Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A family affair

Kin or chosen, Jamboree reunites relations in fun and music

Express Staff Writer

Acrylic painting by Kristen Kaiser.

    For the next five days in and around Sun Valley, the only thing missing will be beignets and Hurricanes as the heart of Dixie—its music—comes to town for the 23rd annual Sun Valley Jazz Jamboree.
    It’s a familial event. Director Carol Loehr—who inherited the festival from her father, who founded it and the Idaho Jazz Society in Boise—answers the phone personally, and more often than not she recognizes the caller by voice. In one case, it gave a man a reason to keep living.
    “I’m 91,” a recent caller said. “I don’t even buy green bananas anymore, but I’ve been coming out for this for 21 years and I’m going to buy my jazz tickets. God willing, I’ll be there at least another year.”
    But festival lovers have been concerned by the aging of the audience, and a push to groom younger fans has been on in earnest for the past several years.
    So far, it’s working, Loehr said Saturday, taking a break from the phone bank for a few hours to enjoy the sunshine on the deck of the Sun Valley Lodge, home base for the festival.
    Loehr said one of the attributes of jazz is loyalty, and so even while the festival seeks a younger following, it has remained true to the roots of the festival, which is real Dixieland jazz, the kind that rolled up river from New Orleans and gathered steam with its brass, jumpin’ and jivin’, blues and improv.
    What they’ve done is find new talent to promote, and have included younger performers who bring with them a new generation of fans. They’ve also incorporated dance lessons to teach newbies how to truly experience the music with their bodies and souls.
    Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums fit that mold. Their lead singer, Carmen Getit, is married to piano player Lucky. She not only sings but she puts the guitar over her head to play, guaranteeing a raucous show.
    It takes more than 300 volunteers who come from across the country to ensure that this premier event takes off without a hitch each year, and it’s because it does that so many musicians clamor to be a part of it. Loehr said they have to hire the bands on a rotating annual basis just to accommodate the demand.
    “We’re working to keep this art form in front of a new audience every year,” she said. “This music tells the stories of the American people. Ragtime, zydeco, blues—they were all art forms shared by people who were brave enough and passionate enough to perform for a white audience, but couldn’t eat with them after.
    “It truly was among the first steps at breaking down racism and the people who had the courage to play it, even with the reprehensible things that were happening to them in this county then. They need to be honored for generations.” 

Be one of the million smiles
When: Today, Oct. 17, through Sunday, Oct. 21.
Where: Various locations around Sun Valley Resort.
Tickets: Jazz registration office, in the Sun Valley Lodge.


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