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Sedona Jazz on the Rocks returns after one-year hiatus

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By Patricia Myers

Sedona, AZ—- It's being termed the “re-jazzination" of the Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Festival, the outdoor event returning after a year's hiatus related to financial issues. The daylong program on Saturday, Oct. 2, is aimed at increasing attendance by moving beyond the modern and contemporary jazz formats of the past 28 years to feature more blues and rhythm-and-blues bands.

The lineup will feature jazz-Motown vocalist Dennis Rowland, guitarist Craig Chaquico, blues vocalist Maysa, Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and the Homemade Jamz Blues Band out of Mississippi. This eclectic mix was selected intentionally, according to Bettye Wilson, SJOR board president.

“Our goal is to provide a diverse music program that is spirited enough to thrill music lovers, jazz enthusiasts and those new to the genre," Wilson said. “We strongly believe in preserving the wonders of jazz music for future generations. As a small non-profit organization, we rely on the proceeds from this festival to fund the music education programs we provide to Arizona youth state-wide."

The one-year stop-out was the result of the lagging economy and less income than expected from the 2008 festival's expansion to six days of performances from the previous three extra events. Wilson said all 2008 bills were paid, and operational costs cut by 80 percent, including eliminating the paid director's position. “We are now all-volunteer with no paid director, with a terrific group of hands-on and committed people. We used 2008 festival income to send some students to the summer program at Berklee (College of Music), but not as many as in the past. Our goal since 1989 has been to send 20 students each summer," a cost of $7,000 per student.

Former Count Basie Orchestra vocalist Rowland combines swing and blues standards with his Detroit-bred Motown doo-wop and rhythm-and-blues repertoire. Maysa, former lead vocalist for Incognito, also combines jazz with R&B. Chaquico, former lead guitarist with Jefferson Starship, is a smooth-jazz star. Rodriguez is a Cuban-born jazz pianist whose performances reflect his classical training. Homemade Jamz Blues Band is a youthful contingent of blues musicians from Mississippi.

The festival returns to the tree-shaded lawns of Poco Diablo Resort, with views of Sedona's famous crimson rocks and creamy bluffs. Performances will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with gates open at 9:30 a.m. Advance tickets are $52 lawn seating, $67 chair seating, $102 tent (shaded tables with food-beverages), with a 10 percent discount for group of 20 or more. Day-of admission is $65, $85, $125; and $35 for students with ID. Resort packages include a room and festival tickets from $166 to $206 plus tax, reserved at 928- 282-7333               928- 282-7333       or www.pocodiabloresort.com. .

JOR's financial problems were the result of expanding in 2008 to a week of free performances, in addition to the usual admission events. Now JOR appears to be reverting to the original concept of one major event for its 1982 launch. The festival was the idea of Sedona-based jazz singer Johnny Gilbert (not TV's “Jeopardy" announcer) with the support of Sedona art gallery owner Troy Williams, who also owned The Oak Creek Owl restaurant where Gilbert performed. Attendance was fewer than 1,000 that first year, the festival staged in a vacant field with no lighting. It was called “The Day Sedona Turned Jazz," also the title of book written later by Gilbert.JOR was conceived as a just-jazz event, although blues guitarist-vocalist Doug McLeod performed the closing set for many years.

The first big-name artist to be booked was Les McCann in 1984, and successive years brought a top stars such as Joe Williams, Maynard Ferguson, Gerry Mulligan, Count Basie and Woody Herman 0rchestras, Bud Shank, Billy Eckstine, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Nancy Wilson, Branford Marsalis, Al Jarreau, Spyro Gyra, Tuck and Patti, Ramsey Lewis and Diana Krall (back when she was still affordable for a small festival).

Having reviewed all 27 festivals, I remember that the first two years featured only Arizona talent, including student bands from Mesa Community College, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University. After two years of financial difficulty, the festival became successful, and since then has awarded $335,000 in jazz scholarships.
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