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Jazz Takes a Giant Leap with Bellevue Jazz Festival

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The Bellevue Jazz Festival, with main stage acts Dianne Reeves, the Mingus Big Band, Kurt Elling, Mose Allison, Patricia Barber and Danilo Perez, takes place at Meydenbauer Center and other downtown Bellevue venues May 22-24, 2009.

When Cooksie Kramer, a music teacher, longtime jazz fan and promoter, first envisioned presenting jazz in her hometown of Bellevue more than a decade ago, the idea seemed daunting and faraway.

Live jazz music was lightly scattered on the Eastside, so most drove into Seattle to hear it. Several years ago, Kramer and her husband, Lionel, began hosting the Eastside Jazz Club, a series of jazz performances held in the showroom of the Sherman Clay piano store on Bellevue Way. Shows were infrequent, one or two per month, but artists got to play a Steinway concert grand.

“It's getting better here," said Cooksie Kramer. “For a while, there was nothing, then you had a couple of restaurants trying very hard. It's baby steps and it takes a while."

This weekend, jazz will take a relative leap on the Eastside when the Bellevue Jazz Festival opens this afternoon for three days of free and ticketed events in downtown Bellevue.

The festival, in its second year in its current form, is a much larger event than the original festival, which started in 1978 at Bellevue Community College. The music will be presented in formal performance spaces and upscale restaurants and bars that did not exist 20 years ago. And nationally recognized musicians, like singer Dianne Reeves and the Mingus Big Band, are the festival's headliners.

The national acts are one of what festival director Leslie Lloyd referred to as the “three pillars" of the event. The second pillar is the 10 local musicians performing in various downtown restaurants, none of which are charging admission. The third pillar is the student combos from various high schools which will perform throughout the festival. The elite among them, part of the festival's Rising Stars program, will perform with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra to close the festival Sunday evening. Various local musicians will also host two open jam sessions tonight and Saturday night.

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