Festival seeks to captivate young people, adds day to schedule
it has for the past quarter century, Hot Springs JazzFest aims to educate and entertain locals and visitors alike with America’s original art form.
JazzFest, now in its 26th year, begins tonight and lasts until Sept. 4 in locations around the Spa City. As it does each year, the festival features local, state and national acts that will perform a variety of jazz styles in numerous venues.
Gretchen Taylor, executive director of the Hot Springs Jazz Society, said that the festival specifically aims to bring the music genre to a younger generation.
“We’re continuing the focus every year, trying to improve upon it,” she said.
Taylor said that some of the ways that this year’s JazzFest looks to fulfill this goal is by featuring college jazz bands, as it did in 2016, including the University of Arkansas’ jazz band, which will perform Saturday during Jazz in the Streets on Broadway Street beneath the Regions skybridge.
Taylor also said that the festival is an opportunity for such bands to simply enjoy performing, as opposed to most of their other performances, which are usually competitive.
“Not only are they excellent performers and musicians, but they also bring their classmates and their friends, and they see why jazz is such an amazing musical genre,” Taylor said.
The Jazz Society also aims to draw youths through the New Breed Brass Band, which is set to play a two-hour set to close out Jazz In The Streets on Saturday. Taylor said that the act fuses New Orleans-style Jazz with other modern genres, which makes for an upbeat, infectious sound.
“They’re funk, they’re rock, they’re jazz, they’re hip-hop,” she said. “They’re just a ‘get up and move like nobody’s watching’ kind of band.”
JazzFest also features performances from more seasoned, traditional performers, as well. Its kickoff show is a special rendition of Jazz Night at the Ohio Club this evening, in which the Clyde Pound Trio, which performs at the club each week, will be joined by California saxophonist and flutist Allen Won.
Won is the festival’s largest headliner, with three performances throughout the festival’s five days. The two following Jazz Night at the Ohio Club are a performance with the Arkansas Brass Quintet and the Anything That Moves Jazz Combo at the Five Star Dinner Theatre Friday night and another performance with Anything That Moves Saturday afternoon during Jazz in the Streets.
“When he comes in and he performs, he just lifts the room,” Taylor said. “He’s a wonderful, gracious, life-loving performer.”
One tweak that has been made to the festival from years past is its extension from four days of musical performances to five. The fifth day of performances will be on Labor Day, with Grammy Award-winning jazz guitarist and singer Jonathan Butler giving matinee and evening performances for the grand opening of Legoria’s Rhythm & Rocks Jazz Bistro.
Other than this addition, Taylor said that JazzFest is sticking to the formula it has used in years past.
“There’s not a lot of tweaks. We’re not doing anything specifically different in what concerts that we’re presenting,” she said. “It’s the artists that we’re presenting during the concerts.”