Sunday, August 2, 2009

Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Fesitival

Did you know Mobile has a Jazz Festival every year? I didn't and no one I work with did either. But we do and it's in its 11th year. The Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Festival is a series of events that occur over four days every summer. It kicked off Thursday night with a celebration of the spoken word. An Evening of Poetry was hosted by Theola Bright at the Museum of Mobile. It included readings by local writers and a Poetry Slam. Admission was free.

Friday morning was the Jazz Music Workshop which was opened to musicians of all ages and levels of training. Quoting the festival's brochure:

"The workshop will introduce music lovers of any age to rudimentary jazz in a casual atmosphere and by using a variety of formats. Participants need not have any musical background nor does a participant need to be proficient on any musical instrument.. Participants do not need to be able to read music in order to participate in the workshop. Participation is the word. The workshop is not a spectator event."
I wish this information had been on the web site. Although I don't currently play any instruments, I do have a music background so I would have liked to attend. I of course assumed it was for more serious musicians. Next year I will be there. Clinics were taught by Art Sherrod, Jr., Shane Philen and Clifton Thomas, Jr. Again the cost of this event was free. If you're a musician that missed out on Friday morning you're probably kicking yourself. A free clinic taught by musicians with this level of experience just doesn't come along very often.

Last night was the main event - Jazz in Bienville Square. You've probably guessed by now that admission was free. The event was moved from the Square to Club 351 because of the rain and even though it took place in a club folks brought their kids. There was alcohol at the event but it was still very family friendly. I was looking forward to an evening of jazz under the stars but I have to admit there were a lot of advantages to moving indoors. Things like chairs, air conditioning, real bathrooms as well as the noticeable lack of mosquitoes. My only complaint would be that it was noisy. This year's theme was An Evening of Sax and was hosted by Kevin Lee, President of the Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed also known as MOJO. If you weren't at Club 351 I am very, very sad for you because you missed an awesome music event.

The evening began at 4:30 with the Sharon Woodruff Ensemble. I am sorry to say we missed this act because we weren't aware that the concert had moved it's location. Consequently we arrived late. The festival's website description of Ms. Woodruff says that,

"Sharon has established herself as an outstanding vocalist, psalmist, musician, actress, recording artist and composer-arranger by performing at numerous events and concerts. Even at an early age, Sharon's phenomenal, mesmerizing, unique, soulful vocal skills have been compared to an angelic mixture of some of the greatest female artist of the world, such as, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday, Mahalia Jackson, and the Divine Sarah Vaughn."

Next up was Rebecca Barry, a.k.a. D'eva D'luxe. Rebecca grew up in Fairhope and studied sax in New Orleans with Ellis Marsalis and sax guru Ed Petersen. Her sound is described as having a "jazzy, funky, rocking, r&b flavor" and I believe that description is spot on. Ms. Barry plays in venues all over the Gulf Coast so I look forward to hearing her again either in Mobile or New Orleans.

Rebecca Barry and her band "Bust" were followed by Shane Philen and his quartet. Mr. Philen is a professional saxophonist who works as a performer, instructor, band leader and arranger. According to his website he has recorded numerous projects for Integrity Media, Inc. and has performed and/or recorded with Louis Bellson, Big Daddy Weave, The Coasters, Travis Cottrell, Darrell Evans, Ken Folberg Big Band, 4Him, Group 1 Crew, King Pelican, Mandisa, the Moscow Sax Quintet, Aaja Nachle, New Song, Sharmane Adams, Bob Shultz Big Band, The Temptations, TRUTH, Veggie Tales, Ayiesha Woods and various local artists and ensembles.

The headliner of the evening was Art Sherrod Jr. Art is an incredible saxophonist. His music is the kind of sultry, sexy sound that makes us women swoon. He is a native of Texas and now lives in the Baltimore area. He has co-headlined shows with Natalie Cole, Angie Stone, Will Downing, Marion Meadows, Norman Connors, Najee and Roy Ayres. He's even played at the White House. His first CD "All 4 Love" was a huge success and his new CD "Seasons" is currently available for purchase or download at his web site.

The festival ends tonight at 6:30 with a Jazz Jam Session at the Gulf City Lodge at 601 State Street. Admission is $7.00 to the general public or free to any musicians who want to participate. This is your last chance to get in on this event until next year so plan to be there.

By the way, the "Fest" has a different poster every year and they're all fabulous. The artist behind this year's poster is Brian Brown a tattooist and artist. I believe they were selling copies at the performance last night but I forgot to check on the price. I've checked the website to see if there was a way to order one on-line but didn't see anything. You can probably contact the hosts through the site if your interested in making a purchase.

So, now that you know that Mobile has a Jazz Festival put the link for it in your favorites and mark your calender so that you don't miss a single moment next year.

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