110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
‘Thin Man’ Watts Jazz Fest coming to DeLand
Jazz, blues and gospel musicians express interest in October event
posted Jun 26, 2011 - 11:08:01pm
For this edition of Ad-Libbing, let it be disclosed that the subject matter is of particular interest to me. Often what is written in this column is just what comes to my attention through a reader’s or an editor’s suggestion, or just by following my nose. In this case, it is an event of which I am a founder and director.
There is a move afoot to produce a jazz festival in DeLand. Although planning for the event has advanced very well, nothing is signed. Thus far, it is a matter of faith.
The festival is named to honor the late Noble "Thin Man" Watts, a DeLand native who played jazz with some of the greats.
MainStreet DeLand very successfully promotes and produces about 50 special events in Downtown DeLand annually. So I asked MainStreet DeLand Executive Director Jack Becker why his organization is interested in adding this project to its calendar.
“I think that there’s some dynamics in our community that are missing, and people have asked me about a jazz festival, and it just seems like the right time to do it, and with the right groups,” Becker said.
The AAMA and MainStreet have a joint committee that is planning the “Thin Man” Watts Jazz Fest. It is slated to take place in numerous venues Downtown and at the AAMA facilities in the 300 block of South Clara Avenue. Festival planners have garnered commitments from a dozen or so jazz, blues and gospel artists to save the date. They are inviting the community to save the date too!
“We want music lovers from all of North Central Florida to mark their calendars and be sure to attend this fantastic new festival,” Jefferson Pendleton, president of the board of the AAMA, said.
That date is Saturday, Oct. 22. Among the artists interested in participating are the legendary Orlando-based saxophonist and composer Sam Rivers, the Ocala-based Delta-blues-style guitar- and harmonica-playing singer Willie Green, and renowned bluesman Mark Hodgson. Dr. George West, director of the 17-piece Stetson University Jazz Ensemble, has also expressed interest, along with trumpet master Frank Vardaros of Deltona, and Palm Coast-based pianist extraordinaire Kenny MacKenzie and his trio.
With the groundwork laid, the festival committee has much work ahead to make the “Thin Man” Watts Jazz Fest a reality. Artists have to agree to perform, vendors have to be signed up, stages have to be prepared, arrangements need to be made to accommodate the crowd, work is needed to market the event, and more. All of these things require countless volunteer hours and money.
Bright House Networks and The Beacon newspaper have said they will help with marketing, and that is a good start, but there is a need for broader support from the community. The festival committee will be knocking on doors in the coming weeks to offer sponsorship opportunities.
Jefferson Pendleton said, “Whenever there is a festival that bears the name of Noble ‘Thin Man’ Watts, his home community of DeLand, Fla., should support the event. In Mr. Watts, DeLand has a musician who has played with some of the great musicians of his time. Cannonball Adderley and his brother Nat Adderley are two names that come to my mind.”
Beyond the nuts-and-bolts planning, there is a great deal of excitement among those involved to make this event more than just a music festival. Its mission statement is “To unite the community to rediscover and celebrate its artistic heritage.”
Perhaps this is pretty ambitious. Uniting the community is easily said but may not be easily done. One thing many of the diverse populations in DeLand arguably have in common is an artistic heritage. So if the festival succeeds in offering people the opportunity to rediscover and celebrate this heritage, then there is the possibility of uniting them.
The festival committee is requesting participation from gospel performers. Gospel is not jazz, but it is, musically speaking, its first cousin. Consequently, another group interested in performing at the festival is the Community Martin Luther King Choir, under the direction of Stan Whitted. This choir boasts one of the most racially and ethnically diverse groups of choristers in Central Florida.
Watch the “Thin Man” Watts Jazz Fest website, wattsjazzfest.com, and The Beacon newspaper if you wish to keep informed on the latest developments regarding the festival.
— Shepherd is a professional musician and composer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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