but i'm in maine instead

For the past seven years, I've driven up to Downeast Maine for the last weekend of July to serve as volunteer-producer of the Deer Isle Jazz Festival at the Stonington Opera House. I fell into this role naturally. Erica and I happened upon this place and fell in love with the charming coves, the pink-and-blue sunsets, the unparalleled lobster, the chilly nights, the warm unassuming atmosphere, and the creativity that seemed to bubble up everywhere we went. One afternoon, we made a left turn and right in front of us stood a once-grand then-decrepit opera house. "Hey, let's quit our jobs," I said dreamily (I had one at the time), "buy this place, fix it up, and turn it into a nonprofit arts center!'

We didn't, but a group of enterprising women did. (You can read more about them and their Opera House Arts here.) Soon, we got to talking: Let's bring jazz musicians up here, create a festival that celebrates not just music but improvisation and its connections to creativity of all types, someone said. Before long, saxophonist Dewey Redman was onstage, opening the inaugural event. Matt Wilson, then his drummer, played a separate set: a forty-minute duet with slide guitarist David Tronzo. Tronzo meanwhile, had spent two weeks at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (in a festival-related residency): a glassblower had created a series of custom slides that Tronzo used in performance. At one point in the set, Tronzo coaxed tiny squeals from his guitar by rubbing a plastic up against his strings, coaxed along by Wilson's skittering beat. The audience stuck with it, dug it: I knew we were on to something. Since then, the 250-seat former vaudeville house has played host to Brazilian singer Luciana Souza in duets with guitarist Romero Lubambo and pianist Fred Hersch; saxophonist Greg Osby's quartet with pianist Jason Moran; my own favorite male jazz vocalist, Andy Bey; French horn player Vincent Chauncey; free-jazz hero bassist William Parker; and 80-year-old master pianist Randy Weston.

One Sunday morning, as a Deer Isle resident helped William Parker load his bass into a van, I asked. "Were you at the show last night?"

"Yeah, loved it," he said.

"Wasn't too 'out' for you, too avant-garde?"

"Nah, only an old man would say that."

The guy was 70 if he was a day. Producing this festival on a tiny island ten hours from home keeps me from getting jaded: These folks can hear any music -- long as it's brilliant and honest, categories don't matter.

This year, pianist (and music director of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra) Arturo O'Farrill is the headliner, performing Saturday, July 28th. He's currently serving as artist-in-residence at Haystack. The school's director, Stu Kestenbaum, reports that Arturo has the workshop students engaged in creating a six-minute Afro-Cuban opera about the school.

And on Saturday afternoon at 3pm, I'll read from my published reporting about the struggle to protect and preserve musical culture in pot-Katrina New Orleans. It's the first of what I hope to be many efforts to bring the stories of New Orleans musicians and the communities that nurture jazz culture to venues where audiences come to experience jazz.

July 25, 2007 10:20 PM | | Comments (2)



Thought I already left a comment here but apparently it didn't go through...

I just wanted to say thanks, as a native Mainer who attended the festival on several occasions for bringing this great cultural event to Deer Isle. What a great setting to hear some fantastic music.

This was a fascinating entry. Amazing what can happen in the most unlikely pockets of America with people who have an open mindset running things and more importanly, funding things.

Keep blogging. Even if people aren't commenting, be assured they're reading.

You just made my RSS reader.

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