s outdoor venue is stunning. Add world class musicians, usually perfect weather, clean air and the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of the town and you have a truly special experience.
It’s the festival’s intimacy that sets it apart from other towns’ events. Visitors have easy opportunities to get close and personal with musicians, and the town’s residents proudly welcome back performers who are academy alumni, such as Abrams. In this tight-knit town of 3,850 people, it’s an emotionally nostalgic and exciting time.
Abrams and Reinhart are members of Postmodern Jukebox, a group of people in their 20s who are re-arranging modern hits, like those of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, to imitate the 1920s and ’30s jazz era. Pianist Scott Bradlee came up with the concept, said Newman, who hinted that other Jukebox members may also appear at the festival.
Since Abrams brought jazz to American Idol in 2011, his career has soared and his followers flock to Idyllwild to see him perform. Reinhart’s sexy “throaty growl” (LA Times) is sure to draw a huge crowd as well.
Other young performers at the festival will include the academy’s resident ensemble Definiens, plus the 30-piece West Valley High School Big Band from Hemet.
Another large group is Marshall Hawkins’ Seahawk MoJO (Modern Jazz Orchestra).
Euphoria Brass Band will lead visitors into the campus on Saturday with a Second Line Dance to open the festivities.
The academy grounds offer a pleasant variety of stages. The audience can sit around the main stage in low-back portable chairs or on blankets on the grass on hillsides overlooking performers under gently billowing colorful parachutes that protect from the sun. The Stephens Recital Hall offers an intimate experience where, if you plan ahead, you can scoop a seat in one of the rows near the front and train your eyes on the fingering of some impressive performers, such as Peter Sprague and his String Consort. The skill level, the intensity of the experience, the sometimes meditative quality, the creativity and the cohesion of these musicians, plus their connection with the audience in that smaller space are some of the reasons visitors return to the festival. It is mesmerizing. It is heart-warming.
Dancers among the crowd make a beeline for The French Quarter, which is downright fun. Idyllwild’s informal ambiance means you don’t need a partner to get up and shake that thing. Sometimes, you might find one of the locals dancing with a Hula Hoop, with a baby on her hip. Lisa Haley and the Zydecats, The Greg Jones Band and Ruby and the Red Hots are among the crowd favorites here.
To see the full line-up and schedule, click here.
Idyllwild Arts Foundation acquires corporate underwriting to bring musicians to the festival. All profits from Jazz in the Pines go to scholarships, Newman said. He is director of Business Operations at the school. About 60 percent of the students receive some kind of financial aid, he said. Fifty percent are international students, representing about 30 countries.
He said the festival is an example of what Max and Beatrice Krone believed when they created the foundation in the 1940s.
“Max thought that if we could bring the people of the world together through the universal language of the arts, we could avoid wars,”he said.
Newman talked about what this festival brings to the music world, in this video clip.
For the past 21 years, Jazz in the Pines was coordinated by the volunteers that support Idyllwild Arts Foundation, a group called the Associates. The foundation and the Associates are separate 501(c)3 non-profit organizations.
This year, the foundation is managing the event.
“We can bring our full resources to bear,” Newman said. “We had a lot of redundancies with the two groups working together.”
The Associates will continue as a partner, hosting the Patrons Dinner and Party and organizing more than 300 volunteers to run the festival, Anne Erickson said. She said the group is delighted to turn the management functions over to the foundation, which has the resources to take the festival to the next level.
Visitors coming to the festival should remember sunscreen and a hat. Anyone from the flatlands below “The Hill,” as Idyllwild and its environs are called, often need reminding that the high elevation in the summer necessitates plenty of hydration. Keep sipping that water.
Then sit back and relax, or throw your shoes off, sink your toes into the grass around the main stage and boogie. Let the rest of the world and its worries drop away for the weekend.
This is Idyllwild.
If you go:
Location: Idyllwild Arts Academy is at 52500 Temecula Road, Idyllwild, CA 92549. For directions, click here.
Tickets: General Admission tickets purchased online are $60 per day or $110 for both days. Children under 12 attend for free. To purchase tickets, click here or buy them at Idyllwild Pharmacy in Strawberry Creek Shopping Plaza on Village Center Drive, or Idyllwild Visitor Center on North Circle in town. Tickets at the gate are $65 per day or $120 for the weekend.
Shuttle & parking: A free shuttle will transport visitors to the festival gate every 15 minutes or so from these free parking locations:
•The Boy Scout Camp Emerson main parking at 53155 Idyllbrook Drive.
• two lots at Idyllwild Elementary School — one entrance on Highway 243 and one entrance on Saunders Meadow Road.
• Patrons Package and Sponsors VIP parking lot is on campus with golf cart service to the gate.
Food: No food or drinks can be brought into the festival.
Pets: No pets are allowed.
Art, T-shirts & other vendors: Idyllwild fills with people wearing the latest rendition of the coveted Jazz in the Pines T-shirts each year. The T-shirts are one of the many offerings at a variety of booths spread throughout the venue. Visitors can find high quality art and an assortment of meal and snack choices too. For information, click here.
© Copyright Julie Pendray & SpecialsNotOnTheMenu.com