For some, September means a new crop of apples, the end of summer, fall clothing, going back to school. All of these perceptions are deeply rooted in our genes! But for the last nine years, September has meant more than a new pencil box — it means Jazz at Chautauqua.
This weekend jazz party is a highlight of any year.
I’ve been attending these splendid parties since 2004, and have made new friends, heard excellent music, and had my spirits lifted.
This year, the 16th Jazz at Chautauqua will take place from September 19 to the 22nd. Details here.
For those who have never attended one of these weekends, it is marked by pleasures unique to that spot and that establishment. It’s held in a beautiful 1881 wooden hotel, the Athaeneum, efficiently run by Bruce Stanton and a very genial staff — the very opposite of an anonymous chain hotel.
Walking around the grounds (when you’re not observing the beauties of Lake Chautauqua — which might include Scott and Sharon Robinson, canoeing) you see immaculately kept houses and cottages, mounds of hydrangeas . . . picture-postcard territory. Inside, the guests enjoy substantial meals and an open bar, and music to dream about.
That music! It starts on Thursday night with informal jamming in a cozy room, then moves to the parlor for Friday afternoon piano and guitar recitals, then a full weekend of jazz, hot and sweet, in a large ballroom — with all the amenities a ten-second walk away.
The best musicians, too.
The 2013 players and singers are (in neat alphabetical order for a change) Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Dan Block, Jon Burr, James Dapogny, the Faux Frenchmen, Mike Greensill, Marty Grosz, Bob Havens, Duke Heitger, Keith Ingham, Jon-Erik Kellso, Becky Kilgore, Dan Levinson, Kerry Lewis, Ricky Malichi, Randy Reinhart, Scott Robinson, Andy Schumm, John Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Andy Stein, Frank Tate, John Von Ohlen, Wesla Whitfield.
Something for everyone. Good men and women, loyal, faithful, and true.
Nancy Griffith, the Swing Sheriff, makes sure that the jazz train runs on time, that everyone is happy in Dodge, that the little dogies are swinging.
What makes the Chautauqua party different is its wide ecumenical range. It celebrates the great small group style of what many consider the first great period of improvised, swinging music — but as it is played, with great love and individuality, by the best living musicians. Its creator, Joe Boughton, was fiercely devoted to this music and to the great songs — often neglected — that were once everyone’s common property. So one of the great pleasures of a Chautauqua weekend is knowing that people will go home with a newly-discovered Harry Warren or Ralph Rainger song in a memorable performance — or something thrilling from Frank Melrose or Alex Hill.
If Jazz at Chautauqua is new to you, I propose that you type those magic words into the “Search” box of JAZZ LIVES — and you will see beautifully relaxed performances from the most recent five years . . . then go here and look into the details of tickets and prices and all that intriguing (but necessary) detail.
Here are two very delightful performances — to show you what happens there!
Rebecca Kilgore and John Sheridan, performing ‘TIS AUTUMN:
Harry Allen and Keith Ingham, playing MAYBE SEPTEMBER:
Try to move from MAYBE to CERTAINLY!
And a more somber postscript. I hesitate to turn JAZZ LIVES into the blog equivalent of public broadcasting or nonprofit media: “It’s our [insert season] fund drive! If you don’t send your 401K or 403B right away, station ABCD will go off the air!”
But the practical realities exist. The thrill of watching a video online is considerable. But live music — being part of the audience in the room, in the moment, as the artists take beautiful daring risks — cannot be conveyed in front of a computer monitor. And jazz festivals, parties, concerts, clubs require live audiences to survive. The people who put on such pleasures can’t continue them if musicians play to half-empty rooms. So, to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt (herself a big fan of the Luis Russell Orchestra), “Better to write a check than complain that your favorite jazz experience isn’t there anymore.” So if you can join us, I urge you to.
May your happiness increase.