One of the unspoken promises that Carol Loehr made to her father, Tom Hazzard, when she took the helm of the Sun Valley Jazz Jamboree was the same one that he had made her mother, Barbara, swear to before he died: "Keep the Jamboree going—people need to hear America's music!"
Loehr knew that to keep that promise, she and her husband, Jeff, would need to stay ahead of the game, not just equaling the year before, but exceeding it, while introducing it to a new generation.
"Jazz is an original American art form," Loehr said. "There are very few forms that originated in this country and we have the responsibility and privilege of preserving it and passing it along. We have changed a lot of things in the process of delivering on that promise."
Loehr said they have changed their marketing strategy, joined the social networking age and increased the emphasis on dancing as an access point to bridge generations.
And, as a result, this 22nd year is the most encompassing festival yet, with acts selected to ensure not only great music but performers with incredible audience charisma and examples of up-and-comers to hook future audiences. Jazz, big-band swing, zydeco and blues genres are all represented in the 42 performing groups who will turn out a total of 280 shows in 11 venues, meaning a fresh performance every half hour.
The festival's artists perform community outreach too. There was a free community concert at the Sun Valley Ice Rink on Tuesday with the Wood River High Wolverines jazz band as the opening act. Some of the musicians will likewise visit Wood River High School to offer clinics to the students, and others will entertain an assembly at Hemingway Elementary.
The Yale Whiffenpoofs will conduct free coffee shop tours around Hailey on Thursday, Oct. 13, appearing at Zaney's River Street Coffee House at 8:25 a.m., KECH radio at 9 a.m., Hailey Coffee Co. at 9:30 a.m., Copy and Print at 10:15 a.m., Java at 10:45 a.m. and KB's at 11:30 a.m. This is to promote the Jazz Festival Outreach Program.
Eventually, this jazz fest will be the epicenter of an outreach project to create an inner city youth big band. Students from sixth grade through college will be eligible for the 10-year extracurricular program. University affiliation and accreditation for the students is a goal. Along the way, students will learn jazz history, dance, improvisation, music theory and performance with multiple instruments, as well as the technical side, including lighting, sound, stage managing and promotion.
In a testament to a dedication to youth, this year's "Great Lady of Jazz 2011" isn't a legend—yet. But she is an amazing talent.
Bria Skonberg started performing at jazz festivals when she was 14. Now 27, having worked at the mic with real legends like jazz fest guest artist Yve Evans, the full-time trumpet player, singer, entertainer, educator and self-proclaimed student of life has been in demand lately, playing up to 20 weekend festivals a year.
Youth bands called by festival organizers part of "the next generation" are coming from all over as well, and include the Northwest Nazarene University Jazz Revival, Mountain View High School, the Whiffenpoofs from Yale, Borah High School CDVJE and Wood River High Wolverine Jazz Band.
There is also an enhanced dance teaching team that includes swing dancer Joel Plys, who Loehr said was the nudge that a handful of Montana girls needed to devote themselves to the trip over.
Also new is Jenn Applegarth, who claims the Lindy hop as her first love. Josh and Emily McLaughlin are a swing-dancing couple, and back by popular demand are Bethany Powell and Stefan Durham. Dance lessons are free to ticket holders and there is a special "dancer's package."
Every year, more than 250 people volunteer to make this show happen. The festival helps the valley benefit not just financially, but spiritually, bringing a special vibe at a slow time of year, and educationally, with the time musicians spend with local kids spreading the "gospel" of the roots of American music.
"My dad started the festival with [then Sun Valley Co. General Manager] Wally Huffman, and they chose the slowest weekend of the year and thought they'd see what they could do with it," Loehr said. "Today, it's the second largest event of the year. It was his vision to fill the world with jazz. We have people coming here from every state in the U.S. and every Canadian province and several foreign countries, so the word's getting out."
She said so many people come over from Riggins, Idaho, that there's a running joke among festival staff that it seems "the whole town shuts down and they all come."
"We always ask each other, 'Have you heard from the gas station attendant yet? Somebody comes and they bring more of their friends and neighbors the next year. That's how (festival buzz) rolls."
More emphasis continues to be placed on local access. Because this time is usually quiet, Loehr said, more festival-goers were from outside of the valley. To remedy that, and to accommodate working folks, there is now a "Jive After Five" ticket available after 4:30 p.m. at half the price of a day pass. There is also a local discount of 10 percent for anyone showing a current identification card with a Blaine County address.
Anyone with Sun Valley Co. identification gets a free pass to all the events "because they work their tails off for us all week," Loehr said.
Loehr said that though the challenge increases with each year to keep the festival interesting, it's a labor of love for her whole family. Her son Sean, 23, a guitar player, helps give them a perspective.
"His generation is really who we are after," she said.
Loehr said he was a "babe in arms" at the first festival, and he's now helping stage manage portions of the festival. Anyone who knows her family knows they are likely to be drafted to serve just as she was.
"My dad had our house wired for sound long before people were doing that, and we always did our chores to the greats," she says. "There was no getting away from it, but it became our passion too, and now we have some really big visions of our own."
Tickets and special events
- Tickets are no longer for sale online, but walkups are welcome and a variety of packages are available. They will be on sale today, Oct. 12 through Saturday, Oct. 15, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 16, 9 a.m. to noon. Details, visit sunvalleyjazz.com or call 877-478-5277.
- "Afterglow Dinner" on Sunday, Oct. 16, all-star big band dance in the Limelight Room, $44. Tickets will be on sale from 10 a.m. to noon that day.
- All ticket sales are from the Sun Valley Lodge—just follow the signs.
- The Yale Whiffenpoofs will conduct free coffee shop tours around Hailey on Thursday, Oct. 13, appearing at Zaney's River Street Coffee House at 8:25 a.m., KECH radio at 9 a.m., Hailey Coffee Co. at 9:30 a.m., Copy and Print at 10:15 a.m., Java at 10:45 a.m. and KB's at 11:30 a.m. This is to promote the Jazz Festival Outreach Program.
Jennifer Liebrum: email@example.com