Jazz festival coordinators cite ‘best year ever’

Published on Thu, Jul 24, 2008 by Jack Kintner

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Jazz festival coordinators cite ‘best year ever’

By Jack Kintner

“This was the best year we’ve ever had,” said a jubilant Sandy Wolf, preparing to pass the baton as her last year as the founding producer of the Blaine Jazz Festival drew to a close.

Under her seven year leadership the festival has grown from 24 students in 2002 to 102 this year. The 24-member faculty has seen some changes over the years but has maintained at a consistently high level.

This year there were seven new members, three of whom were from the exciting group that began the week with Monday night’s concert, MaD Fusion.

Getting a standing ovation is no mean feat from a Blaine audience, but for a fusion group to do this playing music that few locals ever hear is amazing. It was a tribute to the energetic piano playing of Matt Herksowitz, the artistic bass licks of Matt Fieldes and the innovative and inventive drumming of David Rosenblatt. All three are Juilliard graduates and, Wolf said, “You’d have to be brain dead to not know that this was the best concert we’ve ever had.”

Other new faculty included saxophonists Mike Allen, a popular performer from Vancouver, and Nick Biello from New York, who was referred by former faculty Dan Goble. “Dan said he was his best student, and he was great,” Wolf said.

Other new faculty included drummer Mark Ivester, a member of the faculty at the Cornish School in Seattle, an arts institution that was started by Nellie Cornish, a native of Blaine. Gene Pritsker of New York was also new this year. Pritsker is a composer of hundreds of pieces ranging from orchestral works to hip-hop and worked in the Classics Plus program.

“The piece they did Friday night wasn’t understood by a lot of people,” said director Martin Kuuskmann of the sponsoring Pacific Arts Association (PAA), “but what people may not have realized is that the classical students he had were almost all beginners. This is an instructional jazz festival, remember, and the key is to just do it, to begin making music, and that’s what they were doing.”

Other highlights in the week that went well were the student picnic at Birch Bay State Park on Wednesday night, the swing dance at Loomis Trail on Thursday night, and the reception that the two Bellingham concerts received despite competing with the Bellingham Festival of Music.

Wolf said that in a survey she passed out, 62 of the students indicated a strong desire to come back next year.

They also gave Smuggler’s Inn high marks for the dormitory that owner Bob Boule runs every year for the camp as it gives the students time to jam and be together at night. The quality of student musicians seemed higher this year, she added. Many of them expressed a strong desire for more theory classes and more chances to perform.
There are also a large number of volunteers who help put this on every year, Wolf said, without whom it just wouldn’t work. The budget this year of $94,063 finished in the black.

With Wolf’s stepping down as producer, the PAA is faced with finding a replacement which may, if grant money can be found, be a paid position. The PAA board appointed a by-law committee to update and revise the group’s governing documents, following which the search will begin.

Dates for next year’s Jazz Festival will be July 12-18, 2009.