With a little help from my friends
The Blaine Jazz Festival, after three years a growing annual event, is becoming an institution in its own right thanks primarily to the energy and vision of Whatcom County native and 11-year Blaine resident Sandy Wolf.
This is the assessment of many, including her long-time University of Alaska fine arts faculty colleague Ted DeCorso with whom Wolf ran a summer music and drama camp in Fairbanks for many years.
Wolf and her husband Bruce, a retired ophthalmologist and Blaine city councilmember, moved to Blaine after 30 years in Alaska in 1993. Three years ago she and DeCorso resumed their collaboration with the festival, originally a three-day summer music camp featuring faculty and student recitals in the evening centered around the “String of Pearls” concert sponsored by the Pacific Arts Association.
produced the festival and DeCorso served as artistic
director, recruiting faculty and finding ways to make
it grow each year.
Last month the two put the cap on an event that was almost twice as long and half again as big in terms of students (88) as last year’s. “We could still see some more growth,” DeCorso said, “to a limit of somewhere between 100 and 120 students. There are other factors, such as available equipment. It’s easier to accommodate another dozen singers than it would be to find six more drum sets, for example.” As the festival grows so does the need for volunteers, particularly people to handle equipment, DeCorso added.
Wolf’s forte is theater, especially musical theater. While living in Fairbanks and teaching at the university she also performed in local musical productions, her favorite being “Annie Get Your Gun.” Wolf played the part of Annie.
“The music is great,” she said, counting off the well-known songs in the musical – “Doin’ What Comes Naturally”, “The Girl That I Marry”, “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better”, “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
also played Adelaide in Guys ‘n Dolls, but
I felt funny doing it. I’m just not a bimbo
type, I guess,” she laughed. Wolf has a master’s
degree in playwriting, and has written a play called
Barrington Bunny, based on Martin Bell’s
short story in his collection “The Way of
Wolf said that one surprise in this year’s festival came from using Bob Boule’s Smuggler’s Inn as the student dorm. “It was kind of last-minute,” she said, “because of some problems we encountered with another place we thought we could use, and Bob stepped in for us, hosting 18 students and two counselors. As it happened, the man we hired to play at Wednesdays Marine Park concert and the evening fundraiser stayed there too, with his band, and they ended up jamming with the kids.”
Wolf’s grandson, guitar player Logan Scott, stayed at Smugglers, giving Wolf a secondhand but inside look at student life during the festival week.
Wolf and her husband met at the University of Washington medical school in a bacteriology class. “Bruce asked if he could borrow my microscope,” Wolf said, “and I liked him so I said yes, but in getting out of his way I started a little fire when I bumped my Bunsen burner into some cotton.”
The couple married and headed to Anchorage for Bruce Wolf’s ophthalmology residency with the U.S. Public Health Service. “I knew as soon as we arrived that I wanted to stay a long, long time,” said Wolf, the daughter of Bellingham physician Bob Rood. Blaine reminds me a lot of what Fairbanks was like then, she said.
In the early years she accompanied her husband on his trips into the bush to diagnose and treat natives living in the far north and out in the Aleutian Island chain. She told of an incident that she later wrote up for Alaska Magazine about an Eskimo elder over 80-years-old who was very quiet and polite, but due to deafness and not knowing English was not easy to communicate with.
“He was also nearly blind from the age of six due to tuberculosis. Bruce refracted him and when he clicked the appropriate lenses into place the old man’s vision went from just being able to perceive light to about 20/30. He started screaming something in Eskimo and the people with him began laughing, telling us that he was saying Don’t take it away! Bruce managed to wire the lenses into temporary frames and we watched as this old man went around the room looking at people he had known all his life, seeing them for the first time.”
“I’d like to thank the volunteers that helped with this year’s festival,” Wolf said, “and for the musicians who helped put on what was a wonderful week with a lot of great musical moments,” Wolf said.