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Third annual Johnson City Jazz Festival set

W. Kenneth Medley II • Mar 18, 2019 at 11:10 AM

The third annual Johnson City Jazz Festival is returning for three days and bringing with it critically acclaimed musical talent from across the nation.

The Carnegie Hotel will host eight bands from March 21 to 23, including the East Tennessee State University Jazz Band, the Tri-Cities Jazz Orchestra, and acclaimed artists Mary Louise Knutson of Minneapolis and Steve Wilson, of New York City.

Steve Scheu, of Time and Pay, one of the primary sponsors, said that the event is to expose people of this region to jazz, and maybe make a broader audience here realize that there is other music available besides rock ’n’ roll, country, bluegrass, etc. A secondary motivation of organizers is that people realize jazz’s influences.

“This will be our second year at the Carnegie,” Scheu said. “The first night is free to the public. It will take place in two venues. One is the Wellington’s bar. The second venue will be the Ballroom. It will be general seating, not like the other two nights.”

The first night will feature some big band sounds. The Tri-Cities Jazz Orchestra is composed of 17 musicians. Scheu says that the ETSU Jazz Band is similar in number. The big sound was cause for use of the ballroom.

“They play more of what your classics, you know, big-band sound,” said Scheu, “so we thought the ballroom was a better venue. It’s a lot of music that is free to the public. All people are encouraged to do is leave a tip, because they are not being paid much to perform.”

There will be admission fees for the second and third nights of the festival. On Friday, the Mary Louise Knutson Trio will headline. Scheu says that Knutson, a pianist, is a “world-class” jazz musician who has worked with some of the biggest names.

“We worked it out with ETSU to get an acoustic piano in there,” said Scheu, “which that is a major chore, getting it there, getting it tuned and keeping it tuned, but we just had enough requests for it. We are excited about that and appreciate ETSU working with us.

“Knutson is just a great talent and to have her come to Johnson City is pretty neat stuff.”

Wilson will headline the third night. Wilson is a native of Hampton, Virginia, but has lived in New York City since 1987, according to his website. He has performed with the biggest names in jazz. The Wall Street Journal has said Wilson is “essential to this city’s jazz landscape.”

“You read about him and he is apparently, one of the best in the business,” Scheu said. “Again, having someone of his caliber come to Johnson City is cool stuff. (The festival) is just three days of great jazz music with some really talented players.”

Scheu likes to remind people that jazz is an American classic; “it has its roots in America,” he says. More specifically, the genre comes from African-Americans suffering America during the early 20th century. The Smithsonian Institutes National Museum of American History says that, “in jazz, you may hear the sounds of freedom — for the music has been a powerful voice for people suffering unfair treatment because of the color of the skin, or because they lived in a country run by a cruel dictator.

“Jazz influences a lot more music than people realize,” Scheu said in an interview. “Other than the Jazz Jam on Thursdays at the Carnegie, there is really not the opportunity, unless you go to Asheville (North Carolina) or Knoxville to hear quality jazz musicians, and we just wanted to give folks that opportunity to hear quality jazz. (We) hope that people go, ‘huh this jazz stuff isn’t bad’ (chuckles); you know some people have this idea that jazz is far out and a lot of improv and (say), ‘I can’t understand what is going on and what they are doing,’ but you know, yes some jazz is like that, but not all of it.”

The emotions of jazz are not restricted to pain, anger and suffering. There are joyous sounds within the genre as an oppressed people find cause to rejoice in earned victories along the tumultuous path to freedom. This fact of history is not lost on the purveyors of the genre today. Scheu says the music is a wonderful eclectic mix that has influenced most genres of music and vice-versa.

“Again, we want to expose folks to how easy it is to listen to jazz,” said Scheu, “We want to give people the opportunity to listen to very high quality musicians. The only place you are going to see them (Wilson and Knutson) is on a national stage. Here they are coming to Johnson City to show their skills and expose folks to what jazz is all about.”

The Johnson City Jazz Festival is March 21 to 23, 8 to 11 p.m. at the Carnegie Hotel. The cost is $20 for a one-day pass or $30 for a two-day pass. For details about the festival, artists, or how to buy tickets visit www. johnsoncityjazzfestival.com or follow the festival on Facebook and Instagram.

For more follow @kmedleyjcpress on Facebook and Twitter.

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