33rd annual NC Jazz Festival
February 7th – 9th
Hilton Wilmington Riverside
301 N. Water St.
Wilmington will host its Annual 33rd NC Jazz Festival this weekend at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside downtown. A country-wide recognized event, it is one of the biggest festivals on the East Coast. Founded in 1980 by Dr. Harry VanVelsor, the festival has been bringing different styles and flavor of jazz for the past three decades. Sandy Evans, former president of the Cape Fear Jazz Society, took Dr. Vanvelsor’s place as director in 2006 and has been running it since.
“I can’t put into words what it means to have the privilege of bringing these musicians together here in Wilmington!” Evans says. “We present and promote in hopes of preserving this wonderful music that was born in America but is nurtured worldwide.”
The event features world-renowned musicians from Australia, Italy, British Columbia, New Orleans, New York City, Maryland and New Jersey. Included among the 2013 lineup are senior jazz veteran guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, pianists Rossano Sportiello and David Boeddinghaus, along with young violinist Jonathan Russell.
“You get three different styles of jazz Thursday night,” Evans says. “This year we will open with violin and guitar, then go to Frank Bongiorno’s tribute to Charlie Parker with strings. Then, taking a jump to a completely different style, we will have—during the second part of the evening—Banu Gibson and her hot jazz. This is real New Orleans-style [music.]”
Friday and Saturday nights will feature traditional sounds. “It’s amazing, these musicians play in six or seven sets each night, each set has a different leader, who lets it be known what he wants them to play, and they just do it, no sheet music,” Evans notes. “They all just know the music.”
The festival will host musicians of all ages, spanning several generations. Jonathan Russell, a 17-year-old violinist from New York, has been playing ever since he was a small child. “My parents tell me that at age 3 they stuck one under my chin, and I grinned and wouldn’t put it down,” Russell says. A film scorer at heart, Russell will be playing standards familiar to the jazz scene and a couple of originals. He seems most excited to play alongside Bucky Pizzarelli, a guitar and violin veteran, who has played with greats like Tiny Tim, Benny Goodman and Les Paul since the 1950s.
“I’ve been playing with 60- and 70-year-olds since I was 6 or 7; the age difference didn’t really occur to me [then], and it certainly doesn’t make a difference now,” Russell says. “Music is music—getting to play with people as experienced as the musicians at the festival are is always a huge inspiration.”
A sound in constant evolution since its beginnings, jazz started with traditional New Orleans [Dixieland] and has moved through various flavors including be-bop, hard bop, fusion and others. Ed Polcer, an American jazz cornetist who will play the festival all three nights, elaborates.
“Over 60 years I’ve seen and heard all kinds of music, most of it good,” Polcer says. “It is the critics who label the different styles to give the general public an idea of what to expect. Most musicians (myself included) just call it ‘music.’ We get on a bandstand and play.”
Jazz has always adopted the idea of improvising on stage, but really took hold of it in the ‘60s with musicians like John Coltrane experimenting on the saxophone. The NC Jazz Festival concerts will be no different.
“Since we will be collectively improvising each time, each performance will be a one-time-only adventure of, what we consider, cutting-edge music,” Polcer says.
Trumpet player and vocalist from British Columbia, Bria Skonberg will be returning for her fourth time to play. Listeners can expect to hear original music as well as her interpretation of standards from her recently released CD, “So Is The Day.” Skonberg, who pulls most of her younger memories of jazz from the annual Dixieland Jazz Festival in BC, says she enjoys playing in the South—mainly because of the warm temperatures. Yet, its preservation of sound in the jazz community cannot be overlooked.
“I’d like to see more of the classic jazz genre implemented as a learning building block for young musicians in school,” Skonberg states. “Consequently, it will become more familiar, granted they don’t cut all of the music programs nationwide. The NC Jazz Festival has done a really good job of incorporating their local youth and hosting workshops between the artists and students, allowing us to connect with the younger generation. Good music doesn’t die; give it room to breathe and it will adapt.”
Musicians are actively doing their part to give back to the community while they’re here, in hopes of inspiring up-and-comers. They’ll be taking a group to Roland Grise Middle School to perform a concert and hold a workshop to introduce 400 kids to the genre.
“They may someday be musicians themselves,” Evans says, “[and] definitely will be the audience of the future. Four of our musicians will be giving free master classes at the Hilton to local high-school and middle-school music students.”
Thursday night will include a duet from Bucky Pizzarelli and Jonathan Russell, followed by Frank Bongiorno and a 10-piece ensemble paying tribute to Charlie Parker. Friday and Saturday night will feature all 16 musicians from the line-up. They’ll play their versions of jazz classics.
The festival doors open at 7:30 p.m. and concerts last until midnight. General admission tickets for Thursday night are $35, and $50 each for Friday and Saturday. Military will pay $25 a night and student’s receive tickets for $15. Patron tickets include a Saturday morning brunch, as well as reserved seating, for $175. For more information about the festival and its list of musicians, visit http://ncjazzfestival.com/